A client has approached you with the following question: “What is a professional development plan and how do I develop one for myself?” Zahava Starak, LCI’s Master Coach, answers…

As a coach there is reason for excitement when you hear this kind of question as you know that you are working with a motivated client. This client seems to be aware that professional competence is not something that is attained in one experience and that life itself is a learning opportunity.
 
Professional development therefore can be defined as a process that ensures the continued competence of the individual in any field of expertise and encourages an ongoing commitment to the ethical principles of the profession in question.
 
Further it is important to note that the concept of learning is central to any professional development plan. So you the coach can now discuss with your client some insights into the various theoretical viewpoints as to how a person learns and share with them the commonly accepted definition that learning is a relatively persistent change in an individual’s possible behaviour due to experience.
 
It is our curiosity and desire to discover that motivates the learning process. And this is a good thing – for in order to be marketable in a knowledge based economy we have to become life long learners.
 
Consequently although your client has proficiency in certain areas learning need not stop and professional development is one way to ensure the continuation of the learning process. Whatever your client’s profession it is important that they continue to develop and refine their skills and keep up to date with new and emerging trends in their field of expertise.
 
This client can be applauded for wanting to further their professional learning and personal development. It will be by answering questions such as how do you learn best; what do you want to learn; what steps can you take to achieve this learning; that your client will develop their best plan.
 
As learning is one of the keys to an effective professional development plan, it may be a good idea to implement a Learning Style Questionnaire to help identify your client’s preferred learning style. By discovering this preference you will be able to seek out experiences that draw on this style and source out the type of learning events that provide the maximum benefits. In addition your client can also make a conscious attempt to practice techniques to improve their ability to learn from other styles.
 
To complete this questionnaire your client is presented with 80 statements. An example reads “I quickly get bored with methodical, detailed work”. Beside each statement your client indicates either agreement or disagreement. Scoring then indicates your client’s learning preference from four different styles: Activist; reflector; theorist; and pragmatist.
 
Here are two samples of these questionnaires: VARK and Learning Styles
 
Each style caters to specific qualities within the learner. It is therefore easy to list how a person with a particular style will learn best and what strategies can be applied to enhance their learning.
 
Activists like to experience the learning and learn best when there is an element of risk and they can ‘bounce off’ and become energised by others. Role play, competitive team work, chairing discussions and giving presentations are all ways to promote their optimum learning.
 
Reflectors like to think things through, listen and watch. They need time to mull things over. Journaling in which they can ponder over their learning experiences is a good strategy for them.
 
Theorists learn best from anything presented as part of a system, concept or theory. They like being intellectually stretched and enjoy time spent reading books and journals and preparing a synopsis of new information.
 
Pragmatists are practical application learners and gain the most when they can link theory and practical application.
 
As a result of completing this questionnaire you now know how your client learns best and can chose appropriate strategies to implement your client’s learning. The next step clearly is to answer the what.
 
What does your client need to learn to promote their professional development? A self review is in order. Your client can gain clarity from an understanding of who they really are and an insight into what they want from their work-life activities. Your client also needs to consider the actual requirements of their profession and the competencies to meet these requirements; the opportunities for advancement and criteria for promotion.
 
They need a clear picture as to where professional development fits in with personal development and lifestyle choices and a reality check on how much finances can be committed to any development plan.
 
To find answers to this “what” you can encourage your client to ask themselves such questions as:
 
“Have I looked at my needs and values recently?”
“Am I working towards satisfying as many as possible?”
“Is the job I have the one I really want and am I working towards what I really want?”
“Do I know all I need to know about the work I am in?”
 
If not then…
 
“What more do I need to learn?”
“What do I need to do to improve my career development skills?”
“Do I have a supportive group of friends who would encourage any career transition?”
“How will any professional development activity I undertake affect my lifestyle?”
 
The answers to these questions will determine the specific details of your client’s professional development plan and enable them to set learning objectives. They will know if their values are in sync with their present career path and if not, they will assess whether their first real step is to change their career. If career and values are supportive of each other, your client can then go on to determine what skills and capabilities they want to enhance in their present job and they can list the competencies required for promotion.
 
Now based on their learning style preferences they can explore professional development activities that will meet the set objectives. These activities include undertaking further course work; attending seminars, presentations and conferences; private reading programs such as professional journals and articles; mentoring or supervision with those more experienced in their field; facilitating relevant workshops, seminars or presentations; or writing articles for publication in professional books and journals.
 
With your assistance your client can tailor a plan to meet their needs using strategies which best meet their learning style. For example, your client may have indicated that they would like more understanding of marketing strategies. If your client is a theorist they may undertake a course of readings and prepare a report on their findings.
 
If they are a pragmatist they may chose to develop a marketing plan based on specific principles and see if it works. An activist may chose to join a marketing forum where they can bounce off ideas and a reflector will research date and diarise their thoughts on marketing concepts.
 
To complete your client’s professional development plan you might suggest that they also consider listing some ideas to enhance their personal development or self awareness as well as list strategies to reduce their stress levels and prevent burnout.
 
Such a plan is very comprehensive and promises your client not only an exciting learning experience but a healthy one as well.