Advancing our careers requires innovative thinking. Consider how you can revise your skills and maximizing our strengths to be ahead of the learning curve.
Over the past three weeks, I have watched my friends and peers learn how to pivot their learning. Many have demonstrated themselves as accomplished professionals in their own right. But in times of crisis, we have to rely on existing skills to figure out how to solve new, extraordinary problems. I believe that we are more resilient then we believe and give ourselves credit for. I applaud anyone who has had to learn on the fly and is still able to figure out new issues the next day.
But when we return to a new normal, it can often lead us to being stagnant and wishing for the status quo. Adrenaline can be useful to help focus on solutions on the fly, but what happens when we go back to our offices and departments? How will we motivate ourselves to grow into our skills and potential?
When we return to our regular lives, we should continue asking ourselves how we can grow and consider our strengths in the future.
When life slows down and we get back to work, I believe we still need to learn how to pivot and apply our skills in new ways. Perhaps in a few weeks, and after a break from the exhaustion of non-stop learning, it would be great to spend time thinking about how you can revise and refine your skills.
Creating the Management Plan
I have written about the Management Plan in previous posts. I addressed them from a place of working on your strengths in order to grow into your work and identify areas for personal development. Understanding management plans helps supervisors work with their staff to gain new and innovative skills that highlight their professional responsibilities. Especially now, I believe the present situation is a great time to begin looking at your strengths again.
Simply put, a management plan is different than developing and measuring operational and programmatic goals and objectives, since the focus is on the personal and not on the output related to your job title.
Often the annual evaluation gives some space for speaking about professional development but I find that when we remove our professional goals from our personal goals, we can look at what we personally need to do over the course of a year that will impact our professional work.From Supervising to Strengths: Creating the Management Plan, April 22, 2019
A management plan is different than the development plan we put together for our annual reviews. In a management plan, we focus on what your personal goals are. We identify areas for new learning and refining skills we already have. Plus, we look at ways to share these new skills with others.
Taking Advantage of the Opportunities
Professional and personal development is often focused on learning something new. We’re often asked “what are you learning” or “how are you growing?” Rather, I think it’s as good to ask yourself “what are you doing to pivot your learning to something different?” or “how does this new skill apply to something you hadn’t planned on working on before?”
The current crisis is a great example of learning how to pivot. It’s mentally exhausting and sometimes rife with anxiety. But it can also reveal new and interesting values and ways to express yourself as a leader. It can show us what skills we should learn, ways to build on our existing skills and what we need to teach others after this is over.
Using the Management Plan techniques, you can focus your efforts into three areas. Learn. Refine. Teach. Three simple concepts but each of the ideas helped me begin to own my professional development in ways that continue to serve me today. This post will focus on ways to refine your skills in meaningful ways.
How to Create a Personal Development Plan – Why You Should Refine a Skill
What does it mean to refine a skill? I believe it means looking at your current skills to improve or apply differently in your work. I also think it includes taking the time to reflect on your goals and how you can improve your self-awareness in the work you’re currently doing. Geoffrey James at Inc.com believes that innovation is necessary for companies to grow. “Innovation doesn’t occur automatically. It only happens when the individuals in an organization are growing and changing, taking on new challenges, learning new skills, entertaining new ideas. Innovation is thus the result of personal growth.”
Our personal growth can and should be grounded in our strengths. When I began writing about the Management Plan, I gave an example about improving my communication skills. I believe it gives a good framework on what refining a skills can be.
To focus on the skill I wanted to refine, we would review the assessment inventory that we would complete as a staff to identify strengths. Using the assessment or inventory as a guide, we looked at what type of leader this made me and what skills were reflected as a result.
For instance, Communication is a recurring strength but sometimes I lose focus when speaking to large groups. Using the strength as a guide, we worked on scripts and notes that worked for my impromptu style of speaking while still staying focused.From Supervising to Strengths: Creating the Management Plan, April 22, 2019
Since I began using my strengths to lead my personal and professional development, I have focused on being innovative. Now I ask myself, how can I apply what I know to a host of different problems and situations? What can I do to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate issues without taking away time to learn new skills?
Applying your current skills deliberately to solve novel problems is a form of innovative thinking.
Building a Personal Innovation Strategy Exercise
I believe that the best way to describe revising a skill is to consider it a way to become more innovative in applying your skills and strengths. Robert Tucker, in Forbes.com, believes developing innovative strategies allows us to own our careers and our abilities to be problem-solvers in our chosen industry – or any other. Tucker says, “The best way to avoid the trauma of sudden disruption is to develop a Personal Innovation Strategy — a written out plan that keeps you on course through good times and bad. Not only do you avoid personal obsolescence, you roll with the punches. And you build resilience.”
Below is a summary of his Personal Innovation Strategy exercise:
Action Step One: Invest Daily
Take at least fifteen minutes daily to strategize and invest time in contemplating your future. Make it a point to learn something new every day about the changing fortunes in your profession or industry. Collect articles, ask questions, read books, do research, and take notes. Lifelong learning begins here.
Action Step Two: Rate Your Employer’s Disruption Factor
Rate your employer’s Disruption Factor by understanding how your company’s business model is holding up in today’s world of disruption and change — and how it’s likely to hold over the next three to five years. What are the analysts saying about your company? What threats are on the horizon? Don’t allow yourself to be blindsided when the signs were there all along.
Action Step Three: Start by Daydreaming
If you’re serious about taking charge of your future, start by daydreaming. Fantasize about the future as you want it to emerge. Let your imagination go. How do you want life to unfold in its most ideal form? Sketch out a portrait of your life on a day in the future five and ten years out. What’s the view over the breakfast table? What kind of leisure activities are you engaged in? Ask yourself: how is what you are doing in your job and in your life right now helping you manifest the future as you most want it to be?
Action Step Four: Get Into Opportunity Mode
Even a lateral move in your company could enlarge your experience and get you into what I call Opportunity Mode. Volunteer to take on challenges that take you out of your comfort zone. Develop new aptitudes and attitudes. And remember: your next big break could be in your present occupation or in an entirely new context.
Action Step Five: Raise Your Game
Think about the skills you use regularly and how they can be improved. Communication skills, technology skills, writing skills, functional skills and especially interpersonal skills. Part of your Personal Innovation Strategy should involve raising your game in each of these areas.
Action Step Six: Become Indispensable – but Be Ready to Move When Necessary
Your functional and technical skills are what got you your current job. But as industry disruption impacts more and more professions and industries, the most valuable skills you can add to your repertoire are not just soft skills but innovation skills. These skills include not just soft skills like empathy, but the ability to create the future.
Starting Your Revising Journey
Developing innovation skills does not happen overnight. Especially when you are also doing your day to day work. But you can narrow down your choice by focusing on strengths and a current issue. Below, I’ll give an example that showcases a strategy I used that might be useful.
Why yes I do have an example of innovative thinking and applying strengths differently!
From Supervising RAs…
When I returned to graduate school to work on my education doctorate, I worked as a hall director. Supervising 10 student staff, I was only one of three dozen staff working in a similar role. Like most residence life staff across the country, and to ensure consistency, we supervised student staff from a well-documented staff discipline model. In my first year, I struggled with leading my staff from this model, since it went against my own strengths. I spent the following summer looking at my strengths to develop a new model that focused on staff rather than the model.
And my approach worked. You can read the details in my post Supervising Students to be Confident Leaders. Operating from my strengths of Individualization and Positivity, I was able to remove fear from their supervision. I focused efforts on improving staff behavior because it was the right thing to do, rather than to avoid discipline. And I learned to listen in an effort to improve my Communication strength.
…to Training Students to Supervise Students
In my next professional role, I supervised nearly 30 students daily. It was important to develop a mid-level manager within the student staff to help manage them. Because I was leading managers, rather than front-line staff, I had to develop a method of training students differently. But I didn’t want them to just mimic my language. It was important for them to speak in their own words.
I had translated my skills in ways that were meaningful to the students but also allowed their strengths to shine. I focused on my strengths of Relator and Activator to train my managers. Although I didn’t need to develop new supervision skills, I did need to ensure my skills translated well to others.
Learning how to apply my skills in a different way helped save us time, money and staff turnover. Challenging myself to think critically but deliberately was a useful way to introduce innovation into my work. Ask yourself, what skills do you currently have that can be applied to other parts of your work?
Using the Management Plan to Track Progress
There is no one way to develop these skills. But like all good goal setting plans, commit to your goals with established timelines and benchmarks for tracking your efforts. Download the Management Plan document from the E-Store or create your own.
In whatever method you use to track your progress, make sure you reward yourself when you finish. Since these goals are not attached to your professional evaluation, only you know when you’re finished and can evaluate your progress. And unlike these annual evaluations, give yourself more than a year if you need. We do better when we give ourselves the grace to be human and listen to ourselves.
I hope that you find a learning journey to go on in the coming year. Especially if it brings you closer to your own personal growth and potential. In the next entry, I will focus on how to teach others your skills for our own personal growth.