I learned early in my career that professional growth and development was my responsibility, not my employers. I learned this lesson when I asked my boss what my professional development should be. He said “How the hell do I know. It’s your development.” Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what your plan is. Only you truly know what drives and inspires you. Instead of letting a boss guess what you should learn, tell them. They’ll appreciate it (at least I do when my team tells me!). Whether your development ends up on your yearly plan or something you do on your own, take ownership of your learning.
To that end, I recently began learning something new. I have a belief that no matter what you do for a career or in life, we’re all in sales. Whether you’re selling products, services, cars, the importance of your project to the team/stakeholders, your company to a perspective employee, your spouse on letting you sign up for another race, or yourself to a perspective employer, we’re all selling something. So to improve my own sales abilities, I signed up for an online sales class! No one asked me to do it; this is all on me!
I love learning. Whether it be something new or honing an existing skill, I want to learn about a variety of topics. Some learning I’ve done includes being a better presenter both in person and online, Disciplined Agile, PMO leadership, website development, Blockchain, and AI. Because I do like to learn, here are some tips I have so you can get the most out of your own learning endeavors.
Determine what you want to learn. Determining what you want starts with a goal. Why do you want to learn something new? What about it inspires you? How will it help you grow and achieve your long-term goals? For example, I learned PMO leadership because I was creating a PMO (and still actively study it today). Or, website development because I wanted to build my own. Or, sales because I interact with clients talking about services. Have a goal. Have many goals! But determine which is most important to learn now. And no, they don’t always have to be on your yearly performance appraisal. You can learn just because you want to acquire a new skill.
Make a plan. Making a plan should be straight forward, especially for you project professionals! Your career is planning projects, so why not plan your own learning project? Don’t just say “I want to learn [thing] in 2021.” Gotta go deeper than that! Put some dates out there. Maybe you do one thing per quarter, or per month. It’s up to you. But, have a plan and stick with it.
Determine how you learn best. I like going to live learning events, but COVID kicked that one in the rear. So now, I enjoy webinars, YouTube, and reading. I learn best when I can read plus watch a short video about the topic. Because I spend a lot of time on a stationary bike training for races, I read quite a bit on that, also. Determine how you learn best and use that medium. There are lots of options out there!
Talk to people. Now that the world is slowly opening back up, this may be a good time to meet someone for coffee, lunch, or a drink. Or, a Zoom meeting is still a fashionable alternative. If you’re connected to someone who specializes in what you’re interested in, ask them to talk about it. Have some good questions ready so it’s an engaging conversation. People like to talk about what they do, so get them talking!! I have a notebook filled with notes from these types of conversations.
Mentoring is still a thing. I love having a mentor. My last mentor was in a completely different field than I’m in. He retired from insurance sales for employers, specifically in the manufacturing sector. I learned a lot from him and many lessons will always stick with me. Mentors don’t have to be in your industry or the same company.
Ask for money. Your employer probably has a continuing education budget that you haven’t used in a long time (if ever). If you find a class or training that will benefit you and your company, ask them to pay for it! They may ask for something in return (i.e. have to stay with the company minimum # of years, write a summary, training others, etc).
Don’t try to do too much. You work full time. You have family commitments. You have hobbies and interests. You may start loving what you’re learning, then find something similar you’d also like to learn, and maybe something similar to that, too. Before you know it, you’re stressed because you’re trying to cram in too much. Focus on one thing at a time and don’t get burned out trying to do too much.
Professional development is your responsibility. Don’t let your employer determine what it should be. Start with a goal, understanding why you want to learn something new. Make a plan based on how you learn best, and get after it!!