Personal Development Doesn’t Have to be About Climbing Ladders…


Quite often when we talk about personal development in organizational settings, we are looking at the steps it takes to reach different levels of seniority, and some type of performance rating that ranks us according to our conformity to predefined descriptions.

I now work in a job where we don’t believe that it is beneficial to you, your team, your organization, or it’s customers to have you do all you can just to fit to someone else’s idea of a pre-packaged description.

Now don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe that we need to clearly define and communicate the expectations and the needed skills for each role. And we do work with people towards being well equipped for their roles. My questions is this: does the yearly round of “personal” development measures always have to be centered around reaching the next level?  Usually when we do this, any personal development talk we have is a lot less about how we can push our individual boundaries further.


Personal development should be – well – personal.

It should help you to learn and grow in a way which is beneficial to you and the company at the same time. The system in place must be adaptive. It must be individual. And that is exactly the idea here.



At my job we work using agile principles, and the teams we have are largely self-organized. So in this setting, think of an Adaptive Talent Management Manifesto. This helps the individual to be just as “agile” and adaptive at defining and reaching goals as the rest of the organization is at creating great new products and services for its customers. 

So in contrast to most Personal-Development concepts that start with the Org-Chart, try to see it as a symbiosis of what the team needs and what the individual needs to contribute to that team.

Bildschirmfoto 2017-01-02 um 11.44.07.png


Personal Development in line with your Aspirations…

It is important that each individual in the team understands their own sense of purpose. There are things they wish to achieve, and it is important to understand how we can work on those development goals in a way which is beneficial to working towards our overlying goals and what we aim to do as a group.


So we are looking at a picture of Individual Development that first asks about aspirations like these:

  • Enhancing and adding/augmenting skills and competencies
  • Pioneering: meaning that the Individual aspires to push not only his/her own boundaries, but also those of the team, the products and services produced, or even industry standard
  • Helping others to learn more, giving back to the common cause
  • Being in a position that allows more orchestration


The Road to reaching those Aspirations is not just a yearly cycle

So basically, try to  step away from this belief that your development cycle is always a year. I like to look at it more like Sprints, in a sense. One person may have an individual goal which is 3 months down the road in order to coincide with what the team is doing, another may be planning to finally get that much needed certification next spring, and yet another may need to get some hands-on experience and just the project for that is starting within the next couple of weeks.  Individual cycles can be adapted in length and content, according to the current needs. And it goes like this:

Bildschirmfoto 2017-01-20 um 15.25.52.png

The three arrows seen in the graphic indicate that everything you do leads back to you and helping you reach those aspirations and the purpose we spoke of before:

  1. Assignments
    The things that you do on the job are the ones that also help you to grow and improve. You gain experiences, learn something practical, then apply that to what it is you do.
  2. Learning & Sharing
    Learning can take on many different forms. Here it’s not called “Learning & Development”, rather “Learning & Sharing” for a reason. The development part is already what you are doing on your journey. By learning with and from others, you expand your capabilities even further.
  3. Peer Feedback & Reviews
    See these as tools to help you understand how others perceive you as a member of the team, your achievements, and  behaviors.  And at the same time it is an opportunity  for each individual to motivate and help others.

To the far right in the graphic is where “inspect & adapt” takes place. What happens on the individual journey is discussed as a part of an ongoing conversation with a Manager/Coach who is there to provide guidance on an individual basis. Above that in the graphic are examples of overlying competency areas that can be a main basis for all discussions around each individual’s development. These competency areas are also the very same ones that can be used to structure Feedbacks and Reviews.


As the title says…

personal development does not have to be about climbing ladders.  The outcome of living the system described above can be a number of things ranging from the pure satisfaction of enhancing one’s skills,  all the way through to becoming a recognized authority on a specific topic. With the enhancement of skills, people can go on to spread their knowledge and help others grow, they can  discover that they are now suited for a specific role, and they can become leaders. And there is no compulsion to only do the things needed to get promoted to the next level. You grow in  way which helps you, in the process you help others and the team reach their goals. And along the way  if you find that you are ready to shift into a new role or get a new badge or title, then that’s perfectly fine as well.


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