If You Don’t ‘Own’ Your Professional Development, Then Who Does?
I suspect that many of us in the business analysis community have extremely hectic day-jobs.
We shuttle back and forth between meetings, working to efficiently elicit and articulate business and stakeholder needs. We navigate political conflict and aim to get our stakeholders ‘on the same page’ so that we can facilitate the delivery of effective change. It certainly isn’t always a 9 to 5 job, and with pressing deadlines being a seemingly constant feature of life, finding time for any kind of ‘extracurricular’ activities can be difficult.
When the pressure is on, it can be very easy to put personal, professional and career development to one side. I suspect many people reading this will have delayed or ‘parked’ going on a training course or attending a conference because pressures from the day job prevented it. In many cases this is completely understandable, after all there are often crucial reasons why deadlines must get met. However, it is all too easy for this to become a recurring pattern. When things are seemingly always chaotic, when there are always fires to put out, it can seem impossible to take time out for these types of developmental activities.
Learning from Terminator
Now, I admit that 1980s Sci-Fi isn’t a usual source of inspiration for business analysis…but…the following phrase from the 1985 film Terminator always sticks with me. There is a scene where the lead protagonist (Sarah Connor) is serving in a restaurant, and a child drops ice-cream down her apron. Fellow server Nancy says:
“Look at it this way, in 100 years, who is going to care”
In the whirlwind of change that we live in, it is all-to-easy to sweat the small stuff. Let’s face it, we’ve probably all worked on projects that have had their funding pulled, or have been cancelled half way through. Some of us have probably worked on processes and systems that have been replaced shortly after launch due to other, bigger organizational changes such as mergers or some kind of other major change. You know that work-related thing that you (or I) am worrying about right now, that’s (metaphorically) keeping us up at night? Chances are nobody will remember it in one year let alone one hundred. Some things will be distant memories in a few months.
The harsh reality: Assignments (And Jobs) Are Temporary
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in teams that are led by very inspirational managers and team leaders. I remember one leader reminding me, in a one-to-one, of the temporary nature of jobs. He was very clear that sometimes it’s important to focus on individual needs even when things are seemingly ‘busy’. There is probably no good time to take a few days out for training, a conference, or even vacation. Yet if we work for an organization where (for example) we have to cancel professional development activities that were booked months in advance, what does this say about the planning and management capabilities? What does it say about the long term prospects for that organization? There may be very good reasons, but it would at the very least be a concern.
Whilst it’s crucially important that we contribute as much as we can to the organization, we mustn’t forget that jobs and projects are ultimately temporary. I suspect almost everyone reading this will have, at some point in their career, been put at risk of redundancy (or will know someone that has). Whilst loyalty to our employer or client is crucial, loyalty to ourselves is equally important. Dependence on an employer (where the employee feels they have no other option) can be toxic; having an independent relationship (where you know you have the skills and qualifications to walk away but choose to stay because you love it) is surely a better model.
Owning Professional Development
It’s also important that we note that that well-chosen and well-planned professional development activities don’t just benefit us as analysts, they help us develop new competencies that we can use in our day jobs. Perhaps we can work with our stakeholders not only to put out the (metaphorical) fires, but also to get to root causes. We can stay fresh, stay sharp, and be ready for any assignment that comes our way.
Many organizations are extremely supportive of these types of activity, but the ultimate responsibility and accountability rests with us as practitioners. There are so many professional development opportunities out there, whether it’s attending courses, conferences, IIBA Chapter events, reading or writing blogs or many of the other options that exist. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive, and there are many cost-effective (even free) options that we can pursue even if our current employer won’t support us.
After all: If we don’t own and control our own professional development, then who does?