10 ways to get ahead with learning at work

Even though you may have left full-time education long ago, there’s something about this time of year that still gives us the urge to learn something new – it’s ‘Autumn Term’. The year has just four months to go, and yet we still can’t quite [insert skills or knowledge gap here]. This is not a ‘nice to have’; if we don’t fix it, the year won’t end well. Goals may get missed, promotion might not happen, that tasty stretch assignment will remain out of reach.

Before you dive in, take a moment to consider what you really, really need (note: ‘need’ not ‘want’).

  • Self-assess – you can review your last appraisal (if they still have ‘em round your way; alternatively, notes from your last performance conversation). Check out the development points: how many can you tick off? What’s still to do?
  • Take a test – if it’s routine-yet-essential stuff such as spreadsheet skills or written English, you can take a test.
  • Reflect – what learning have you done so far this year? 0-10 how much are you applying it? Refer back to any materials you have; if you’re now doing everything learned, well done – you’ve internalised it. If you’ve simply let the learning slip away, time to refresh your memory before demanding more support.
  • Prioritise – we’re talking about learning at work here, so you’ll need to prioritise according to your employer’s needs if you want their support. Ask yourself, What will make the biggest difference? What’s a ‘nice-to-have’ or a ‘must-have’? Which of your KPIs, OKRs or goals do you risk missing?

Ready? Here goes:

1.Training workshops

Well I would say that, wouldn’t I? Yes, if you choose to show up at one of Zoomly’s bite-sized workshops a) I’d be delighted to see you and b) you must work for a great employer. Depending on the size and culture of your company, there may well be courses aplenty on offer – or it may be up to you to source public courses and make a case for funding.

2. Networking

I learn heaps from networking with peers, whether that’s at live events such CIPD’s Leaders in Learning, or online in membership groups. So can you. Worth checking that the group enables you to get – and give – something new.

3. Videos

One of Zoomly’s clients holds regular TED lunches when a bunch of people get together and watch 2 or 3 TED talks, selected from attendees’ nominations. You may want to start such a group, or simply put your top goals into the search box on TED and watch at your leisure. Have to mention (and thank) YouTube for great IT support (you know, those questions you’re too embarrassed to ask).

4. Coaching

If you need to work on a specific issue, say how you manage difficult situations, you may be able to work 1:1 with a coach. External coaches tend to work at more senior levels, as the investment required is substantial. However many employers have senior people who’ve been trained up to provide the capability in-house, so it’s worth asking.

5. Your manager

Probably one of the best sources of learning is to have conversations with your manager. Chances are they’ve done your job and have much to offer in terms of knowledge and skills they can help you develop. Regular 1:1s with your boss will help you identify and focus on the areas that matter most in your role.

6. Reading

If you ‘don’t have time for reading’, watch out. Someone else who’ll be after a promotion just might have an edge on you. Organise a feed of reading material that will keep you up to date and informed about your industry. Check if your employer has subscriptions with journals such as Harvard Business Review and sign up. If you’re reading business books, great – how about forming a book club at your place of work?

7. Online training

There’s tons of online learning out there – some is great, some isn’t, and some is in between. Ask for recommendations and find out if there is a service or platform your employer offers to give you access to online courses and accreditation.

8. Conferences and events

Beware the siren call of ‘can’t miss’ events; sure, they may be precisely what you need at this point in your working life, but you’ll need to make strong case for funding as the relatively high cost per head (compared to other learning methods) can eat into budgets. Offer to write a blog post for the company page, or create a lunch & learn session based on your big takeaways.

9. Mentor

This works both ways: you can gain priceless insights by getting a mentor, whether that’s formally via a network at your employer or informally via a coffee conversation. You can also learn loads from mentoring someone too. See my post ‘Should I get a mentor?’ for more.

10. Podcasts

Podcasts – a great way to learn on your journey to and from work, in the gym or on a break. See my recommendations on podcasts.

Record your learning

You’re probably learning heaps of new things each week in the course of simply doing your job. Conversations with colleagues, a lunch & learn session, a 1:1 with your manager. Keep a learning journal or diary and relate the lessons learned to your goals. The mere act of recording will help you make the learning stick. See this post for tips on the benefits of a weekly review.

You may find this blog post useful: ‘10 self-development resources’.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

Got a question? Drop Dawn a line on Twitter @ZoomlyKeepUp.

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