How in the world do you decide which training programs to do?

Awhile ago, a good friend posted a question on Facebook:

“I’m looking for professional development opportunities. Think conferences, training or courses with the goal of improving skills and leveling up.”

There were a lot of great suggestions on the thread.

But my training and development brain couldn’t process answers without gathering some information first, like: What specific skills are you looking to improve? What is your preferred learning style? What is your budget?

So I shared some ideas on the thread.

It struck me that she might not be the only person who struggles to prioritize the wide variety of options we are bombarded with at every moment in our in-box, and on social media.

I find myself particularly susceptible to great copywriting, reaching for my credit card as if in a trance for certain programs that I don’t really need.

If this describes you, here is a way to build your own Personal Development Plan for the year so you can have truly effective growth and development, and be well-prepared to operate at the highest level in your business.

Your Personal Development Plan

Take some time to jot down answers to these questions. Once a quarter, update the plan with new information as you make decisions about the types of training opportunities that would be a good fit for you.

1. What are some of the big things that you are excited to do in your business in the next 12-24 months?

Lay out the specific projects, offerings or services that you plan to deliver in the next year or two. Get as specific as possible, such as:

  • Deliver a three-day retreat
  • Build an app
  • Build a licensing program for my workshops

2. What are the skills required to do them?

Based on the projects or services laid out above, determine the knowledge or skills required to deliver them. Get as specific as possible like:

  • Facilitation skills for managing difficult group conversations
  • Objective C coding language
  • Copywriting skills

3. Where do you have strengths in these skills?

What are things that you do well already related to these skills?

4. Where do you have gaps?

Where do you not do well related to these skills?

There are a lot of schools of thought — a pure strengths-based approach would say put energy into making your strengths even better, and minimize areas you are not good in. I like a mix — strengths strengthening (say that three times fast!) and some new skill development in areas that you feel you COULD be strong in — given the opportunity to use the skills.

5. Based on my learning style and interests, what would be the best way to learn the skills? 

Reflect on your past learning experiences. Where did you get the most benefit? In-person courses? Hands on mentoring? Online classes?

What length courses are the best for you? Short and practical? Longer-term and in-depth?

What type of instructional style is important to you? High quality, detailed information that you learn at your own pace, or highly personalized, facilitated group learning with a lot of discussion and feedback?

This question is very important, because if your learning style does not match the promise of the content, you will not engage with it (which is why so many purchased online classes sit untouched).

6. Based on my values and interests, who would be my best teachers?

I DO think it is important to share values with people who are mentoring you or you are learning from. If you are taking advice from someone who is engaging in unethical practices, or who demonstrates behavior contrary to your own values and ethics, this WILL impact you in the long run. That said, you can learn some technical skills from people who are super smart technically and super sketchy ethically. Just be highly conscious of the dynamic.

6. Do I have the time and energy to put into the skill development? 

What is required to “punch through the bag,” as Bruce Lee says? Meaning … in order to TRULY learn a skill, you have to be willing to take the time to do the work and see it all the way through to your desired result.

If you do not have the time to study, reflect on, apply and get feedback on your skill development, you will not benefit fully from the learning experience.

7. What is my training budget?

Do you have a designated budget for your professional development if you work for yourself?

In the earlier stages of starting a business, if you have never done it before, there can be more investment required to get yourself up to speed on critical skills like finances, marketing and sales. There also may be training unique to your craft, like certifications or internships.

As your business gets rolling, you should designate a specific budget for your ongoing professional development so that you can discern “would be cool” training from “I need this to survive” training.

Dedication to continual learning and growth is great, but if you are not careful, you will divert funds critical to running your business to learning experiences that do not have a direct impact on your business.

8. Is lack of skill or knowledge truly the issue, or have I just not executed on what I do know?

When I studied training and development in the late 90’s, I was introduced to the work of Robert Mager, a leading thinker in the field of performance improvement. He developed some wonderful models including flowcharts and checklists to help determine if training was truly the solution to key performance problems. Here is a summary of his classic performance flowchart. For more details, check out his book Analyzing Performance Problems:  or You Really Oughta Wanna –How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It (if you happen to manage people in organizations, this book is invaluable!)

Don’t be afraid to look yourself in the mirror and ask “is lack of knowledge or skills really my problem, or do I just need to take a deep breath and get to work?”

With answers to these questions, you will be prepared to make thoughtful decisions about your learning experiences this year.

Happy learning!

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