How to continually support your own development

Date
Written by
Nick Defty
Illustration by
Lalalimola

This month we’re focusing on training and development. We’ll explore a host of relevant resources, dig into the benefits of lifelong learning, and share tips for using the insights you gain. Here to introduce our editorial theme is Nick Defty, Founder of You Can Now — with three simple and inexpensive ways to make personal and professional development a key part of your workday, every day.

As the calendar turns to September and the leaves turn brown, our mind automatically kicks into back to school mode — and our appetite for access to training and development also kicks in. With summer behind us and the end of the year in sight, it’s a good time to focus on those often overlooked development goals we set back in January, or the ones our manager set for us.

Being able to demonstrate our ongoing development – and explain in job interviews how we’re continually investing in it – is key to meeting the requirements of many job ads. But with ever-competing demands for our very finite time, carving out space for development is hard. And with budgets squeezed more than ever — it can be challenging for employers to commit to spending precious money, particularly for ad hoc training requests.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways we can make sure we’re continually learning, nurturing that all important ‘growth mindset’ and feeling like we’re genuinely developing and getting better at our work. They all lie within our control, and you don’t need a big budget to get going. Here’s a trio of actionable development ideas to pique your curiosity, and experiment with right away.

There are plenty of ways we can make sure we’re continually learning, nurturing that all important ‘growth mindset’ and feeling like we’re genuinely developing and getting better at our work. They all lie within our control, and you don’t need a big budget to get going.
Nick Defty, Founder of You Can Now

1. Ask for feedback like a pro

In the absence of feedback, we learn nothing. And possibly the least helpful kind of feedback we can receive is that generic praise you’re probably familiar with. The “great job!” remark we hear from our manager or teammate after a successful presentation may be well intentioned — but there’s not a lot we can take away from it, or endeavour to do again next time. What we need to get to are the actionable insights — the stuff we can actually learn from. And there are easy ways we can do this: if we hear “great job” from our manager, we can ask them to be more specific. That might sound like: “That’s nice to hear, I’d love to know exactly what you saw that made you happy, and what you’d like to see more of in the future”. From that we might learn that we delivered our presentation really calmly, and paused well throughout. Or that we’d simplified our slides to good effect since last time. You’ll also be encouraging others to ask for clarity in the same way — a win win!

Another good tactic is to be really specific about the feedback you want on something in advance, so you might say to a colleague: “I’m going to try and slow my speaking down when we present this afternoon. Can you look out for that, and give me some feedback on what you noticed?” You’ll get so much more from this than if you just ask them afterwards, “Have you got some feedback for me?” And if you’re asking for feedback from a recent job interview, you might frame your request as something like: “If there’s one thing you’d advise me to do differently next time, what would that be?”

In the absence of feedback, we learn nothing. And possibly the least helpful kind of feedback we can receive is that generic praise you’re probably familiar with. The “great job!” remark we hear from our manager or teammate...
Nick Defty, Founder of You Can Now

2. Make a date with development

Whether you’ve got a lavish training budget set aside for investment at your whim — or are having to be more savvy in the learning opportunities you carve out for yourself; you’ll set yourself up for success if you get into the habit of diarising development, and actively making a date with it. One example of that could be adding to your calendar not just the date that something’s happening (in the case of a course, or workshop), but the time you’ll invest in revisiting and refreshing on what’s covered, or (as we’ll get to below) time to talk someone else through it.

If you’ve no budget for formal training, diarising development will be even more important in helping you establish positive habits and make things visible to yourself. A participant in a recent YCN workshop told us how she scheduled a recurring invite in her calendar in the same slot every Friday to dip into a course on LinkedIn learning. She also added her manager to the invite, so they could see what she was focussing on — and receive a reminder to discuss it in their 1-1. Equally, your recurring invite could fence off time to browse newly added podcasts on Spotify, or to email your manager to ask for some (specific) feedback on a recent task or experience. What simple development wins could you diarise today? And who might you include to ensure you stay accountable?

3. Teach someone else

“While we teach, we learn.” Smartly said the Roman philosopher Seneca. And if you’re keen to embed some new knowhow, the best way to do that could be to teach it to someone else. Taking the time to talk a friend or colleague through something you’ve recently studied is a proven way to spark your inner drive, challenge your thinking, and make things stick. Sharing your learnings is perfect if you’ve taken a course or attended some formal training, but equally if you’ve really enjoyed a thought-provoking podcast, or been inspired by reading an interesting article. Taking some time to process the key takeaways in your mind – and plant the seeds in someone else’s – can be fruitful all round.

In behavioural science it’s neatly known as the Protégé Effect. Benefits of the approach were recorded by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, where a ‘cascading mentoring programme’ saw college students teach computer science to high school students, who then in turn taught middle school students. Greater comprehension, recall and application was measured throughout. It seems that preparing to teach, and then doing the teaching, ups our motivation to learn, as we make more mental effort with someone else’s perception in mind. And the positive way we feel when playing a part in another person's progress, gives us another welcome boost. Even just pretending you’re explaining something to someone by talking aloud as you practise on your own – or visualising yourself teaching – can work a treat.

Why not get a group of colleagues together and take them through three key takeaways from a recent training session? Or talk your manager through the core ideas from a recent book you've read? You might even consider sharing some smart insights at an upcoming job interview that you landed through If You Could!

Established in 2001, You Can Now is a training and development partner to growth-oriented organisations of all shapes and sizes. They provide teams with modern, motivating approaches to building relevant new skills, working with partners both directly and cross-organisationally. Find out more at ycn.org


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