Three Ways to Promote Continuous Learning

Last week I participated in an all-employee meeting during which I shared our philosophy about creating a culture of continuous learning. I was frank when I told everyone that the “training department” will not be able to provide everything people need to be great at their jobs and that each one of us need to make a commitment to our own development. However, even though training cannot be the main solution to our development needs at work, the “training department” can make available resources to help people-development skills. I shared with the group a simple, three-part model for how each one of us can constantly develop our skills and prepare for the next stages in our careers.

1. Be great at your job

If you want to get ahead, first be great at what you do. Whether it's being a manager, a customer service agent, or a mortgage due-diligence analyst, if you want a promotion or to transfer to another team in a new area of the company, first be great at what you do. There are two way to do this: First, get clarity on the expectations of your current job. Second, ask your manager for feedback and regularly ask what you can do to improve. If you're great at what you do, people will take notice and have you in mind for special projects and maybe even for that promotion.

2. Continuously learn new skills

Many training departments receive requests for all kind of things not specifically related to job tasks — for example training requests for Microsoft Excel, writing skills, or email etiquette. There are two problems with formal training offerings on subjects like these. First, the training is expensive (at least hundreds of dollars per employee). Second, it's hard to measure their effect. In other words, as a result of completing that intermediate Excel training class, what got better? Expensive training with no definable results is not a good combination. So what to do?

I suggested a different approach to formal training in these areas: online tutorials. Microsoft offers scores of free self-paced online tutorials for all of their Office products. Not only are these tutorials free, but they're targeted to specific tasks. For example, the tutorials are not about learning Excel. They're about learning how to use pivot tables or how to create charts or how to do vlookups. The tutorials are also short and can be viewed multiple times and whenever someone needs help with a specific task. There is hardly a better way to learn how to use Excel than by watching a video that shows you how to conduct a specific task.

3. Develop leadership skills

Fans of the Leadership Challenge understand that leadership is everyone’s business. It's not a skill reserved only for bosses. Anyone can be a leader in an organization, no matter their job. So my advice on Friday to everyone at my company was to develop leadership skills. After all, as Peter Drucker said, “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and under-performance. Everything else requires leadership.” Leaders solve problems. Leaders make things happen. Leaders inspire others to be their best. Anyone can do that. One just needs to learn leadership skills and take action on them. One place to start is to read books about leadership and “try” some of the things one learns on those books. I suggested several books that people could read and then I shared with everyone the list of books that our executive team found valuable in their careers. Said Harry S. Truman, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

This simple three-part model helps frame the idea that in order to be successful, one must continuously learn. The more one learns, the more adaptable one can be to change and the better prepared for an uncertain future.  How are you creating a culture of continuous learning on your organization?

More: Why Mixing It Up With Employees Makes Trench Instructors More Effective.

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Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. Image used courtesy of ASTD.

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