People who regularly innovate never stop devouring new ideas. We already know that major movers and shakers like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sheryl Sandberg prioritize time in their hectic schedules to read and learn.
And as the leader of your business, you can and should be learning every day, but what if your employees were constantly seeking out ideas and innovations along with you? And what if they were continually improving key skills? How much better could you compete?
Constant learning may be more important now than ever.
According to Erika Anderson in her book, Be Bad First – Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future, in today’s business world of skyrocketing entrepreneurship, disruptive technologies, and sophisticated automation, “the ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
A strong focus on learning has shown not only to improve performance, but also boost morale and help attract and retain new hires. And according to recent research by the Association for Talent Development, “top companies are almost five times more likely than lower performers to have extensive learning cultures.”
Start building your constant learning culture one small brick at a time.
Constant learning is more than just an open mind and a sense of curiosity. It’s a habit just like checking email first thing in the morning or taking a coffee break in the afternoon. And if you want to successfully build a new habit, start small.
Leo Babauta, one of the world’s experts on habit building, writes in his book Zen Habits, that the first step is the hardest because we naturally resist change. And the bigger the change, the more we resist. So make the first step so small it’s almost unnoticeable. And once that step is made, it’s easier to keep going.
Babauta offers some examples: “Want to work out? Just do a few pushups or lift one weight. Want to eat healthier? Take one bite of a fruit or vegetable.”
Small steps for your employees could be as simple as spending just 5 minutes reading an internet article or asking one question of an experienced colleague. There’s no schedule so busy you can’t work that in.
Create a plan for constant learning.
You don’t need a lot of structure or formal training courses to develop a culture of learning, but you do need to set some goals. Learning goals give people something to work toward and become markers of success along the way.
In the spirit of starting small, work with everyone on your team to select one learning goal, such as asking better questions during sales calls, writing better executive summaries for proposals, or learning to input leads into the CRM software.
Then list some resources to help people get started. These can come from anywhere:
- Experienced colleagues
- Subject matter experts
- Internet articles
- 3rd party course like those from Udemy or Lynda.com
- Company training (if you have it)
Next, identify some practice opportunities for people to apply what they’ve learned from articles, courses or colleagues. For example, if one of your team wants to write better executive summaries, make a note of the next proposal coming up and make sure to assign that summary to the learner.
Finally, identify people who can provide feedback. Feedback is essential to learning because it helps us adjust course and hone our skills. As a manager or owner, you can provide feedback on people’s attempts to improve, but so can peers and subject matter experts. Even trusted customers can weigh in.
Getting feedback on your work can make people itchy; it’s uncomfortable to both give and receive it. But it’s crucial to a learning culture, so you need to address it.
[Here are some great ideas on how to handle feedback.]
Ask employees to take responsibility for their learning.
When people are focused on continual learning, they will often seek out knowledge and experience on their own. They don’t have to be forced to take classes or watch videos. But you don’t create that kind of motivation overnight.
To help your team build their learning habits, you need to ask them to be accountable for doing the small tasks you’ve laid out in your plan for each of them. But if they don’t follow up, you have to.
There are tons of reasons someone might not complete a simple task like asking a colleague one question. They may forget; they may get distracted; or they may not yet take you seriously.
Many organizations will start an initiative like this and ask employees to participate. But interest falls off and nothing comes of it. If your team has seen this before, they may categorize their new learning plans as yet another temporary jaunt. They won’t bother to follow through because you won’t bother to follow up.
So it’s important that every day you either hear from them how the learning task went or you ask them. When they see that it’s a priority for you, they’ll take it seriously.
Use automation to make it easier.
The problem with accountability and follow up is that you’re asking for yet another new habit. Employees have to remember to do their learning task and then they have to remember to let you know about it. Or you have to remember to ask.
But automation can help by letting employees log their tasks so you can quickly see what’s been done. Automation can also send out reminders to help trigger new behaviors.
Track progress for motivation.
Since your team is taking small learning steps on a regular basis, they may not see from day to day how much they’re progressing. So it’s important to keep track of what they’ve done and point to all the small goals that have added up to seriously improved skills.
If you’re using automation to log their activities, then you have that information ready, but if not, be sure to record it somehow and review it at regular 1-to-1 meetings or team meetings.
To keep people motivated, draw on psychology research from Carol Dweck who advises in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress, and to emphasize the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively. In all of our research, the outcome — the bottom line — follows from deeply engaging in these processes.”
Get ready for tomorrow.
At the pace of change today, our most useful constants will be human adaptation and ingenuity. That means regularly stretching ourselves to find what’s next and what’s better. As a leader, you probably already challenge yourself. But if you ever sit up at night wondering how you’ll meet the next unexpected market challenge, maybe it’s time to enlist your employees’ help and build a culture of learning that will prepare you all to ride the next wave.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping you instill effective learning habits in yourself and your team – without all the administrative hassle. Learn more.