"I don't like learning new things and improving my skills," said no employee ever. It's inherent in our core human design -- we were made to evolve and grow personally and professionally.
Unfortunately, if you're an employee, not all companies (or bosses) are created equal. While personal or professional development (and the time off required for it) may be found in some thriving company cultures for competitive advantage, this is a luxury line-item absent in companies merely maintaining the status-quo.
Making a case for what you need
Before getting discouraged and eyeing the greener grass on the other side of the fence, employees with a clear picture of what they want/need for their own growth and development (without support from the boss or an official company policy in place) can certainly make a sound case to their managers. But, don't wing it; it's going to take the right approach and planning to knock it out of the park. Luckily, there is one.
In her book, Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break, Rachael O'Meara, a Google sales executive and leadership coach, researched and came up with a six-step strategy to negotiate for your personal development.
Step 1: Have a clear picture, then write it down.
O'Meara recommends setting dedicated time (one evening or even a whole week) to explore ideas about what appeals to you, and then put them down in writing. According to brain research that O'Meara references, "writing stimulates a bunch of cells in the brain called the Reticular Activating System that plays a key role in being more conscious and alert. The more you can write down, the more aware and real your ideas become."
Step 2: Own it.
Rather than being gun shy or feeling ashamed about asking to develop a particular skill, or the time off to do it, "own it as part of your commitment to becoming a better leader," says O'Meara. The approach to gain support has to be win-win for it to work: Sell it with both your long-term interest and your manager's long-term interest in mind. If you're not emotionally invested in the growth of your company, don't bother. It has to be mutually beneficial and strategic.
Step 3: Craft a vision statement.
O'Meara affirms that having personal visions are great to keep you on track before, during, and after your development work. If you're not sure, she recommends getting clarity by asking yourself this question before bringing it up to the person with approval power: Who will I become as a result of this investment of my time and resources? Be specific with descriptive adjectives -- will you be more engaged, influential, or mindful? O'Meara says your vision should be constantly evolving as you are evolving.
Step 4: Connect your goals or outcomes to what the business needs.
Similar to step 2, getting buy-in must involve connecting your desire for development to business outcomes. For the best approach with the powers that be, O'Meara urges you to ask yourself three questions:
- Are there issues at work that you could better resolve as a result of this training?
- What specific skills or knowledge can you share with your manager, team, and/or company from your training or experience?
- Can you provide a recap (verbally or visually) based on what you learned or how you plan to apply this at work or in your career?
Step 5: The prep.
Think things through -- best and worst case scenarios -- before sitting down to get buy-in from the boss. Most likely, you'll get questions or concerns that you'll need to be ready to address and overcome. If the thought scares you because this is, after all, your boss, O'Meara brings up a great point about how fear can hold us back in those crucial conversations: "I have yet to meet someone who was let go for asking to expand their horizons." She adds, "Often times our fear holds us back from negotiating, and we miss out on the opportunity to explore alternatives, or worse, receive a yes."
Step 6: Make your ask.
O'Meara says avoiding the element of surprise is crucial. Once you're ready for "the talk," give your manager ample notice and make it an informal agenda item for your next one-on-one meeting. Here's O'Meara's final food-for-thought: "If you're catching up on how the weekend was or plans for the evening, share the class that caught your eye and why it personally matters to you. Better yet, share how you think it could help you be a better employee. Then you can schedule more time to discuss it further."
Now that you have all your ducks in a row, don't forget these pointers for a potentially awesome conversation to get your development needs approved:
- Share your vision and goals related to your development.
- Be clear what exactly you're asking for -- is it for time off, paid expenses, or some combination of the two?
- What will your boss and the company get in return?
- Afterwards, follow up in writing, emphasizing the key points of how this would benefit you and the business.
O'Meara says that you'll most likely experience one of three likely outcomes: getting a yes to everything you requested, getting some of what you asked for, or getting shot down in flames. Whatever the case, she concludes that this process, even without a favorable outcome, can benefit in others ways: "Spending the time to form a logical, careful request can be rewarding in itself because you're getting clearer on what you need. And you're contributing to, maybe even igniting, a corporate culture that supports individuals to learn and grow in ways beyond what's traditionally done."