By Ken Schatze | STC Senior Member
When you’re looking for work, you pay a lot of attention to professional development. You attend courses, you keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date, and you create a portfolio to showcase the best of what you can do.
Once you’ve found a job, do you keep up these efforts? Most of us don’t. We focus on the immediate tasks at hand, often to the detriment of our personal growth and development. We lose out on potential opportunities as a result.
Although it might not always seem to be the case, your organization has a lot invested in your career and professional development. Replacing employees who leave because they aren’t satisfied with their career development can be very expensive for companies. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), replacing a single employee can cost a company six to nine months of that employee’s salary. The cost is not just in dollars and cents, though. There’s also the loss of the employee’s professional knowledge and business relationships.
My employer, SMART Technologies, has recently launched an initiative to address this issue and help its employees realize their career goals. This initiative is based on the GROW model for coaching and mentoring first developed in the United Kingdom by Sir John Whitmore, Alan Fine, Graham Alexander, and others. The GROW model consists of four distinct stages:
In each stage, you complete a series of activities that help clarify the goal you want to achieve for your career and what you need to do to realize that goal.
I’ve been employed with SMART for over 11 years, and I’ve started using the GROW model to map out my future with the company. I’ve found the GROW model, at least as we’ve implemented it at SMART, is ideally suited to technical communicators. It relies on analysis and documentation skills that come naturally to most of us. The following is a quick summary of the four stages in the GROW model to show how you can use them to advance your career as well.
Goal: What Do I Want?
In the first stage of the GROW model, you define a specific goal for your career. Ask yourself where you want to be a year from now, five years from now, and even further out if appropriate. Be as detailed as possible and make your goal specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely (in other words, SMART).
This might seem daunting at first, particularly if you haven’t thought about professional development in a long time. To help you define a goal, ask yourself questions like:
- What aspects of my job do I like the most?
- What aspects of my job do I like the least?
- What is an ideal work day for me?
- What have I done at work that I’m the most proud of?
- What tasks am I good at?
- What tasks do I need help with?
- Do I like learning new things, and how do I best learn?
- How willing am I to venture outside of my comfort zone?
- What resources are available to me to help advance my career?
- At the end of my career, what do I want to have achieved?
You might also find creating a career trajectory chart beneficial (see Figure 1). First, list all the milestones you’ve realized in your career so far. These could be things like graduating from college or university, taking on a new job, being promoted to a new position, winning an industry award, presenting at a conference, and so on. Next, plot these milestones on a graph. The X axis of this graph represents time, and the Y axis represents your level of satisfaction with the milestones. When you’re done, you’ll have a visual representation of your career so far and a means of determining what activities have given you the most satisfaction in the past and that you might want to pursue in the future (see Figure 1).
Reality: What’s Happening Now?
After you’ve defined a goal for your career, you next need to assess your current situation. A simple but effective way to do this is to complete a SWOT analysis. Assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are my personal strengths, and how can I use them to realize my goal?
- What are my personal weaknesses, and how are they preventing me from realizing my goal?
- What external opportunities are there in my company and industry that can help me realize my goal?
- What external threats are there in my company and industry that are preventing me from realizing my goal?
It’s also helpful to get the perspective of others. Ask your manager, co-workers, and others for honest feedback about you and your career goal. If your company conducts 360-degree reviews, these are a great opportunity for such feedback.
Another helpful resource for this stage in the GROW model is a personality assessment. Many companies offer personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to their employees. You can also find a lot of information about such assessments on the Web. Knowing your personality type, and what motivates and demotivates, you can be very useful when planning your career path.
Once you’ve completed this stage of the GROW model, you should have a solid understanding of your current situation and what you need to do to realize your career goal.
Options: What Could I Do?
In this stage of the GROW model, you assess all the options available to you to realize your goal.
Although a promotion might be one option available to you, it’s usually not the only one, and might not be the best for you. Also consider lateral moves to take advantage of transferable skills. If you’re a technical writer, some career options include marketing writer, technical editor, technical trainer, information architect, and user experience specialist.
Make sure you’re aware of how your company advertises job openings and its policies around internal mobility. Many employers advertise positions internally before making them available externally. It’s also wise to have a good working relationship with your current manager and the managers of any departments you’re interested in joining.
It might be some time before an opening in your desired position becomes available. If your company allows job shadowing, take this opportunity to not only learn more about the job in the meantime but also to show your interest in the position.
Also keep in mind that there may be opportunities for you in your company that don’t already exist. For example, your company might not have a user experience specialist, but you have all the skills to take on such a role. You’ll need to write a proposal explaining why the company should create this position for you. The good news is the information you gathered in the first two stages of the GROW model are an excellent starting point for such a proposal.
Will: What Will I Do?
In the final stage of the GROW model, you enact a plan to realize your career goal using the information you gathered in the previous three stages.
Like any good plan, your career plan should consist of discrete tasks with timelines and measurable results. Share your plan with your manager. You manager is, after all, a partner in your career development.
In addition to recruiting your manager, consider recruiting a mentor. A mentor can be someone who works in the position you aspire to, or whose career path you admire. You will be pleasantly surprised by the insights a good mentor can provide as you complete your career plan. As you advance in your career, you might want to consider becoming a mentor yourself.
If you, your manager, and your mentor determine that you need to upgrade your skills, consider joining a professional organization, attending a conference or other training opportunity, or investing in relevant books. Although you may need to submit expenses, you have a solid business case for doing so due to your previous efforts in the GROW model.
As you complete tasks in your plan, document your resulting accomplishments. Collaboration tools like SharePoint or Confluence are great resources for showcasing such accomplishments. Alternatively, you can use the authoring tools you have available to you as a technical communicator to create a professional development portfolio. Regardless of the method you use to capture your professional development journey, remember to bring your work with you when it comes time to interview for your new position. The interviewer will more than likely appreciate the effort you’ve made.
Finding the Time to GROW
At this point, you might see how following the GROW model can help with advancing your career, but you might also be wondering where you’ll find the time to complete all this extra work.
Start by talking with your manager and your company’s human resources department. Your company might have a policy that allows you to dedicate a certain percentage of your time to professional development. If it doesn’t, review your work schedule. You might find that you have lulls during certain times of the month or in the product development life cycle. Take advantage of these lulls to work on professional development. Another option is to review how you work and see if there are efficiencies to be gained by automating or streamlining processes. You’ll make time for professional development and improve the quality of your current work experience.
Our jobs keep us busy—we wouldn’t be employed if they didn’t—but making time for professional development is important, too. If we don’t grow in our careers, we quickly become unsatisfied and unproductive as a result. Planning for professional development using an approach like the GROW model, and dedicating even as few as a couple of hours a month to professional development, are good ways to keep both our careers and our jobs on the right track.
“MBTI Basics.” The Myers & Briggs Foundation. Accessed 4 March 2019. https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics.
“SWOT Analysis: Discover New Opportunities, Manage and Eliminate Threats.” MindTools.com. Accessed 4 March 2019. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_05.htm.
“The GROW Model of Coaching and Mentoring: A Simple Process for Developing Your People.” MindTools.com. Accessed 4 March 2019. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm.
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KEN SCHATZKE (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Technical Writer with SMART Technologies in Calgary, Canada. Ken is part of a team of technical communicators who create support materials for SMART’s suite of interactive touch displays and collaborative technology. He is a Senior Member of STC, a Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC), and a long-time volunteer with the Alberta Chapter.