We all want to grow and improve. After all, self-improvement is necessary to get ahead at work. But once you know what you want to improve — be it public speaking, using social media, or analyzing data — how do you start? Of course, learning techniques will vary depending on the skill and the person, but there are some general rules you can follow. Here are eight principles to follow in your quest for self-improvement. We conclude with what this means for learning designers.
When working on a new skill or competency, you need to ask yourself two things. First, is your goal achievable? There are certain limits to what you can learn. For example, you may want to be a brain surgeon, but not have the eye-hand coordination required. Second, how much time and energy can you give to the project? Self-improvement is hard work. Recognize that learning a new skill takes extreme commitment. Unless your goal is achievable and you’re prepared to work hard, you won’t get very far.
You may be jazzed up about learning how to speak in front of large audiences, but does your manager value that? Make sure the skill is relevant to you, your career, your organization, or all. Gaining a new skill is an investment.
Some learn best by looking at graphics or reading. Others would rather watch demonstrations or listen to things being explained. Some need a “hands-on” experience. You can figure out your ideal learning style by looking back. Reflect on some of your past learning experiences and make a list of good ones and another list of bad ones. What did the good, effective experiences have in common? How about the bad ones? Identifying common elements can help you determine the learning environment that works best for you.
Find someone you trust who has mastered the skill you are trying to attain. And look beyond your immediate manager who has to evaluate you. Ask yourself: “Who in my organization, other than my boss, would notice my changes and give me honest feedback?” If you can’t find a mentor inside your company, look for people in your industry or from your network.
Choose one or two skills to focus on at a time and break that skill down into manageable goals. For example, if you’re trying to become more assertive, you might focus on speaking up more often in meetings by pushing yourself to talk within the first five minutes.
To move from experimentation to mastery, you need to reflect on what you are learning. Otherwise the new skill won’t stick. Always share your goals with those individuals who can provide informational or emotional support along the way. Talking about your progress helps you get valuable feedback, keeps you accountable and cements the change.
One of the quickest ways to learn something new and to practice it, is to teach others how to do it. So share what you learn with your team, your manager, or your colleagues. You can force yourself to do it by for example putting a “teaching” date on your calendar. With objectives like those, your learning will be much more focused and practical.
It’s not going to happen overnight. It usually takes six months or more to develop a new skill. And it may take longer for others to see and appreciate it. People around you will only notice 10% of every 100% change you make!
As a learning designer these principles can support you in building a program which meets the desired impact and results. We list a number of “take a ways” for you as a designer:
Ariane van Rossem
Source: James M. Hunt & Joseph Weintraub, The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business