Learn More at Work. Your Career Depends on It

Learning at work | Photo: iStock

As it turns out, professional development matters now more than ever, both for individual employees and for companies | Photo: iStock


In an age of smart technology, does professional development even matter? As it turns out, it matters now more than ever, both for individual employees and for companies. And yet often times corporate education disappoints. IESE’s new #aWaytoLearn Expert Series of webinars is looking at corporate education, and already providing insightful lessons on how to expand what you learn at work.

1. Lifelong learning matters. It may seem obvious, but ongoing development will be more and more crucial to your career success. “We as professionals now know that everything we do is becoming obsolete every month, every quarter, every year. If you’re not keeping up on your trade or your profession, you are probably falling behind. And so the demand for learning is even more intense,” says Josh Bersin, founder and principal at Bersin by Deloitte.

At the same time, companies need strong corporate learning programs to stay competitive. Ever more sophisticated technology makes human development more rather than less urgent; if technology is widely available, individuals are the differentiating factor. “The speed and quality of your organizational and thus your individual learning will be the strategic differentiator. Because that will lead to behaviors that lead to innovation, that lead to differentiating value creation. So it’s the building block,” says Edward D. Hess of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “Learning becomes a strategic imperative. It’s not a nice to have. It’s a got to have.”

And it’s also critical to attracting and retaining talent. Like salary levels and healthcare coverage, professional development programs are consistently listed as a reason to work for – and stay at – a particular company. “Your ability to learn on the job is one of the largest makers of employment brand, of loyalty, of engagement. If you’re in a job where you’re not learning and you’re not growing, you´re probably falling behind,” says Bersin.

And yet…

2. Don’t be surprised if you feel your company is falling short. Most people do. Learning management systems tend to be underutilized, and people look elsewhere for what they need to know. Professional development regularly gets low ratings on employee surveys. For most people, “your employer administered 2, 3, 4, 5 percent of what you learned last year. 95 percent of what you learned last year was self-driven, on the job, informal,” says David Blake, founder and CEO of Degreed.

So what can you do today to improve workplace learning?

3. Foment a culture of learning. Learning is about much more than launching a new learning platform, or organizing a specific course. It starts with creating an environment in which learning is valued. Darden’s Hess says that as he has studied leading-edge learning organizations in many different sectors, he has found a commonality: “There’s a common culture that runs all through these organizations and that culture is basically characterized by candor, permission to speak freely, and an idea of meritocracy, permission to experiment and fail within financial parameters, a very humanistic, people-centric culture.”

4. Adopt the right attitudes. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to learn if you don’t have the right attitude, even if you say that you want to. For Darden’s Hess, there are essential behaviors that people have to have if they hope to learn: “Having a quiet ego, managing your thinking, managing your emotions, reflectively listening, and connecting and collaborating with other people.” Says Annemie Ress of PurpleBeach: “Too often we hire superstars but we don’t consider exactly how will they contribute to making this team even better performing or higher performing.”

And what should you look for in development programs?

5. Make sure it’s practical. While there’s sometimes room for more theoretical and abstract learning in the workplace, the bulk of what we want to learn at work is knowledge and skills to put into practice almost immediately. Look for programs with elements that are clearly applicable to what you actually do in the workplace.

6. Make sure it’s accessible. Learning options need to be easy to find and access; the more intuitive the better. Your learning is likely to come from a mix of sources – podcasts and webinars, YouTube videos, and articles as well as traditional seminars and courses – but it has to be easily available. In designing professional development programs, companies should always have present how much people learn from simply Googling stuff.

7. It’s not all about technology. Corporate learning doesn’t have to involve spending millions on new technologies; in the past companies invested heavily in costly learning platforms, only to find that they were under-utilized. While things such as virtual reality exercises will play a larger role in corporate training in the future, sometimes learning can be as low-tech as adopting practices like after-action reviews, putting into place effective meeting processes, and listening well. Look for companies that value those things.

8. It needs an experiential, personal element. Not all learning will come through watching videos or listening to a podcast. Traditional seminars, training sessions, simulations, and face-to-face meetings are a very important part of the learning process. There’s nothing like getting teams and people together to learn.

And don’t forget to …

9. Make sure there’s time to learn. Learning does take time, and you have to have the actual time and focus to dedicate to it. If everyone is overworked and putting out fires, it’s difficult to sit down and watch a video, much less take a course. Bersin says: “We have to slow down just a little bit. We have to take time at the end of projects, during meetings, during one-on-ones, to ask ourselves questions, to ask other people questions, and to listen. That is where learning happens.”

Lifelong learning is, thus, more important than ever. IESE’s #aWaytoLearn Expert Series of webinars will continue in the fall, producing fresh insights and generating new ideas. And IESE offers a wide variety of executive education programs, from industry-specific meetings to custom programs within companies to general management courses – everything you need to know.


#aWaytoLearn webinars (you can watch them here):

This post is also available in: Spanish

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