Supporting Professional Self-Development at Work

In my earlier article on Employee-Centred Learning & Development: a model for the Modern Workplace, I showed how supporting professional self-development at work is just one way that L&D professionals can build and support a modern learning culture and mindset in their organisations.

Providing individuals with the opportunity to take charge of their professional self-development in the workplace is not just one way to build a continuous learning mindset, but it also gives employees choice, flexibility and ownership of their learning.  It also offers a balance between achieving professional and organizational goals, and provides a motivation for the individual that is not often present in many organized learning initiatives, since they have significant control over what they actual do to achieve their goals.

In fact, helping individuals set their own professional goals aligned with organizational goals is the key to motivating people to learn for themselves, as this quote from 3 simple secrets to motivating people shows.

“It is impossible to get people to do something they don’t want to do. But if you understand what they want and show them how to get it – they will do amazing things. … the real secret to motivating people is finding a way to find alignment between their personal goals and your desired outcomes. When you can do that, everyone wins.”

So, what does it mean to empower a process of self-organized and self-managed self-development?

  • It means assisting individuals to create their own self-development plans where they set their own professional goals for self-improvement (current job) or (career) self-development
  • It means encouraging individuals to locate the resources, tools and services that suit them best – rather than requiring them to use only enterprise resources, tools and services.
  • It means providing some protected learning time to work on their goals, and allowing individuals to manage their own time by deciding when to spend that time. For instance, one individual might choose to spend a small amount of time every day on his/her goals, whilst another might prefer to spend longer periods less frequently.
  • It means encouraging individuals to document their progress and evidence their new performance in a personal digital portfolio – rather than managing the process centrally (e.g. in a LMS) – to ensure that they own their professional development
  • It means providing individuals with the opportunity to share their development plans, significant learning and achievements not just with their teams but with the wider organisation – so that everyone can benefit from the new knowledge and skills that have been acquired.

The professional self-development process looks like this:

Supporting professional self-development is a win-win for both the individual and the organization. The individual gets to do what is best for him/her, and the organization gets wider value out of their activities, which helps the organization to thrive and grow. The Centre for Management & Orgnization Effectiveness summarises it nicely.

“Although it seems like a small gesture, leaders who ask employees to be actively involved in the creation of their personal development plans show these employees that their opinions matter and that they are at least partially responsible for ensuring that their careers are challenging and meaningful.

Sharing responsibility with employees in this way also frees leaders up from acting as enforcers who drag unwilling employees down career paths that they had no hand in designing.”

UPDATE: Chapter 6 of Modern Workplace Learning 2019 looks at how to adopt a practice of professional self-development in your organisation.

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Modern Workplace Learning 2019 as well as the resource for individuals A Professional's Guide to Modern Learning. Jane was the 2018 recipient of the ATD Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development award. You can contact Jane at