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6 steps to plan for professional growth

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Wondering how to take the next step in your career? A great place to start is by using the feedback you receive during your performance appraisal to develop and propose a professional development plan. Once you’re ready, you can have a growth-focused conversation with your manager about how you can benefit your career and UC. Here’s how to build your performance-based plan.

1. Brainstorm opportunities for your team or department

What skills could you gain or programs/initiatives could you assist in building that would support your team, location or UC’s mission, vision and goals? Consider:

  • Challenges that face your team: How might you help resolve them?
  • Emerging industry trends: Within your role, how might you assist your team or UC in responding to them proactively?
  • Business best practices: How can you use them to improve your effectiveness?

Think big-picture, and make a list of potential opportunities for improvement and growth on a team, department or systemwide level.

2. Articulate your professional strengths

What motivates you at work and makes you a valuable employee? Consider:

  • Tasks or situations in which you excel
  • Job responsibilities or projects that you have really enjoyed — now or in the past
  • Projects for which your contributions have been praised by your manager or peers
  • Skills you’ve perfected and enjoyed in your personal life that could be applied at work

Break multidimensional skills down to a basic level; for example, if you’re great at customer service, your skills might be: making connections with people, learning deep product knowledge or conflict resolution. Make a list of these strengths, interests and areas of expertise.

My UC Career is a fantastic resource for this step. Create your free account with your UC email address, then begin with “Getting Started” and the “Assessment Center.” Assessments include:

  • Identify your preferences
  • Identify your strongest skills
  • Assess your temperament

Once your list of professional strengths is complete, discuss and confirm your perceived competence in each area with your manager and colleagues. Take note of their feedback and adjust your list, as needed.

3. Choose your focus and identify potential areas of professional growth

Compare the opportunities you identified in Step 1 to the strengths you confirmed with your manager and colleagues in Step 2. Identify areas of alignment, then narrow your list to the one to two opportunities that are the strongest match with work that engages you.

Consider what skills you will need to develop in order to pursue these opportunities. This might include:

  • Learning a new technical skill, such as Excel, Photoshop, HTML coding or using a content management system
  • Learning a new area of expertise, such as social media management, understanding marketing analytics or managing budgets
  • Achieving a new professional designation, such as becoming a notary, obtaining an industry certificate or pursuing an advanced degree
  • Gaining experience in skills associated with a higher-level position, such as people-management or mid-level management
  • Taking part in networking activities to broaden your professional network

Make a list of the must-have skills, knowledge, experience and demonstrated abilities you will need to develop or acquire. Prioritize your list by relevance to your next anticipated career opportunity.

4. Research learning options, including cost and time

Once you’ve identified what you skills you would like to develop or acquire, it’s time to determine how you can accomplish them. A great place to start is with the development resources available through UC — most of which are offered at little or no cost to your department. Check with your HR Talent Development team for resources at your location, which may include discounted continuing education courses or tuition.

Remember the following, free systemwide resources:

Other helpful resources may include:

  • Online or virtual skills boot camps or webinars
  • Conferences
  • Professional organizations with peers in your field
  • Community college courses
  • Books, articles, podcasts or videos

Create a document detailing the learning opportunities you would like to pursue, their cost and timing. (Timing should include things like when a course or conference is offered, as well as the total time commitment you will need to make.)

5. Develop your proposed professional development plan

Reflecting back on the previous steps, create your proposed professional development plan. This is when you can start defining SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals. This document will serve as the roadmap for your proposal conversation with your manager.

Be sure that your proposed plan includes:

  • Goal(s)
  • Benefits to your team/UC (e.g., estimated time or money to be saved when your goal is achieved)
  • Timeline and plan
  • Budget
  • Work time needed to accomplish your plan

If your professional development plan encompasses multi-year goals, break it into phases to show your manager what you plan to achieve at each milestone.

6. Pitch your plan

Make it easy for your manager to agree to your plan by following the steps above and going in with a clear and organized proposal. For help getting the conversation started, check out this article on how to successfully pitch your ideas.

Go into the conversation with the old adage in mind, “Hope for the best; plan for the worst.” In a perfect world, your manager will have the willingness and resources to propel your goal forward. But, sometimes funding, current departmental priorities or other factors outside your or your manager’s control may mean that your goals aren’t immediately feasible.

Be prepared to take the following steps if your manager does not approve your plan:

  • React calmly and positively. It’s OK to admit disappointment, but remember that your manager likely does not enjoy being in the position to refuse your request. Approach the conversation with professionalism and poise.
  • Listen actively. Make sure you understand why your manager is not approving the plan so that you will have a better idea of whether it might be possible in the future, as well as any changes that would need to happen first. Ask clarifying questions, if needed.
  • Propose a compromise. After understanding your manager’s position, consider whether your parts of your plan might still be achievable. Review any possibilities with your manager.
  • Establish a timeline for revisiting your plan. Work with your manager to determine a reasonable timeframe in which to have another conversation about your goals — usually four to six months is a good rule of thumb. Do not wait until your annual performance review.
  • Focus on the positive. The self-reflection and research that you completed to build your plan are beneficial to your professional growth, regardless of whether you can immediately move forward. By demonstrating your commitment to your growth and development, you have shown your manager that you are interested in enhancing your contributions to the team and UC.

Find more systemwide career resources at UC’s employee website, UCnet.

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