How to make continuing your professional development a year-round priority

Progressive’s Business Leader of Talent Acquisition Neil Lenane shares why professional development is important and tips on how you can constantly grow

4 min read

February 2024

Illustration of a woman looking at a paper while pointing at plots on a line graph above her head. Next to the line graph are calendars with January, February, and March written on them

In my experience, when people ask me when they should continue their professional development, what they usually mean is, “When do I start preparing for my next role?” My answer often surprises them.

I tell them what I do: I start looking for my next job the moment I get my new job.

The reason is I always want to know what I’m working towards. Otherwise, I might miss an opportunity to gain experience that could help me get my next job. That’s why continuing professional development is important: It positions you for future roles. Thinking this way means professional development doesn’t happen at certain times. It happens all the time … it’s year-round.

Don’t let that intimidate you; there are easy ways to ensure you’re continually developing. Here are a few tips that have served me well.

Create a career roadmap

Successful people don’t end up in their dream job by accident—they get there on purpose. So, if you’re serious about career advancement, the first thing to do is create a career roadmap for getting the roles you’re interested in. Not only will this focus your efforts, but it’ll also make your individual development goals purposeful. When finished, your roadmap will point you to the roles and experiences you need to get you where you want to go.

One way to do this is to connect with people whose jobs are similar to ones you’re interested in and learn what roles helped them get there. Another is to look up the job on your company’s development portal and see which positions ladder up to the one you want. Progressive’s Career Central site, for example, offers employees a chance to explore career paths and business-specific resources that can help them grow.

Follow the 70-20-10 rule

A common development principle is the 70-20-10 rule. The idea is that 70% of development comes from on-the-job experience, 20% comes from learning from peers and mentors, and 10% from formal learning (like taking a class or reading a book). Looking at this breakdown, it’s easy to see that on-the-job experience is by far the most effective development method. That means it should be your primary focus.

On-the-job experience doesn’t always mean “at work.” You can gain new skills by serving in your community, coaching a team, or volunteering at your child’s school (to name a few). This means the greatest driver of your development is always available. All it takes is a willingness to seek out development opportunities wherever they may be found.

Formal learning is important, and learning from others can provide an incredible boost to your career. But if you really want to grow, the bulk of your development diet must come from experience. Always be on the lookout for new development experiences … both at work and beyond.

Know the difference between learning and developing

A misconception people often have is that learning and developing are the same thing. And because they do, they miss out on opportunities to grow.

Here’s how they’re different. Learning happens when you gain new knowledge. Development, on the other hand, happens when you apply the things you’ve learned. It’s the act of putting into practice the knowledge you’ve gained.

Part of the reason people confuse the two is because from an early age we’re taught that formal learning (i.e., the classroom) is the primary way to acquire new skills and knowledge. Additionally, it’s easier to absorb information than it is to do something with it. This makes formal learning not only feel like the only way to learn based on past experience, but also the most attractive.

So, how can knowing the difference help you professionally develop year-round? While you may not be able to devote time to learning, there’s always time for developing. Ask yourself if there’s something you’ve learned that you haven’t yet applied to your work. Chances are there’s something you haven’t done—and that means you can still work toward development goals when you’re short on time.

There isn’t an offseason

If you want to accomplish your career goals, there isn’t an offseason when it comes to development. The good news is you can always find opportunities to continue your professional development. The key is to adopt a growth mindset that takes a proactive approach to development and is intentional about preparing for the next step in your career. Create your roadmap, follow the 70-20-10 rule, and know the difference between learning and development so you’re ready when opportunity knocks.

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