Four Simple Tips for Supporting Continuing Education in the Workplace
“We live in an economy where knowledge, not buildings and machinery, is the chief resource.” – Peter Drucker
Most managers we talk to would quickly agree with Drucker’s observation, and with the related proposition that their team’s capacity to learn, grow, and adapt is one of the organization’s most important assets. Yet very few of these managers have taken the time to discuss and develop a personalized learning and development plan for the team members who report to them.
Many managers tell us they simply “don’t have time” to create such a plan. Yet but somehow they do have time to go into “firefighting mode” to deal with the various challenges and problems employees drop on their desks … and could be solving on their own if they were supported in pursuing a more aggressive learning curve!
The reality is that creating the right personalized development plan for each of your team members is a great investment for you as a manager … and a net time saver. Here are five key points to bear in mind as you begin to develop these plans.
- Make personal and professional development goals part of your regular performance review process. At the very least, you should have quarterly discussions with each person who reports to you about where he or she would like to be professionally one or two years from now. Once you work together to identify a realistic goal that matters to this employee, you can move forward from there. Is there an internal position that matches up with this individual’s goal? Could there be? What behaviors, attitudes, and skills would this person need to master to be able to step into that position? What development experiences would support that kind of growth? What internal opportunities could you point this person toward, in addition to his or her current job responsibilities? What online learning resources exist? No – not everyone on your team will have clear, realistic career goals. And no, not everyone will be willing to commit 100% to the ideal learning track. But as a manager committed to developing your people, you’ll want to know who on your team is ready, willing, and able to contribute more – and grow more.
- Notice everyday “teaching moment” opportunities. If you’ve grown too used to solving the problems of team members who come to you regularly for “advice,” you might want to consider changing that paradigm. Be a little more willing to ask questions like, “How would you have solved this problem if I had been on vacation today?” and “Before I answer your question, I’m just curious – what would you do to deal with this issue?” Bear in mind that putting out every fire for your team members holds them back from optimum learning and growth – and keeps you from making the most of your available time. And while we’re on the topic of changing paradigms …
- Make sure your people know the specific circumstances where it is okay for them to fail. Failure equals learning. To put this powerful point another way: There is no growth and development without failure. Each and every one of the people you manage must have clear guidelines about when they have the right to make their own decisions, without fear of recrimination for messing up … and when they should come to you for help. Because people learn in different ways and at different rates, you should expect these circumstances to differ from employee to employee. That’s fine! Make it your goal to give your people enough autonomy for them to learn. Make it absolutely clear which areas are okay for them to mess up in … provided that they learn something along the way, and are ready to discuss what they’ve learned in private with you and then apply what they’ve learned on the job.
- Take full advantage of online learning resources. We live in an amazing period of history. Virtually anything a motivated employee wants to get better at can be connected, directly or indirectly, to a great YouTube video or some other online learning too. Many of these cost absolutely nothing, so there’s really no excuse not to do a search and see what you can come up with that will support a team player who is motivated to learn and grow. Bear in mind that many employees – particularly younger ones – will do best with online learning resources that break key points down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Five great two-minute YouTube videos are likelier to have a positive impact than one great ten-minute video.
During one-on-one discussions, make sure you let each member of your team know that you consider supporting his or her ongoing personal and professional growth an important priority. Then follow through on that commitment by implementing each of these four best practices!