Whatever happened to these 'good old
days'? Certainly for those that craved security, this was a good life and had a
lot going for it. The world of work has now changed beyond recognition. Losing
your job for example, no longer carries the same social stigma, even though
some find it a worrying time. Some recruitment agencies now even regard it as a
'positive' on your CV rather than a negative. Nowadays companies, when
squeezed, will often cut down on training and marketing, because these are
frequently the areas that soak up money without showing an immediate return.
Even as far back as the eighties, I worked for a company that was happy to fund
any vocational training for me, but when management courses came up at their
training college, it was always 'next time it will be your turn' and, guess
what, the next time never came. After nearly six years with them as a graduate,
I never once made it to their management training college.
I was not happy with this situation and
changed jobs to get the management training I wanted. Guess what? The new
company promised much and delivered nothing. If only I knew then what I know
now. The truth is that I actually received a great deal of management training,
I just didn't recognise it at the time. What is more, I probably had so many
opportunities, which I failed to capitalise on. Why? Because I hadn't taken
responsibility for my own learning. I blamed circumstances, I blamed the
company I worked for, but I didn't stop to think about what I was learning, and
how I could learn more.
Taking responsibility for our own learning, does
not mean that the company that we work for can abdicate from any
responsibility. It does mean that the company has shifted its role from one of
provider of training to facilitator of learning and development. One of the
first things that we have to realise is that learning and development are not
necessarily the same thing as training. You might like to think of development
as a six stage process.
- Unaware: At this stage you know that a skill
might be of use to you but you don't know anything about it.
- Aware: At this point you are learning the
theory of the skill, perhaps going on a training course or reading a book on
- Informed: Now you are ready to look for
suitable opportunities to put this into practice, but it will take conscious
effort to use the new skill.
- Capable: You are now using the new skill
routinely, and are consciously aiming to improve by other methods such as role
- Recognised: The people around you recognise
the change in skill level and you are now so practised that the skill has moved
from your conscious level to the subconscious.
- Guru: Your skill is now so well known that
others hail you as the expert.
(© Fagan & Bint
There are three specific points that I would like to draw out of
this model. Firstly, when we go on a training course, we are only on level 2
and that's not where most of us want to stay with our skill levels. At level 2
we are really still only at the start of our journey. Secondly, we don't need
to be gurus in everything we need to do. As a sales manager for example, you
might only need to be at level four in understanding finance - the Finance
Manager is the one that needs to be at guru level. Finally it is the practice
that makes perfect, not the training course.
By recognising these stages of
development, we can see how both the individual and the company can play its
part. Going back to my frustrations after leaving university, I still regarded
going on training courses as the 'be all and end all' of my development.
Looking back on what I learned, I gained valuable knowledge from the colleagues
around me. I was subconsciously role modelling my sales manager, who was
coaching me all the time to be better, although we never put that label on it.
Through the company, I became an adviser for the Young Enterprise scheme. It
cost the company nothing, it cost me some time in the evenings, but the
learning was invaluable, although I regarded it as a pastime rather than a
development opportunity. The company also allowed me time out to become an
adviser and then a Chairman for the Challenge of Industry seminars run in
school sixth forms by the Industrial Society. I probably learned as much about
motivation, leadership, teambuilding, communication skills, presentation skills
and trade unions as ever I would have done in a course at the company training
college - and it cost nothing apart from my time. If someone had sat down with
me at the beginning of my career, and we had mapped out what I wanted to learn
and how I was going to learn it, I believe I would have viewed these learning
experiences entirely differently. Learning encompasses training courses, yes,
but also aspects such as coaching, mentoring, role-modelling, experimenting and
most importantly, conscious practising. Taking those first steps to putting new
skills into practice are vital, as well as working out ways in which to work on
those skills to get them to higher levels of excellence. Employee's
of knowledge after a training course is notoriously low, so that a month
afterwards the most that many people can recall is whether or not the lunch was
good. Line managers can play a vital role here in improving these statistics,
discussing what learning took place, what skills were learned and how they can
be practised. Most importantly, they need to make space and opportunities for
practice to happen. The responsibility of the employee, at any level, would be
to make sure they find the opportunities to practise their skills. If the
company can't (or won't) allow them to attend the training that they have
planned for themselves, then they may have to be more creative in obtaining it
There are many types of learning opportunities in the
wider community that we are just not recognising. If you want to learn how to
chair meetings for example, then join a local society or professional institute
and look to becoming the President or Chairman. This will not only give you
opportunities in a safe environment (they can't sack you!) but will give you
practice in a wide range of skills, not only chairing meeting, but also
leadership, teambuilding, project management, motivating others, to name a few.
Treat it like a challenge to your learning, not as a time-consuming matter that
you took on because no-one else wanted to do it. If you want to improve your
communication skills, then your own family may be an excellent place to start,
experiment, reflect and improve.
Reflection on learning experiences is
also crucial to taking responsibility for our own learning so that we have a
basis for planned improvement. A good Personal Development Plan will provide
for not only the plan itself but also a 'learning log' whereby reflection can
take place and form the basis to update the plan. Again, Sales Managers can
play a crucial role here in regularly reflecting on learning experiences with
those that report into them.
The responsibilities of the employee and
the company can therefore be summarised as:
- Have a career goal and work out what your needs are
to reach that goal.
- Have an up-to-date development plan that covers both
your personal and company objectives.
- Only request relevant training and development
opportunities from your company.
- Look for development opportunities outside the
- Positive attitude.
- Put aside time for own development and reflection on
- Open mind.
- Willingness to delegate tasks (including the
interesting ones!) to provide learning opportunities.
- Time for coaching, mentoring and reflecting on
- Knowledge of career opportunities for those who
report to you (nationally and internationally).
- Budget / Support for training and development in
- Genuine concern for employee's development.
- Support for relevant voluntary work.
A Sales Manager is of course both an
employee and a manager and should therefore be looking to take on both sets of
responsibilities. A Personal Development Plan does involve a certain amount of
discipline and paperwork, but as the role model for your team you will reap
dividends by setting the example of taking responsibility for your learning.
Frank discussions with each of your team on their individual plans, what and
how they need to learn and what their best career route might be, should give
you individuals on your team who are happy with where they are now, where they
can go and the stages to get there.
As Winston Churchill once said "The
price of greatness is responsibility."
For more details of how to develop
responsibility for your own learning and to encourage it in your team, contact
Fagan of JS Training.
About the author
Fagan has over 20 years professional experience in Culture and Language, Export
Sales Management and Consultancy Training, and has trained executives in
Australasia, Europe and the USA. She now specialises in interpersonal skills
and is a certified user of personality profiling.
Whilst living in
Singapore, Sally became a recognised consultant for the national People
Developer Award and back in the UK, has trained in the Investor in People
scheme. Some of her major clients are pharmaceutical companies. Sally is a
fellow of the Institute of Administrative Management and a founder member of
the Institute of Leadership.
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