Think of a learning plan as a blue-chip investment, with potential returns in the form of improved career prospects, future-proofing your employability and income protection.
A learning plan is based on a variety of sources, including feedback from the following sources:
- Peers and subordinates, notably 360-degree performance reviews
- Customers or suppliers
- Developmental areas identified in the feedback above
- Self-reflection and acknowledgement of gaps in expertise or development
- Learning methods, potential workplace activities, and other options that offer opportunities for achieving your learning goals
- Understanding trends and future-proofing your career in an ever-changing employment market
A learning plan is not static. It needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure you keep on track. It also needs to be updated and modified as learning needs change.
Crucially, you don’t have to do it alone. Your manager and colleagues are important sources you can harness to help in developing your plan.
DEVELOPING YOUR LEARNING PLAN
Your learning needs are often an important discussion between you and your manager during your annual performance review. An important outcome is your learning plan.
If you are someone who gives little thought to your development needs and rely upon your manager to make suggestions, you are not making the most of this opportunity.
Considering your learning needs and aspirations before your meeting will ensure a more effective outcome.
Think about the areas of your work that you enjoy the most, and the types of skills and experiences that could help you further.
If you think you will need to do a course, find out what is on offer and the level of commitment required. Consider how the skills and knowledge you would gain benefits your work and your organisation.
Alternatively, you may have observed others doing some activity and wished you could perform that activity as well.
So how can you start your learning plan?
A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE
Let’s use an example of a typical workplace activity. You decide one of your learning goals is to chair effective meetings as you consider this to be an important capability. However, your current workplace is small and rarely has formal meetings. You will need to gain experience elsewhere.
Using the template developed by Carleton University as a guide, identify:
A. Learning Goal - What do I want to be able to do?
Chair an effective meeting.
B. Importance - Why is achieving this goal important to me?
I have no experience and know this will be an important skill in a more senior role
C. Learning Experience - What action(s) will I take to develop the skill required to achieve this goal?
Join a community committee involved in something that interests me. Volunteer to be the Chair or Deputy Chair at the next AGM
D. Support Required - What do I need from others in order to achieve this goal?
Find and watch examples of others chairing meetings on YouTube; review strategies employed by chair; find online course; read guide to chairing meetings. Seek feedback from Committee members after I chair meetings
In addition to the questions above, you could add the following:
E. How you will demonstrate that you have learned?
F. What is the timeframe or deadline for achieving this goal?
If one of the goals in your learning plan is to complete a short online course or industry-recognised qualification, you may first decide to discuss with others how they have benefited from undertaking the course.
Another learning goal may be deciding how to apply what you are learning to a work-related activity.
Remember a learning plan is not static and needs regular review and modification.
ORGANISE YOUR TIME, TIME YOUR LEARNING
Learning a new skill or undertaking a course or qualification requires time and discipline.
For learning in the workplace, negotiate with your manager when you can schedule time to focus on your learning goal.
If your learning goal requires you to undertake an online course or study at home, you may need more self-discipline.
Unfortunately, we often lose the habit of setting aside time to learn and achieve our learning goals when we finish formal education. Additionally, we often have work, family and other commitments that compete with learning for our time and energy.
It becomes essential to schedule time to learn and review what you have learned in order to meet your learning goals.
Set aside blocks of time when you can spend time learning without interruption and when you know you will be receptive to learning something new.
You may only be able to manage an hour some week nights. Schedule two-hour blocks on weekends and take short breaks every half hour.
Reward yourself for keeping on track.
Remember learning is fun and enjoyable. Keep the benefits of achieving your goals in mind, not least of which is feeling more enriched and able to cope with a changing workplace.
PERFORMANCE REVIEWS: WHAT MANAGERS NEED TO KNOW
A usual starting point is the annual performance review. A key outcome of the review is the development and learning plan.
Link your employees’ current skills and capabilities to their KPIs and job responsibilities. Help them identify areas that would benefit from further development.
Discuss each team member’s goals and aspirations. However, not everyone is used to setting goals. Nor are they always clear about the steps required to achieve these goals.
You need to create an environment that encourages employees to discover what they want. Your role is to ask questions and listen for clues.
Some questions that can help start this discussion include:
- What interests you most in your work?
- What do you find you most struggle with?
- Is there a technical aspect of your role you would like to develop?
- Is there something you could learn that would help you do your role better?
- If you weren’t doing your current role, what other role would you like to do?
- How can we help you advance your career here?
Once learning goals are clarified, help guide employees as they explore options for learning.
Some might include short courses run by the company, external or online courses, or diplomas and degrees. Set a timeline for them to gather research on these options, and schedule a time to review.
At the same time, you can help them identify and plan activities that offer learning through experience and aligns with their learning goals.
For example, if someone is technically very good but struggles to manage multiple tasks and meet deadlines, is a time management course called for? What sort of support or mentoring might assist this person apply the learning from this type of course?
For high-performers with little need to develop skills in their current role, help them identify their aspirations and goals, and opportunities for learning that would help achieve these.
For instance, they might benefit from gaining experience through stretch assignments such as special projects that you could delegate.
Alternatively, they may benefit from gaining experience and cross-skilling in other areas of the business.
Don’t risk high-performers getting bored and leaving the organisation. Releasing them to other areas may create a short-term staffing problem for you, but benefits them and the organisation.
LEARNING CALLS FOR ONGOING MANAGERIAL SUPPORT
Keep in mind that the annual performance review is just that – annual. Support for learning and development needs to be ongoing.
Do you play an active role in mentoring and encouraging the development of each of your team members?
This is a key driver in employee engagement. Taking an active role signals your interest in each team member’s well-being. It also involves regular two-way communication, another driver in employee engagement.
Simple managerial activities that engage employees include encouraging and assisting each team member in the implementation of their learning plan between performance reviews.
Schedule monthly one-on-ones. Use these meetings to review progress and discuss further learning opportunities guided by their learning plan. If necessary, discuss how they might need to adapt and modify their learning plan.
In addition to regular one-on-ones, offer feedback in a timely fashion. Discuss how the employee could develop.
Employees value timely feedback and support for their ongoing development and success. More problems arise when feedback is withheld.
One Global 500 company selected their 360-degree performance assessment tool so managers would be forced to give feedback to staff. This annual feedback resulted in some recipients receiving nasty shocks as their manager unexpectedly scored them poorly. The result was a loss in self-confidence, loss of trust in their manager, and a sense of betrayal.
Timely feedback plus support in defining and achieving a learning goal contributes to employee well-being and feeling valued.