With Martin G. Moore

Episode #212

Your Professional Development Roadmap: Five valuable options

With so many opportunities for professional development, it’s really difficult to know which one to pursue. And the most valuable commodity you have is your own time, which is why you don’t want to waste it on learning that only delivers marginal returns.

This episode is designed to take some of the guesswork out of the professional development landscape, and make it easier for you to decide what your best options are to support your career growth in the coming year and beyond.

 I take a look at the five basic development options that you can pursue to improve your career trajectory, and suggest which ones might be most appropriate for you at different career stages. All professional development options can be incredibly valuable, if you manage to use them the right way, at the right time!

If you know what your ultimate career goal is, and you know where you currently are in relation to that goal, this episode will bring some order to the chaos.

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Episode #212 Your Professional Development Roadmap: Five valuable options

With so many opportunities for professional development it’s really difficult to know which one to pursue, and the most valuable commodity that you have is your own time. A couple of weeks ago, I gave you some hacks for managing your time and energy so that you can play the long game in your career. Today, I want to take some of the guesswork out of the professional development space and make it easier for you to decide what your best options are to support your career growth in the coming year and beyond.

There are five basic development options that you can pursue to improve your career trajectory. Each of these options has different characteristics and will be more or less valuable depending on two things:

  1. Your ultimate career goal; and

  2. Where you currently are in relation to that goal.


After dropping out of my law degree, I decided to pursue a career in software development. This was in the early 1980s, so it was decades before tech was actually cool. Now, having wasted so much time on my first degree, I felt as though I was behind everyone else. I didn’t want to start all over again on a four or five year education commitment, so I took a diploma course in computer programming, which only took a year to complete. And with this, I got my ticket to the game.

Rule #1: Always make sure you have the ticket to play. 

You have to  know what it is and do what you need to get it, but equally you need to recognize that this is just a good start and it won’t necessarily take you where you need to go. 

So, I got a job as a programmer/analyst with a bank in Sydney, Australia, and for the first five or ten years of my career, all my education consisted of undertaking technical courses to learn new skills in new programming languages.

Towards the end of this phase, I also studied project management so that I could learn the discipline of running software development projects. But all of this was really about my technical competence and making sure that I understood the foundational concepts well enough to start learning how to really apply them.

Rule #2: Formal technical education is just the starting point to competence. 

Remember the 70-20-10 principle of adult learning:

  • 70% of your learning comes from on the job experiences;

  • 20% comes from the coaching and mentoring you receive from your boss; and

  • 10% is formal training.

Any technical course will really just give you the basics, which you can then build on through on the job learning. And this is where you achieve real competence and mastery.

Because I’d always been keen to learn, I was also reading a lot of books during this time, in all sorts of areas: I was mainly developing my appetite for business performance and leadership. I was absolutely fascinated by what made people tick and how to tap into their triggers for motivation and performance. Of course, I also attended a lot of industry conferences where I was able to discover different perspectives, and hear from practitioners who had trodden the path before me. I always came away from these better off for learning from other people’s mistakes (and sharing some of mine).

As I approached my 40th birthday, I took stock of where my career was and I felt that, although the IT industry was fun and rewarding, it wasn’t where the action was. It was over 20 years ago that I set my sights on transitioning out of IT, and extending my career into the world of mainstream business.

Enter the Master of Business Administration… The MBA is one of the key development options for a career in business. For me, it turned out to be a core foundation for all my future career success – so even though it was a huge commitment in terms of time, money and personal sacrifice, it was absolutely invaluable.

Five years later, I set my sights on something even more ambitious: an intensive executive development course. In 2007, I embarked upon the Advanced Management Program – Harvard Business School’s flagship executive offering. To say, this was life changing is an understatement, for a whole range of reasons. This not only gave me some new skills and increased confidence, it fundamentally changed the way I think about business and strategy.

Since then I’ve taken the odd course in a specific technical pursuit – a good example of this was the Scotwork negotiation course that I took. That was outstanding, and incredibly valuable in lifting my negotiation skills. But I haven’t really undertaken any technical education in quite a while. These days, the availability of high quality knowledge on virtually any subject makes informal learning really easy, so most of my learning now comes from podcasts, books and the inter-web.


1. Free content

These days, the world is a wash with knowledge – so much so that knowledge has become very much a commodity. The only real barrier to learning is your ability to access a high speed internet connection. Information is instantly available and more comprehensive than you could ever wish for.

Podcasts like No Bullsh!t Leadership can be particularly useful, because I attempt to go beyond pure knowledge and to give you the full benefit of any insight and wisdom that I may have acquired over my successful 35 year career in business. There are also an infinite number of newsletters and blogs on every subject imaginable. And let’s face it, there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the help of a YouTube video, right? But reading free articles from McKinsey, The Economist or Harvard Business Review is a cheap, available and high quality source of learning.

The pros for this type of learning are that:

  • It’s incredibly cost effective;

  • It gives you immediate access to high quality information; and

  • It’s super low risk. If you start consuming something and you decide you don’t like it, exit costs are zero. Just stop consuming it.

But there are certainly some cons as well:

  • With so much information out there, it’s often really hard to find exactly what you need;

  • There’s just as much misinformation as there are facts; and

  • Much of the information you’ll come across has been oversimplified to the point where it loses any utility.

And the final con? Just ask yourself the question: When was the last time I used any of this information to actually change the way I do things?

Rule #3: Free learning is an incredibly valuable option that’s necessary, but not sufficient.

Just be judicious about what information you consume and how much credibility you assign to it. Also realize that listening and absorbing information does nothing to change where you are and to move you forward. Only action does.

2. Technical courses 

These have a really important place in your development, particularly early in your career. When you’re an individual contributor, your technical skills are the main source of value that you bring to your organization and this may actually be true for a number of years. So, make sure you get the training you need, when you need it.

But even at the highest levels of leadership, technical courses can be really useful depending on your goals: for example, courses like Finance for Non-Finance Managers or Competitive Strategy for Executives that are offered at many high quality business schools.

In terms of the pros:

  • Technical courses are essential building blocks in your career toolkit; and

  • They’re also an awesome way to learn in bite sized chunks with just-in-time learning.

The cons?

  • They get you to the starting line, but you still have to get the experience through application in your day-to-day role;

  • If you can’t apply the concepts immediately, you’ll find that they lose their value rather quickly, as per our 70-20-10 model;

  • A lot of people choose technical courses–particularly later in their career–to suit their interests or what they’d like to be doing. And they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to apply them straight away; and

  • Then, of course, there’s the whole question of transitioning from being a technical expert to a leader. At some point, you’ll need to shift your focus from your own knowledge and capability to leveraging other people’s capacity and performance.

Rule #4: You’ll need to use your judgment to work out when the right time is to shift from a technical focus to a broader management and leadership focus.

3. Internal courses 

If you are in a larger organization, from time to time, you’ll be required to undertake certain training courses. These can be anything from an organizational induction, to diversity training, to training in policies and procedures – and sometimes yes, even leadership training.

I’ve seen these programs run through organizations before, and there’s no doubt they can be useful in helping people to learn… but positive change only comes through improving leadership, culture and performance. And this is only done by taking action to do things differently. I’ve seen many CEOs and HR directors use this as a tick box exercise, “Yes, I’ve trained and developed my people. I am a great leader.” 

So, the pros:

  • Internal training can bring people up to a common level of understanding and consistency, which is highly valuable for any organization;

  • It’s an investment from the organization that signals to its people what it considers to be important; and

  • It can make it easier to do your job by knowing what’s expected in the areas that your organization trains you in.

The cons are:

  • Much of the internal training you’ll be required to undertake is for compliance reasons, rather than to add value to your capability; and

  • Unless you have a cultural drive to make changes as a result of the training, it can just be an expensive box ticking exercise.

4. Postgraduate qualifications 

Although I definitely felt as though I needed the qualification if I was going to be taken seriously when I embarked on my MBA journey, I also realized how much I needed to learn to make a successful career transition from IT to mainstream business.

Postgraduate qualifications come in many different forms and the right option for you depends largely on your career aspirations:

  • Should you do a Masters degree in your base discipline to further increase your technical expertise? For example, if you specialize in adult learning, is a Masters of Education going to satisfy you?

  • Should you do a PhD? If you have a career in academia, this is de rigueur.

  • Should you do a degree that further develops a skill that’s critical to your chosen career path at more senior levels? For example, if you’re an investment banker or a venture capitalist, a Masters in Applied Finance might be the perfect compliment to your existing experience.

There are certainly more pros than cons here – I could go on all day about the value of my postgraduate MBA:

  • It not only taught me a broad range of business skills, but the process also built my resilience and confidence;

  • I built great networks of lifelong friends and colleagues; and

  • It gave me a formal, recognised and sought after qualification.

Now the cons are:

  • Any postgraduate degree is a serious commitment and it can have a significant impact on your life in virtually every area. You need to be really serious about doing it before you decide to take it on;

  • They’re expensive to undertake financially. So you have to think about your return on investment, the path to benefits recovery that comes from achieving the qualification where your future earnings make that worthwhile; and

  • If you aren’t realistic about the likely outcomes, you may feel a sense of disappointment. For example, understand that the letters after your name won’t greatly improve your job prospects and remuneration.

Rule #5: Don’t just think about the letters that you’d like after your name, think about the capabilities you need to build and the things you need to learn. 

It’s what you learn and apply to improve your performance that brings value, not the qualification itself.

5. Development programs that bridge the divide between theoretical knowledge and practical wisdom 

These can bring deep insights that aren’t readily available, and they put practical tools and strategies in your hands so that you can apply them immediately and improve the results you can achieve.

For example, there are online courses like Marie Forleo’s B-School program, or Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy. I would also humbly put our own Leadership Beyond the Theory program in with this esteemed company.

Before Em and I set up our business, I took Marie Forleo’s B-School program. Yes, even with my stellar business education, I knew that I needed some practical tools and insights if I was going to embark on a completely different business model than what I was familiar with.

These types of programs all have some common elements, which I would consider pros:

  • They’re delivered flexibly online, which makes them accessible and easy to integrate into your current lifestyle, no matter how busy you are;

  • The practical content goes way beyond the commodity style knowledge that swamps the internet. They have tools and techniques that can be implemented immediately;

  • They’re grounded in leading edge theory, but they’re not theoretical; and

  • Most importantly, they’ve been created and delivered by people who’ve been there, and done that. The results are predictably positive, as long as you do the work.

But of course there are always cons, right?

  • If you’re not committed to doing the work, you won’t get the results, which I guess is true for any option;

  • Financially, they require much smaller commitments than postgraduate university or business school degrees. So as a result, you might not take it quite as seriously;

  • Online learning requires discipline and focus. So if you’re not serious, it absolutely won’t work;

  • If you value academic qualifications, you won’t get the letters after your name from these types of programs. They don’t hold the same status as an MBA from Darden or Stanford or Sloan.


Continuous learning is critical, no matter where you are or what your future career aspirations are. I know lots of leaders who pay for their own development because they don’t think their organizations are going to come to the party.

It doesn’t matter what ongoing education is right for you. If it’s improving your skills and capability, your organization should be willing to help you fund it. Whether it’s a Microsoft technical certification, a negotiation course, an MBA, or a course in digital advertising creation, as long as it’s relevant to your job and likely to improve your performance, you should seek to get support from your boss. The old excuse of “We don’t have the budget for that,” is a lazy way for your boss to fob you off. And this happens all the time, so it’s important that you approach the exercise the right way.

I negotiated my Harvard Business School development incentive with the CEO at NTI in 2005, and it cost the organization around $100,000 in direct costs, plus the indirect cost of having me out of the business for two months. So, I’ve created a sample business case template that you can use to approach your boss about supporting your professional development. How much time and effort you put into this will depend entirely on how big a commitment it is in relation to your company’s size. For example, if you’re working for a small business and you want them to help you spend $80 thousand on an MBA, you know, that’s always going to be a tough sell.

But if you’re realistic, your organization should be prepared to support you as they will be the ones who reap the benefits of your improved capability and performance. If they’re not prepared to support you well, that tells you something right there, doesn’t it?

Whatever education options you choose, be intentional and deliberate about where you want your career to take you and then tailor your development opportunities to suit. There are horses for courses, and at each stage of your career, you’ll need something completely different. So make sure that you are constantly evaluating your options across the five professional development categories that I’ve outlined here. And remember: leaders are learners.

My sample business case template will show you how to approach your boss to fund your professional development, no matter which option you choose. Download your copy here.



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