In its 2018 Federal Workforce Priorities Report OPM has said it wants agencies to provide employees with ample opportunities for continuous professional growth and skill development. Regardless of the extent to which agencies make new opportunities available, it’s a worthy goal and one you should be take seriously.

Yes, assignments might take you outside your comfort zone (that’s a good thing), and yes, those assignments might be collateral to your existing duties. However, they can also be growth opportunities that will enhance your exposure to others in your organization as well as teach you new skills. And to maximize the effectiveness of those opportunities, research has shown that those experiences are most effective when:

  • You had one-on-one meetings with your immediate manager to discuss how to apply the development in your specific role.
  • You perceived that your manager endorsed and supported this specific opportunity.
  • You expected to be recognized or in some other way rewarded for applying what you learned.

Perhaps that list will jog you imagination as to what to look for. Also, don’t forget that volunteer leadership or growth roles can provide the same benefits. Just because it’s not formal training, does not mean that it doesn’t “count” or can’t help you move forward in your career.

In fact, consider this quote from Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger and the Center for Creative Leadership’s The Career Architect Development Planner, a classic book on how to become an effective leader:

“Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience. The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences – working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback and working around good and bad examples of the need; and 10% from courses and reading.”

In essence, what this is saying is that adult learners learn best by doing. This does not render formal training ineffective, however, we should not ignore the very real and positive effects of developmental assignments, details, task force assignments, and the like, on our learning.

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.