Keeping track of what we’re learning and how we’re growing as professionals is something we could all do more of. Indeed, the contemporary world of work more or less demands that we take responsibility for managing our professional growth because of the uncertainty about what’s going to happen next. If we take the time to engage regularly in review and reflection, we can have greater control over what & how we contribute to the wider community and be more responsive and adaptable to what the community needs. In this article, you’ll find a simple template for doing a professional development review. But first of all, I’ll explain why I do an annual review of my own professional development.
Why do I do an annual PDR?
The Career Development Institute requires its members to record 25 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. As a registered member, I have to demonstrate that I’m working to national occupational standards.
Keeping a record of my CPD and reviewing it at the end of each year is a bit of a chore but it always proves to be a valuable exercise. It forces me reflect on how I’m growing as a professional, provides reassurance that I am growing, and gives me ideas of things I might want to do in the coming year to maintain that forward momentum.
What’s become apparent over the last few years is that although I’ve had annual appraisals in previous jobs, I didn’t really engage with them in quite the same way as I do now that I’m self-employed and have to really ‘own’ my work.
Those appraisals seemed to be more focussed on performance than development, and as long as things were ticking along ok, I just carried on for another year. There wasn’t much, if any, discussion about where I saw myself heading in my career. Nor was there any discussion about how the employing organisation might want to develop and make best use of my growing expertise.
As a result, I began to stagnate in my role and the organisation perhaps didn’t get the best return on its investment given the amount of expertise I had built up over the years.
Eventually, I moved on to a new role (self-employment) in order to have the sort of opportunities for growth and satisfaction that I craved.
Now, PDR feels important to me because I recognise (a) that if I don’t review how I’m doing, no-one else is going to and (b) when all’s said and done, it’s my career and I need to be proactive in managing it.
Which brings us to the the next question:
Why might you be thinking of doing a PDR?
It’s possible that you’ve reached a point where you feel you’ve done everything that can be done in your current role and are now just doing the same old things day in, day out. Certainly that was my experience when working in the university sector where the work revolved around an annual cycle. It’s easy to stagnate in such an environment and/or to resign yourself to the idea that ‘This is it now until I retire’.
It’s also possible that you have a niche role within the organisation and can’t see where else you could go. Again, I had that experience and found it hard to see a way out that would be interesting.
Maybe you’re working somewhere that doesn’t have a formal review process in place and as a consequence you don’t really know how you’re doing.
Or you have a manager who isn’t interested in your development.
Perhaps you have a feeling that you’d like to be doing more, you’re capable of greater things, but you’re not sure what exactly.
Or you may be working in academia as a PhD or postdoctoral researcher and thinking ahead to your next professional development review with your supervisor or principal investigator, with a view to planning ahead for a career in academia or outside of academia.
A PDR could be the first step in getting some clarity and motivation to make changes.
Why is ongoing professional development important?
Growth and learning are important if we are to be fulfilled in our working life, fulfil our potential, and make a valued contribution to the community. But they’re also important if an organisation is going to fulfil its potential and accomplish the mission it’s set itself.
Recent research by McKinsey found that 80% of job changes made by people during The Great Resignation have been to different organisations where they could take on new roles and learn new skills. Those people wanted to advance in their careers and couldn’t do so in their existing jobs, so they looked elsewhere.
The McKinsey researchers questioned why, if some other company was going to take advantage of the knowledge, skills, experience and personal attributes (aka ‘human capital’) that an employee had, the organization that currently had them as an employee might not be looking to capitalise on that expertise themselves.
They suggested that companies could and should seek to create new opportunities for their employees and one way to start exploring where those opportunities might lie would be by asking the question: “What adjacent skills does the person have?”
This is where PDR might come into play. It’s an exercise that can help both you and your employer identify your strengths, skills, motivations and areas of potential with a view to saying: “Here’s where you are now. And here’s what you could think about doing going forward.”
How to do your own Professional Development Review
Undertaking a professional/personal development review can feel cumbersome. Keeping it simple works best. These are the questions I use to frame my annual review:
- What did you do?
- Why did you do it?
- What did you learn?
- How will you put this learning into practice?
- Any further action?
You can use these questions to look across everything you’ve done in the last year: projects you’ve been involved with, responsibilities you’ve taken on, relationships you’ve established or strengthened, contexts you’ve worked within, as well as training you’ve undertaken, workshops, conferences you’ve attended, online courses, etc.
This year, I combined the above questions with the annual career review tool offered on the 80,000 Hours website. This was a simple exercise that took about 30 mins. I’ve taken one or two questions from that and adapted them use in future reviews:
- What has your experience of work taught you in the last year?
- How have your views changed about what makes you happy in work?
- What needs to change?
- What’s your priority for the coming year?
- What action will you take to address that priority (and when)?
- How does this fit with your longer term vision of what what you want to accomplish in your working life?
Benefits of doing your own professional development review:
A PDR can help you::
- to see ways in which you’ve grown
- to develop clarity on strengths, skills, interests, needs, values and motivators
- to reflect on what’s gone well and why
- to give some thought to what hasn’t gone well and why
- to acknowledge that there have been some achievements
- to consider what you might want to do more or less of
- to refine your vision of what you’re seeking to accomplish in your working life
- and to think about where best to invest time and energy in the coming year (and beyond)
Should you change your job?
One final question that I really liked in the 80,000 hours career review was: ‘Should you change your job?’ This simple but straight-to-the-point question could well lead to constructive & mutually beneficial discussions with your manager about how best to develop and use your expertise within an organisation (along the lines recommended by the McKinsey research).
But even if it isn’t included in your formal review process, it’s still a question that you might reflect on for yourself. Is it time to move on from, or up or out of your current job? If so, to where?
Next steps after your PDR
A professional development review could be the first step towards making changes in your career. You may realise that it’s time to pivot to a new role within your current organisation or to move to a different organisation.
Or you may realise you’ve come to a dead end and need to look for something completely different.
Either way, a PDR is almost certainly going to get you thinking about your longer term career goals and your life more generally.
There may be a lot to process and working with a careers professional could help. If you’d like to explore this further, please get in touch.