Self-development – a win for both learners and organisation

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay maintain that self-development is key to achieving organisational change, in the first of a two-part article they explore the tools to support personal growth

Increasingly, it is recognised that personal and self-development form an essential part of running an evolving business, both for the individuals involved and for the development of the organisation. Career development is now recognised as a key factor in employee engagement. In a fast-paced world, organisations need to keep on top of changes and individuals need to develop a portable skills portfolio which enables them to respond to these and the demand for key skills. Encouraging personal development can become an important retention tool for organisations. The growth in technology and the move to expand online content means that there is a considerable resource to draw upon to fulfil this need.

Today career development puts an emphasis on enhancing responsibility for development on the individual. This can help them clarify their own sense of purpose and to take greater charge of their personal and professional development. It also reduces dependency on the organisation to provide all forms of generic development and it moves towards a much more personalised and individualised approach, which builds greater individual and corporate resilience to change.

The COVID pandemic gave a strong nudge in this direction which has continued with hybrid working, leading to more empowerment for individuals in dispersed work teams. However, surveys such as those carried out by the CIPD show many L&D budgets have been cut and, for many, the full benefits of the rapid growth of spend on learning technology, such as collaborative learning, have not been recognised and realised.

Organisations need to open up discussion on the possibilities and need for greater emphasis on self-development. While L&D needs to be proactive in strengthening the range of self-development opportunities and putting out the message that self-development isn’t a second-best to formal taught programmes. Rather, it has enormous advantages both for the organisation as well as the individual.

What tools and resources assist self-development?

People tend to think immediately of online learning as the prime tool for self-development, but other sources of personal development are equally valid and useful, so there is substantial scope for L&D to communicate the wider underpinnings of career development.

The tools and resources available to support self-development are wide and will be very familiar to L&D professionals, but not always fully understood for its potential amongst the wider learner population group. For example, L&D can promote and support greater use of books and journals, mentors, conferences and workshops, videos and podcasts and support groups and networking groups. Many people have benefited from keeping a learning diary and using it for self-reflection and learning. The tools mentioned above can help develop goals to focus learner efforts and also to track progress.

L&D needs to be proactive in strengthening the range of self-development opportunities and putting out the message that self-development isn’t a second-best to formal taught programmes

Strong L&D and HR support and encouragement can make a substantial difference to the success of personal development for individuals. Firstly, making sure that access to resources is readily available; secondly ensuring support is readily given through mentoring and coaching; also, a good performance management system will help to provide useful development feedback on performance evaluation.

Plentiful resource availability will do much to make development available to everyone –many organisations reinforce this by setting aside a separate learning resource area. By widening the range of options available, individuals can choose which work best for them and make personalised learning relevant in style and content and matched to each individual’s need. Overall, a supportive culture of learning and development will provide a bedrock of support to make the most of opportunities available.

Aligning organisational goals with self-development

Self-development can and should be bounded closely with organisational goals. How should this be achieved? Good communication of organisational goals needs to be filtered down to the individual through performance management and goal setting. A competency or behavioural framework can also help individuals to identify strengths and development needs. Within such a culture managers should be providing regular feedback and ensuring that progress is recognised and rewarded. Also, that career opportunities are closely linked to development in achieving organisational goals. This leads to supportive, focused L&D initiatives.

A more personalised approach

One of the most powerful aspects of individual development is that it allows individuals to develop their goals with greater clarity and in their own way. With support from L&D and HR, personalised feedback can be provided, and actions agreed. Also, individual learning styles can be catered for, and technology can help to offer personalised rather than blanket recommendations. This means flexible and tailored self-development programmes closely match what individuals need and will help them to make the most of the development resources available.

What are the key competencies that individuals need?

To support personal development, it is helpful for L&D professionals to recognise some of the core career management competencies required, namely a good understanding of:

  • The individual’s career path to date
  • Personal values and priorities
  • Motivators: what drives you on and what turns you off?
  • How do work and jobs fit into personal preferences?
  • Individual strengths and aptitudes and areas to improve upon
  • What resources can be accessed?
  • The importance of networking
  • Putting thoughts, ideas and skills into practice.

These competencies need to be translated into appropriate L&D strategies. More of this in Part 2 where we will examine important practicalities.


It is clear that self-development fits neatly with organisational progress and change. It is an active process which allows stronger individual choice in developing a career path and in exploiting the opportunities in the organisation. The task for HR and L&D involves developing the organisation and its individuals  through proactively assisting employees to form a better grasp of self-understanding. They need awareness of the current situation that the individual and the organisation faces, what are the necessary aspects they would like to change and the constraints and opportunities this presents. While also recognising that the individual needs to be proactive in achieving the changes they want, but that L&D offers essential support.

In Part 2 Sarah and Steve will examine the practicalities of self-development in an organisational context.

Sarah Cook is managing director of the Stairway Consultancy and can be contacted at Steve Macaulay is an associate of Cranfield Executive Development and can be contacted at

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