How to Measure Your Professional Development

Written by Dave Bailey

Filed under coaching leadership psychology


How do you measure your ability to delegate? Or to set clear expectations and build stronger relationships with your team?

Ambitious and thoughtful leaders often know which parts of their game they want to improve. However, wanting to improve and actually improving are different things. Professional development is notoriously difficult to measure.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

While objective quantities, such as conversion rates, revenues, and new hires are easily measurable, you can measure subjective things too — like professional development — if you use the right tools

Professional development is subjective because it ultimately depends on the perceptions of other people.

If you can measure those perceptions, you can monitor your development. And an easy way to do this is by using questionnaires.

Question-Driven Development

Questionnaires enable you to get feedback from a group of people, so you can use them with your team to quantify your professional development.

To uncover the questions you want to ask, you need to clarify the outcomes you want to achieve. Imagine you have already achieved your development goals — what would people say about you? You can measure these sentiments.

For example, you might want to become a better delegator. If you achieve this goal, you might hope your team would say one or more of the following:

My manager is clear about the problem they want me to solve.’
My manager checks in regularly and provides helpful feedback.’
My manager provided enough context so I can find an effective solution.’
My manager coaches me and helps me find my own answers.’

You might measure these sentiments with quantitative questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1–10, how clear were your goals this month?
  • How many times did your manager cancel a weekly check-in in the last month?

Alternatively, you might ask open questions to collect qualitative insights:

  • What additional context would have been helpful to receive from me sooner?
  • How effective was I in coaching you to find your own answers?

Notice how much clearer the objectives become when you define how you’ll measure them. Even if you never use the questionnaire, it’s worth writing out the questions anyway.

A lightweight survey might just include five quantitative questions that can be quickly answered. Including other types of questions will increase the insight you get back, but they can be more difficult and time-consuming for team members to answer.

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Clearer Outcomes, Better Plans

Clarifying your desired outcomes makes it far easier to identify the specific actions required to improve your chances of success. And you’re more likely to take specific actions than vague ones.

For example, what specific actions could you take to provide enough context to your team? Here are a few ideas:

  • Before delegating, spend five minutes writing a bulleted list of contextual information that may be relevant to the project.
  • Identify other stakeholders who could provide context and empower your reportee to collaborate with them.
  • Encourage curious questions by saying, ‘To make sure you have the necessary context, could you bring a list of any new questions to our next meeting?’

You might come up with other strategies that can work too. However, taking the time to create a specific plan of action increases the likelihood of success.

Subjective Surveys Have Their Limitations

While there is insight to be had from designing and running qualitative questionnaires with your team, you should take the results with a bucket of salt.

In the HBR article, ‘The Feedback Fallacy’, Marcus Buckingham explains that subjective evaluations are deeply biased by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on. This is known as the ‘idiosyncratic rater effect’.

The research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth’ — Marcus Buckingham

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t investigate other people’s perceptions. But it does mean that you shouldn’t take any individual response too seriously. Instead, look for trends as an indication of what to focus on next.

How Will You Measure Your Development?

Clarifying how to measure your development goals requires deep reflection on what you’re trying to achieve, but this is time well spent — so much so that I recommend doing it once a month. Identifying how to measure success upfront helps you create a more robust plan of action.

What other areas of your business require subjective measurement? Whose perceptions matter most and how could you measure them?

Remember, success isn’t always as objective as you think.


Originally published Jun 25, 2020, last updated Jun 20, 2023

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