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A 4-Step Process to Learning When Your Organization Isn't That Into It

I'm sorry to say that I've been spending a lot of time lately with staff working in organizations that aren't that into professional development. Because of time and financial constraints, training is not a priority and there is little attention paid to ensuring that staff have the skills and knowledge to perform their jobs. The best these people can hope for from their employers is that they will be allowed to sit in on a webinar or attend a 1-day training session once a year.

I know from experience that while there are many companies and organzations (usually the larger ones) that take learning pretty seriously, reality is that most workers cannot count on their employer as the primary avenue for improving their skills. They may get some training to learn how to use proprietary systems or processes, but the kinds of skill-building that make people effective and marketable are just not going to happen.

So how do you engage in professional development when you can't count on your organization to provide it? A few thoughts. . .

1. Recognize that YOU will have to be the primary source of professional development.

They say that the first step to addressing a problem is recognizing that you have it. I think a lot of people are still stuck in a world where they believe that their organization OWES them professional development. If they aren't going to get it at work, then it's the employer's problem.

I would argue, however, that this is cutting off your nose to spite your face. A few years ago I wrote a post, "Who's in Charge of Learning?" in which I made the case that we, as individuals, have to take responsibility for our own learning as it's our primary means for remaining competitive in the marketplace. Given the current state of the economy and the huge numbers of layoffs we've experienced, I think there's an even stronger reason to believe that it's up to individuals to pay attention to keeping their skills updated if they want to not only be effective now, but be ready to go to another job if and when the situation arises.

2. Know what skills and competencies are in demand for your particular occupation--or for occupations you'd eventually like to get into.

Once you recognize the need to take charge of your own professional development, the next thing you need to do is get a grip on the skills, knowledge, tools, etc. that are cutting edge in your profession. This is going to mean getting outside your organization, because if they aren't into training, then they probably aren't into being on top of competencies either. I actually think that engaging with other professionals through social media can be one of your most powerful opportunities for learning about the most "in-demand" skills because the professionals I know who are on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, etc. take their learning very seriously. Connecting with professional and industry organizations is another good strategy.

3. Seek out learning opportunities.

This could be an entire post of its own, but here are a few ideas: 

  • Find smart people online, on Twitter, on LinkedIn and who blog. Pay attention to what they talk about. Check out their links, participate in their conversations. 
  • Run a web search for skills you want to learn. You'd be amazed at the number of free videos, tutorials, slideshows, and "how-to" posts  that will turn up!
  • Connect to professional organizations. They can point you to the people, classes, certifications and skills that will help you continue to develop as a professional.
  • Consider joining or starting your own community of practice. Do Lunch & Learns with colleagues. Form a Facebook Group. Participate in a Twitter chat. Find other professionals and engage with them in the learning process.

4. Rinse and Repeat

Learning is an ongoing thing. Skill needs change and if the recession has proven anything, it's that we need to keep our skills fresh. I know that for myself, if I slack off for even a few months, I start to feel stale and behind the times. It's one of the many reasons to be as active as possible in social media, I think, because there's always learning going on there, even if you can't take advantage of each opportunity. Learning can also help combat the dreaded burnout. It gives you a sense that you're accomplishing things and keeps your mind active.

What are your thoughts? Have you worked for a company or organization where you had to take professional development into your own hands? What did you do to keep on learning?



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I think these steps also apply to people in organizations that spend a fair amount of focus on training. Have seen that people stop taking charge of their own learning and expect the organization to spoon feed them at every step.

Good point, Manish. I sometimes wonder if we don't create this more passive approach to learning through our educational processes from kindergarten through university. We spend some 16 years telling people that WE know what's best for them to learn and that they should rely on a system to teach them, so we shouldn't be terribly surprised when they don't take responsibility for their own learning once they graduate and start working.

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