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Create a Culture of Continuous Learning on a Dime

As millennials begin to dominate numbers in the workforce, it is vital that leaders recognize the value of continuous learning opportunities for career growth. It can feel overwhelming to create a culture of learning, or even impossible with tightening budgets. Remember that the growth valued is not necessarily always about higher paychecks or job titles. It can be easy to fail to start because workloads are already heavy. However when staffers are given a little time to grow, it improves morale and can increase productivity through innovation. So with a little creativity, any leader can begin to build those opportunities in meaningful ways, with or without a budget to do so. Here are three easy ideas to begin with.

Three Ideas to Jump Kick Continuous Learning

Leadership Book Club

First, research titles that will support your agency needs and staff interests. Consider titles from classics like Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to more modern work like L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around. Decide with other leaders what books suit continuous learning for your agency and whether to have departments read a title together or to form cross-departmental cohorts. Next, create discussion questions based on sections of the book. Try not to view this as a traditional book club where the entire book is discussed at once. Break up the book into manageable chunks so participants don’t feel stressed. Give people time to engage in the text in sprints rather than running a marathon.

If you have a budget, purchase a set of books in whatever quantity makes sense for your agency. Then the books can work through departments or cohorts, however you design your book club. If you have no budget, check out your public library. Many libraries in metro areas provide book club kits. Even if you are in a smaller library system, with interlibrary loans you may be able to find enough copies of the books to meet your club needs.

Ad Hoc Mentorship

Talk with each person on your team and ask them, “Where do you want to grow in your career?” Some folks may not have an answer, because nobody ever asked the question before. If that is the case, ask them again in a few weeks or months. You will have planted a seed. For those who do have an answer, look around your organization and see if there is someone who might be able to guide them. Be careful not to fall into a trap of thinking that you need a formalized program, as that puts up a barrier to creating mentorship opportunities.

When approaching the would-be mentor, explain what you are hoping for them to provide your team member. Is it a one-time meeting to see if a relationship starts? Would you like them to meet with the person regularly? Suggest every other week or once a month, as weekly can feel too burdensome to people with already packed schedules. The benefit of creating these ad hoc mentorships is two-fold. The mentee learns from the guidance of the more seasoned professional and can gain insight about how to move their ideas forward within the agency culture. And the mentor can share their institutional knowledge and lessons learned from past successes and failures.

Encourage Group Analysis

One of the simplest and most effective ways to encourage innovation and professional development is to have your group complete a SWOT analysis. Or two. First have each individual complete their own SWOT analysis to get them thinking about what skills they would like to develop and help you focus your effort to support that growth appropriately. This is a great tool for those on your team who didn’t have an answer when you asked them where they wanted to grow.

Then have each member individually complete the SWOT analysis for your department. Type the aggregate responses into one document and you will uncover patterns identifying what stands in the way of innovation. These may be strengths that are not being used because some barrier that exists or an overall area that needs to improve. When you compare the group analysis of the department and individual personal analyses, you can then identify folks on your team who might lead the effort to remove a barrier. Or create a smaller team to develop a proposal (and implement a plan) to strengthen team or agency weaknesses. This creates an opportunity to build a skill through trial and error, which is great for hands-on learners.

Get Started!

All of these continuous learning ideas can be implemented by managers and teams at any level. One of the mistakes we often make is to wait for a directive from above to create leadership opportunities. Fast-paced work environments and increasing to-do lists often get in the way of developing our teams. The return on the investment of time and effort will prove to be worth it though.

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Gabrielle Wonnell is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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