“Adapt or die” is an evolutionary phrase that speaks to the fundamental ability of species to adjust to changes in their environment to ensure their survival. The same principle applies to professional growth. Regardless of your level of success in your professional career, you can always find opportunities to expand your skills and explore new avenues of development. Whether you’re an employee or a manager, personal and professional growth is key to long-term career success.
Some people automatically associate professional growth with educational advancement through traditional means, such as going back to school or completing a certification course. However, you can also seek advancement opportunities closer to home, such as joining a mentorship program through your job or further developing skills in your areas of interest. Even if you feel comfortable in your current professional role, you could be hurting your chances for future success if you don’t seek growth opportunities.
FYI: Based on the number of open job positions that require a business certification, the top three certifications as of December 2020 include Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP) and Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP).
The importance of professional growth with Bill Eckstrom
Bill Eckstrom is the CEO of the Ecsell Institute, which helps managers, executives and organizations maximize their growth by providing research, data, and clarity into how their teams are performing. Eckstrom believes that a lack of professional development perpetuates a cycle, leading to stagnation. Seeking development opportunities, whether on the job or off, breaks the cycle and gets you moving forward again.
Eckstrom says that growth opportunities are advantageous for individuals, but organizations reap similar benefits.
We recently had the chance to speak with Eckstrom about professional growth, how it relates to professional development, and the steps you should take if you feel you aren’t growing in your career.
What is professional growth?
Q: How do you define professional growth? Does it have to take place in the classroom, or can it take place on the job?
A: The way I view professional growth is the development or better use of talents and skills that lead to improved outcomes. This development can take place in many different places – on the job or [in] off-the-job environments.
On the job can be the result of experiential learning, coaching relationships, classroom, etc. However, too often people view professional growth as something that is only on the job, but it is not. For example, one of our executive leaders became a certified yoga instructor, and we have all benefited from her growth. She is calmer under fire, she has taught us more patience, and she is a better overall coach.
Q: How is professional growth different from professional development?
A: I understand why this can be confusing. Here is how the Ecsell Institute views this: Development is the process that leads to growth. Growth is an outcome, and development is the input or the action that creates it.
Q: Should you expect professional growth to lead directly to a promotion?
A: While perhaps correlated, they have little to do with each other. The best companies with whom we work weave professional growth into the fabric of their culture. It is not something that is done just for a promotion; it is done because, environmentally, people want to grow.
People in these environments have an aversion to order and stagnation. This is why doing career development plans is so critical. It provides an opportunity to focus on growth and not just a promotion. If growth leads to a promotion, so be it, but everyone from the front line to the top execs should be looking for ways to improve their own performance – regardless of the corporate-ladder outcome.
Q: What are the negatives that come from not growing professionally?
A: Too much order leads to stagnation. Doing the same thing over and over again (order) will eventually lead to no growth, and no growth is typically followed by stagnation (negative growth). What breaks this cycle are complex environments created by changing inputs. The challenge is complex environments create discomfort, and as a result, people avoid them. The irony is that growth only occurs in a state of discomfort. We get very in-depth on this topic in our book, The Coaching Effect.
How to grow professionally
Q: Where should you look for opportunities for professional growth?
A: Chances are one’s opportunities for growth are nearby. Watch and learn from bosses (however, it is likely only 40% of them are worthy of emulating), meet with friends and ask questions, and ask family and close work peers about your growth opportunities.
Attend association meetings and events. While there, don’t just learn about the latest market news – focus on your own self-improvement. Read books, watch videos (like this TEDx Talk called “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life“), or hire your own coach like I did. There are really no excuses; if one looks hard enough, they will find wonderful opportunities for self-improvement.
Q: What professional growth goals should you set for yourself?
A: I believe these to be unique to the individual. Personally, I categorize my goals into mental, intellectual and physical, but obviously, there are unique ways to grow within each.
To attain mental growth, I meditate, journal and list gratitudes five days a week. Physical development consists of working with a trainer two days a week and walking another two or three days. For intellectual development, I am always reading a book or watching a video that stretches the way I think.
Q: What steps should you take if you’re feeling stuck and aren’t growing professionally?
A: Some sort of disruption needs to occur. What I always say is one must find a way to get out of order and find a way to enter the complex environment. This can be accomplished by finding new or differing work, new classroom learning, a new boss, or a new attitude.
The key is not letting it get so bad that one hits rock bottom before change occurs. Intellectual understanding (consciousness of your perceived reality) doesn’t often lead to disruption as much as being emotionally ready; however, this typically happens when one hits rock bottom. We need to be emotionally aware enough to know when we reach this crossroads.
Fifty percent of Americans aren’t happy in their current job. Employees are more likely to search for a new job if they don’t earn a competitive salary, if they find their work unfulfilling, or if they feel unappreciated by their colleagues and leaders.
Q: What piece of technology can you not live without?
A: Technology is morphing into us as human beings, and while perhaps for the better, it also hinders human relational interactions. Don’t misunderstand – my phone goes with me most everywhere and I have a tablet next to my bed, and while it would bother me if they were lost, it would not cripple me.
Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?
A: Not sure where it came from, but it was the epiphany that all team growth begins with me. I try very hard to always be developing new and existing skills and talents, because the performance of a team is always a reflection of how employees are coached.
Q: What’s the best book or blog you’ve read this year?
A: Origin by Dan Brown comes to mind as an interesting book. Certainly not his best work, but like I mentioned earlier, he challenges the way I think about things.
For blogs, anything written by Dr. Peter Jensen’s company, Performance Coaching. He is a renowned Olympic sports psychologist, and I learn so much from his work.
Q: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken professionally? Did it pay off?
A: Starting this company, Ecsell Institute. I sunk almost every penny I had into this business and realized the old cliche was true – it will take three times as long and cost three times as much. And in spite of this, it has paid off.
I also realize this type of risk isn’t for everyone. People think I was brave to do this, but one could also legitimately argue I was stupid, and both would be right. [Learn more about how to quit your job for a startup.]
Q: What’s the one thing you want to make sure you accomplish this year?
A: Being more present. I write the word “presence” every morning when I journal and work hard to live this every day. My mind does an amazing job of moving forward and backward, but it needs to be more in the now. I am already seeing and feeling improvement in moving from my subconscious thinking to more conscious thinking.
Additional reporting by Sean Peek.