In 2011, U.S. companies spent $59.7 billion on training and development. Even though this figure is a 13% increase over 2010 expenditures, a good amount of companies included in the survey—25 percent—actually had a decrease in their training budget. And even though $59.7 billion sounds like a large figure, it averages out to be only about $1000 per employee—often with a skewed distribution favoring executive development and sales training.
What can be done when learning and development needs surpass this figure? Plus, the aforementioned survey only included companies with 100 or more employees; what do small businesses, entrepreneurs, contractors, freelancers, job seekers, and even eager learners at large companies without any such budget in the first place do?
What are the specific skills you need to develop to land your dream job, to attain the next step in your career, to move to a different position, or to increase value and performance in your current position? Simply identifying the developmental areas and making the connection to desired opportunities can often be enough to inspire developmental work. And this developmental work can take place anywhere—coaching or participating in athletics, volunteering in the community, interacting with own family members, day-to-day practice on the job, taking on or creating new extracurricular work assignments.
Give feedback often and find a way to receive more feedback from others. We’ve covered this topic pretty well previously: Things to Consider When Giving Feedback [Clif Notes: the best way to give feedback is the way that ensures it will be received well], Collect Feedback on Your Performance [Clif Notes: ask for feedback], and Get Tough Skin & Deal With Criticism [Clif Notes: put yourself in a position where you can process criticism with your logical mind rather than your emotional brain]. But feedback just for the sake of feedback isn’t always enough. A powerful way to turn performance feedback into performance improvement is with goals. Each time you give or process feedback, also set a minimum of one goal on what can be done differently.
An excellent way to learn something is to watch someone who is already really good at it in action. Ask to go along on sales meetings, assist at conference presentations, or sit in on conference calls. As you develop your skills, find a way to be more involved and take on more responsibility and do things that were (or still may be!) outside of your comfort zone. For a more passive approach: rather than zoning out, actively observe leaders you admire in meetings you are already required to attend. And with Internet access and some creative thinking you can even do this without ever leaving your desk.
These things cost not a penny, but provide tremendous learning opportunities. For best results, combine all three into your own professional career development plan.