Employee development: comfort is the enemy of progress

Your professional development as an employee holds an integral part of what makes you thrive in the workplace. When we are given the tools and opportunities to grow, it not only benefits us individually, but it also contributes to the overall success of the company, which brings positive impacts for others within the organisation.

employee development, comfort is the enemy to progress

Ensuring you have ample opportunities to showcase the skills you have, with mentors to help you grow as quickly (as you want to), will ensure you are able to create a fulfilling career where you feel seen, significant, and valued.

Signs your company aren’t investing in your development

If you find yourself questioning whether your company is genuinely invested in your development or maybe you’re feeling a little stagnant – consider these factors…

Do they have limited or outdated training? Lack of mentorship? Are there slow career progressions? Unfortunately, these are red flags.

Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with your manager about your goals. It’s okay if you don’t have a clear plan forward because this chat allows them to see you’re hungry for more and can be the foundation for them to think of ways to keep you engaged.

You should feel safe discussing this with your manager. It can seem intimidating, but it’s important to foster it by communicating and listening openly.

More often than not – managers LOVE to hear that you’re ready to take on something more challenging, and if you haven’t quite mastered your current role yet, then perhaps there’s room to explore tailoring your role around what you’re really passionate about. I see this as a win-win.

Before doing anything

Define what kind of development you want or need. You should think about this before having a meeting with your manager, and definitely before looking for other jobs due to ‘lack of development opportunities’.

Sometimes, people mistakenly consider technical courses or ‘management’ experience as the only tangible opportunities, but development has such a broad spectrum. On one hand, you have technical skills: training courses, mentorships, certificates, and skill workshops. On the other hand, you have softer skills such as communication, leadership, adaptability, networking, or conflict management. Both sides of the spectrum are incredibly important skills to develop for most career projections. 

What to focus on will vary for everyone, but a mentor of mine at GS recently told me something that I found quite enlightening. Early in our coaching sessions, I expressed my long-term goals, and he asked me to map out what areas I need to focus on. Naturally, I listed all my weaknesses or where I fall short compared to others. He simply asked, “Why would you focus on your weaknesses?” This simple question lifted a weight off my shoulders and directed my focus with excitement. As long as you aren’t missing any major skills or qualities, why not develop the skills you’re already damn good at?

Chances are you enjoy it, and it comes naturally to you, so divert your attention to becoming an expert. 

Steps to take that will nurture your growth…

Take control.

You actually have to WANT it. Ask for that meeting. Don’t always expect them to come to you.

You can’t rely on your company to create all the learning opportunities for your career. By all means, have the conversation because there might be more ‘deep ends’ you could be thrown into… but it’s your life. If you solely rely on an organisation, no matter how close-knit you feel to them, then you’re putting your future in the hands of someone else, who most likely have several other employees, clients, their own goals, etc, to think about. So, if you have big goals, make them known, but play your part in your own personal development, too.

Be a yes person – but not too much.

Being a “yes” person can open doors to new opportunities, but balance is key. Say yes to tasks that challenge you and contribute to your growth but avoid spreading yourself too thin. Always aim to be a team player and make sure your core responsibilities don’t fall through the cracks while doing so. Say yes to the client function, say yes to helping train up the newbie or to help a workmate. Just don’t let yourself burn out. It’s 2024 –  we all know that it’s not sustainable.

In saying that, I believe it’s okay to pull some late nights every so often because going down rabbit holes, trying to meet a deadline, or working on getting something ‘right’ is often where passion builds, and learnings arise. Just don’t make those late nights a habit.

Be sure that your employer values your time, and there is give and take. Remember that growth happens outside of the workplace too – with our family, friends, and hobbies – so aim to stay well rounded.  Mutual respect for your time is essential to ensure resentment doesn’t build.

Be ready to step up.

A good manager will give you challenges and support you through them, but only speak up and accept what you’re really willing to work towards. You will lose credibility by asking for a challenge that you don’t actually want to work for. However, again, both you and your managers should be mindful of whether you have the capacity to step up.

Comfort is the enemy of progress.

This is one of my favourite quotes (hence it’s much deserved headlines). True growth often involves stepping out of your comfort zone, and this may require an investment of time, effort, and even a bit of stress or anxiety. Recognise that personal and professional development is a journey that needs dedication and a willingness to navigate challenges. Embrace the discomfort, as it’s often a sign that you’re pushing your boundaries. If quick growth is your objective, often comfort isn’t. But don’t let that mean you can’t ask for help.

Seek Feedback. Always.

Seek feedback… don’t role your eyes… it works. How will you know what’s holding you back unless you ask for feedback on how you can improve? For instance, if you’re wanting to step into a management position or get a pay increase, you won’t know what you have to do to achieve this unless you can have that open conversation with your manager.

In addition, if you really are stagnant in a workplace the discussions around your performance will enable you to keep track and gauge whether your improvements and career/salary growth expectations are aligned, or whether this company has the opportunities you need to grow.

Listen to what you need to develop and assess whether your manager is giving you healthy and supportive feedback. Basically, it comes down to something like this:

  1. A healthy workplace will constructively outline what they need from you. They may outline you don’t have the skills they need YET, but they’ll create mentorships, training, and/or offer work that helps you gain the experience needed to upskill for this role.
  2. An unhealthy workplace will say you’re not fit for the job, not offer any training, or give you unrealistic targets for your skill level, leading to burnout. Or sometimes, they’ll use the ‘make or break’ mentality where you’ll be prematurely promoted but without any support or mentorship. This usually isn’t good for anyone. It’s discouraging and can leave you to crumble, which often creates a negative impact on the people around you, too. And even if you do make it, the chances are you took a harder road to get there.

    Most companies don’t realise they’re doing this – so speak up and take advantage of the fact you’re surrounded by people you can learn from!

In essence, as much as I can put my own story into this article, the core goal is to personalise your own path. Professional development requires a blend of self-awareness, initiative, and a willingness to adapt. Keep an eye out for opportunities, learn what you value, and work on creating a positive feedback loop to stay engaged and motivated. There’s always something to learn – good and bad.

Take control. Or not. Up to you 😉

If you have any questions about this article feel free to get in touch.

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