News & Insight
April 2010

How to Ask Your Boss for Development

Amanda Schmidt<br />Director of Client Services & Operations, WJM Associates

Many executives at all levels assume a passive attitude towards their development, often waiting for their manager or someone else in the organization to offer them help in accelerating their professional development and their careers. Asking your manager for guidance on advancing your development demonstrates a proactive interest in expanding your skill set and your role in supporting the success of the company. The following is a guideline to asking for this help.

Do Your Homework

Preparation is key, do as much research as you can! First, identify what the appropriate procedures are within your organization when it comes to development. Do you approach your boss, or a human resources representative dedicated to such matters? Before scheduling meetings with your boss or HR contact, find out what professional development resources your company has in place. Are there programs designed specifically for employees seeking professional development? Are you eligible to participate? Is there a "high potential" pool of candidates? What are the available career paths? And, most importantly, what are you trying to achieve?

Next, find out what the top priorities of your organization are and how they align with its strategy. Consider your manager's priorities and the priorities of your department. Figure out how your personal development efforts can contribute to the overall success of your company.

Assess Your Strengths

Determine what your strengths are and how they can contribute to the success of your boss and organization. You can do this by taking a personality assessment such as the MBTI or 16PF. If possible, ask your manager or HR if you can utilize an Executive Coach to interpret the results and deliver feedback to you. If that's not possible, another quick way to assess your strengths is by readingStrengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (click here to view) and completing the free strengths assessment that comes with the book.

Prepare a List of Accomplishments and Developmental Opportunities

Prior to meeting with your manager, compile a list of accomplishments from the previous year and another list of developmental opportunities that if improved could contribute to his/her, as well as your future success. Quantify your accomplishments. Be specific, show the impact your actions had on the financial and overall performance of your department, unit, etc.

One thing to consider is volunteering for a "stretch assignment". Prior to your meeting with your manager look at your department's strategy and pinpoint a few assignments that will require you to step out of your comfort zone and utilize your strengths. This is a great way to get attention and learn new skills quickly. If you have access to an Executive Coach, request that they oversee your stretch assignment so that your boss does not have to allocate a lot of time to the process.

Schedule the Meeting and Present Your Needs

Once you have accomplished steps 1-3, schedule a meeting with your boss. Be considerate of your boss's existing commitments and time constraints, keeping your meeting to a defined agenda and time. The better prepared you are prior to the meeting, the more successful it will be. First, communicate to your boss your level of enthusiasm towards your job, team, and company. Tell your boss what you would like to achieve over the next few years and give him/her the list of strengths that will help you accomplish this goal along with the list of developmental objectives that will help you accelerate your progress. Next, ask for his/her opinion and feedback. What is his/her vision for your future? What does he/she see as your biggest opportunity for improvement?

Create your Development Plan and Begin to Implement

After your boss has given his/her feedback suggest that the two of you work together on creating a developmental plan. Put the plan in writing and establish milestones to assess and track your progress. Make sure the plan is focused on no more than three items so it is manageable. Ask for approval from your manager and begin to implement. If for any reason your boss is not responsive to your request, find out who else can assist you. Do you have a mentor or someone you are close to that you can ask for help? Reach out to your HR contact and set up a meeting with them to discuss your needs. Before meeting with any of these contacts remember to follow the above steps.

Follow Up

Schedule a follow-up meeting at an agreed upon time, say 6 months after you have begun work on your development plan, to ask for feedback. This way you will be able to course correct and modify your developmental goals, if necessary.

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