Construct Your Professional Development Plan

Why having a career road map can keep you on track when you don't know which turn to take in life.

Most people can’t project past the end of the week, let alone forecast their career path. The truth is, most fitness managers are no different: Without a professional strategy in place, we tend to take life’s ups and downs as they come instead of implementing a plan to create opportunities for ourselves. Of course, planning our future doesn’t mean it will magically happen, but it heads us in the general direction we want to go. The end result is that we consistently move closer to doing the work we love and remain aligned with our life’s purpose.

There are probably many reasons you may not have considered a development plan for yourself. You may already be in a position of leadership and feel as if you have too much to learn before advancing any further on the career path. Perhaps you feel you lack the skills necessary to move to a higher level within the company. It could be that you simply don’t see any other positions or roles that interest you. You may lack time or motivation to consider your own success, or perhaps you are too comfortable with your current compensation and responsibilities.

Whatever rationale you may have for not preparing a career course, I am here to help you change that mindset. It is time to initiate and dictate your future, instead of falling victim to it. Follow these four steps and exercises to chart your professional development plan and move yourself in the direction of success.

Step 1: Identify What You Want From Your Career

The most critical step in identifying your career goals is to clearly characterize what success means to you and what you value most in life. Success is generally defined as the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit; or the favorable outcome of an undertaking. Finding the values by which you measure achievement will lead you to your purpose. If your values are in line with your actions, you will achieve balance and happiness in life. Each of us gains a sense of accomplishment from different motivators, which may include money, recognition or control, to name but a few. Honestly evaluating your motivators or values will help guide your future decisions and determine which pathway is going to bring you the most bliss.

Exercise: In no more than a single paragraph, write a description of what success in your career means to you. Begin by creating a list of the things you value in life, and then relate that list to your work. Obviously, these things will change over time, but this exercise will help you start the process of identifying career goals based on your current values and your definition of success.

Step 2: Look at Opportunities in the Industry

Once you open your mind to all the possibilities that exist within the fitness industry, you’ll see there are an infinite number of growth opportunities. To explore the avenues available to you, ask yourself the following questions: Do you wish to stay with your current organization, or do you think you might learn more by working for another company? Is there room for growth in your current organization, and, if so, will positions be vacant soon?

If you are in a club setting, look at the organizational structure of your company. The various positions would give you very different types of work experience. Do you like interacting with the customer, or do you prefer to work without customer interface? Some jobs are sales driven and others are customer service oriented. Do you like to be in a club setting, or do you prefer to work in an office setting each day? Choose from administrative, management, sales or education-based positions. Each has a varied level of necessary interaction and communication with both employees and customers.

You could also work in another industry and provide fitness services to their employees. There are many corporate fitness positions available in one-on-one training, group fitness and management. If you are still thinking big and haven’t yet found something that sparks your interest, simply walk down the aisles of any industry trade show to get ideas of other businesses that provide services to the fitness industry.

Moving closer to your career goals doesn’t always mean you need to take on more responsibility. Give some thought to the amount of leadership, time and responsibility you want to have. You may find that lateral growth or going back to a position you held before is ideal for the life. Some managers find that they can accomplish more of their goals by taking a more flexible frontline position, which frees up more time for writing or conducting presentations.

If you are happy in your current organization but don’t see your ideal position opening in the near future, do not leave without making your wishes clear. Because you are a known entity at your current company and have proven your worth, management may create a position for you, in order to retain a valuable team member. Keep in mind that developing as a professional doesn’t always mean leaving a position or a job. You may not need to change positions at all. Perhaps the very thing you desire most is obtainable in your current position. But you still need to be clear and focused about what it is you want and set goals to achieve it.

Exercise: After examining the fitness industry and/or fitness positions within other industries, write down your top three choices for opportunities. Then list the positive and negative aspects of each opportunity. Compare your lists to see which opportunity offers the most positive attributes for your career at this time and for the future.

Step 3: Assess the Amount of Development You Need

This is the discovery phase of the development process. Here you’ll need to learn more about the skills necessary to do the three jobs you selected in step 2. Begin by asking, observing and studying what each job requires. Ask your human resources department for job descriptions. Make an appointment with the person who is currently working in the position you’re most interested in and candidly ask what he or she needed to master in order to secure that job.

Then ask yourself what skills you currently have that are suited for this new role. In other words, what do you need in order to succeed in this position?

Exercise: After learning about the responsibilities of the desired position or role, create a summary of the skills or attributes that you will need to develop in order to succeed in that position or role. Then list those skills, starting with the ones you feel you need the most help mastering and finishing with the ones in which you have already shown proficiency. Because it can be hard to be impartial when assessing yourself, you may want to solicit the advice or judgment of someone who knows you well and can be trusted to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Step 4: Write Down Your Goals and Action Steps

Now that you know what you want and what it takes to get it, it is time to do some goal setting. Goal setting will help keep you on a timeline that meets your career objectives and fits your current obligations. This exercise requires you to complete specific tasks in order to move closer to accomplishing your purpose.

Take time to create specific, measurable and obtainable goals and to draw up a sequential plan of steps you need to take yourself or steps you should delegate to achieve each goal. Think through the procedures and policies. Will you require any certifications, degrees or continuing education? Will you have to relocate or consider your family’s well-being in order to accomplish your goals?

Follow this guidance for long-term and short-term goal setting and self-accountability:

Long-Term Success. This applies to your “big-picture” career goals, which you can plan anywhere from 1 year to 10 years out. At this point, don’t focus on how long it will take to achieve each goal or how big the goals are. Instead, focus on the actual steps involved in achieving the goals. Use the results of the exercises in previous steps to stay focused on what matters most to you and what you’ll need to do to accomplish each goal.

Exercise: Write down your top three long-term career goals. Next, list the two or three main advantages that achieving these goals will mean in terms of your career and your life. Finally, write down three to five action steps that you need to accomplish in order to reach each of your three long-term goals. These action steps now become your short-term goals.

Short-Term Success. Giving yourself smaller action steps or short-term goals that can be achieved in a day or a month will give you sweet victories along the path to your big-picture goals. If the deadline for any action step is projected to take longer than 30 days, I suggest breaking this goal into smaller steps. Anything that takes you longer than 1 month will seem insurmountable, and you may struggle to stay focused on the assignment. Give yourself baby steps: Before you know it, you will have completed several small tasks and you’ll be progressing by leaps and bounds.

Exercise: Create action steps for each of your short-term goals. You’ll need to include the task, the measures needed to complete the task and the deadline for each goal. Mark these deadlines in your calendar, and treat each as a high-priority task.

Staying the Course

Hold yourself accountable for your short-term goals by doing quarterly progress checks. This will ensure that you are improving and moving closer to your long-term goals. Sharing your goals with someone you trust who will keep you on task is another great way to stay accountable. Make yourself your most important client by keeping to your commitments and sticking firmly to your schedule and deadlines.

A Call to Action

If you don’t set personal and professional challenges, you may find yourself in the same place years from now, wondering where all the time has gone and why you did not accomplish your career goals.

Stay on the course you set for your career success by using these exercises to explore your values, define success and set goals. You will move closer to the work you feel will bring you happiness and satisfaction.

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July 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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