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Strategies for Self-Improvement: Managing Your Own Skill Gaps

As management consultants, we constantly hear employees complaining about the lack of development opportunities in their company. Our response is always the same: “what are you doing to find your own development opportunities?”

We’ve worked with companies with huge development budgets and companies with no development budgets. In all cases, we can always find an employee who is discovering a way to grow in that company. Often times, they do it with no financial cost to themselves or the company.

So what type of employee are you? The whiner who complains about no tuition reimbursement? The constant critic of the boss/organization who doesn’t send you to trainings? The naysayer who says that the company doesn’t care about development? Or are you the one who finds what you need to grow towards your own development goals?

Everyone is empowered to manage their own skill development. So empower yourself!  Here are 6 Tips to grow your skills, all on your own.


Most people cringe when they are asked to do a development plan or write development goals; but guess what, they work! If you haven’t identified where you want to go, you are less likely to get there. Identify the skill you want to enhance and set a targeted goal that you can hold yourself accountable for achieving. Goals are good, goals work!

When crafting goals, you want to be as laser focused as possible. Make it something that is important enough to work on, within your reach, and tied to a date you are accountable to.  Make SMART Goals!

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Reasonable

  • Time Bound


You need to write goals for short and mid-term skill development, but don’t lose sight of the long-term vision you have for yourself. You want to pick goals for this year that will help you grow into the roles, companies and industries that you have targeted for yourself in the future. So spend time deciding what you want from your career 5 and 10 years from now.

Sometimes, really successful people are working on a skill that doesn’t actually relate to their current job. Instead they are prioritizing an activity that will intersect with their career at a later time.  As an example: we’ve seen people focusing on language skills because their company is based in another country and their ultimate wish is for an international assignment. 

When you set out to articulate your vision, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where do I want to be in 5 years (physically, role, company and industry)?

  • What skills do I currently lack that I will need then?

  • Will this job enable me to grow those skills, or do I need to find other sources?


Mentors come from everywhere, so don’t just think about your boss and the people around you. Don’t even limit yourself to your current company.  Consider your broader vision and identify people who are already doing the things you hope to do in the future.  Enlist them in your cause.

People tend to think of mentors only in a formal capacity, but they come in many forms. Find people who have talent in the areas that you want to grow and engage them formally or informally.  You may even find that multiple people can help you at the same time, in different ways.  The mentorship can be as simple as a few meetings over coffee and/or expand to multiple years. Make sure they are regularly scheduled meetings with explicit goals and milestones. It doesn’t take a grandiose commitment to help you close a skill gap.

Here are some places to look for mentors:

  • Professional organizations

  • Educational institutions and alumni

  • Leaders in other departments of your organization


All feedback is good feedback, so seek it out and take it to heart when you get it. Invite people to give you feedback and demonstrate that you are open to it, by not reacting defensively.  Create a place where you compile all the feedback you receive, so that you can draw from it when you are setting goals and evaluating progress.  The best place is wherever it is most easily accessible: smart phones, iPads, computers or even your old school daily planner. Review it regularly!

It is critical that you not only ask for feedback, but that you take action on it. It is also important to circle back with people who have openly given you feedback and let them know what action you have taken to improve, based on their feedback.  They will be more likely to give you feedback in the future if they know you took it seriously and used it to create improvement.

It can be difficult for others to give feedback, especially when it is negative feedback. Prepare questions ahead of time to help them. Be sure that your questions are open-ended, targeted, and specific. Here are some examples:

  • If you were in my position, how would you handle the situation more effectively?

  • How could I do a better job at…?

  • If you had to make three suggestions for improving my work, what would they be?


The best development does not take place in a classroom or training. The most impactful activities are those that take place during the course of one’s job or daily routine.  Adults learn best by doing, so find assignments, teams and activities that force you to stretch and grow your skills. Be pro-active in this pursuit, don’t wait for opportunities to come find you.

The more time you invest in getting to know people throughout the organization, field, industry and community the better. By having more and deeper relationships, you will be in a position to identify more opportunities for skill building.  Look for these types of experiences:

  • Cross-functional teams

  • Special projects

  • Active membership or leadership of community or philanthropic organizations

  • Become part of a Board


The more you give to others, the more will come back to you. So be a mentor to others and give feedback that can help them grow. People will notice and you will be modeling a behavior that you want for yourself. Trust that people will respond in kind and be there to help you too.

The other benefit of helping others in their growth, is that you will be developing new skills while you are doing it. Many people can accomplish tasks, but it takes mastery to be able to teach others how to do it.  You will also be developing your own coaching and feedback skills. These will serve you well in the future, no matter where you want to be.

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