We talk a lot about developing your employees, but how about developing you?
There’s a concept that says 70% of learning comes on the job, 20% comes through relationships, and only 10% comes through formal means. That’s not much time to spend in a classroom. When you will be taking a class, then, you should prepare for learning instead of going in cold. Preparing to learn helps you get the best return on your training investment.
Surveys across Asia have shown that, in many markets, a key reason people leave a job is because they don’t feel they are getting the development they want. However, when those same people actually get a development opportunity, they often show up unprepared, and the value of that opportunity is reduced. They say they want something, but then they do not take advantage of it when they have it.
So, how do you prepare?
Talk to your boss first
Before you take a class, talk with your manager about what you will be learning. Set some joint expectations about what you should get out of this and how you can use it. Your boss should expect to see something new from you — that’s the reason for training, of course — so make sure you both agree on what that is.
In many cases, a training class allows you to work on a real-world issue. Talk with your boss about what’s going on at work and what you should work on in class. If you are taking a class on performance feedback, for example, have one or two of your employees in mind so you can practice the conversations you need to have, and let your manager know who they are. By setting expectations in advance, you and your manager can know if you actually learned something from the class, or if you need a different experience.
Do the pre-work
Many classes will ask you to do some pre-work. It might be something as simple as identifying a real-world situation, as noted above.Perhaps it involves a self-assessment. It might be some reading. Whatever the pre-work is, do it. You will better understand what the instructor and your classmates are talking about if you have prepared.
This is just like doing your homework before going to class at school. If you don’t do the assigned reading before class, you’re lost when the teacher starts talking. If you come to math class without doing your problem sets, it’s hard to discuss how you got your answers, because you didn’t get any answers. Professional training is the same; you need to be prepared, or you will be behind everyone else and miss a lot of the value.
Stay focused in class
When you’re in a training program, that needs to be your job for the day. Leave your phone in your bag, and keep your mail program closed if you are using your laptop in class. If you absolutely, positively need to check email, do it on the breaks, and set aside some time at lunch to answer messages. Don’t pull out your phone and check mail or messages in the class; not only is it disrespectful to others around you, you’re missing out on the training.
If you’re going for training, your boss should know not to expect to hear from you that day. Put an “Out of Office” message up on your email so people don’t expect a quick response. In the OOO message, include a person in the office the sender should call if they have an emergency. If you don’t have anyone on your team who can cover for you while you’re out, then you have bigger problems.
Follow up with a classmate
When we go to a class we may get a lot of great ideas about how we want to work differently. Then, when we get back to the office and see an overflowing Inbox, we just go back to business as usual. To help you follow through, link up with a classmate and agree that you will talk in a week or two and discuss what you have done differently since the class. That kind of accountability makes it more likely you will actually do something with what you learned. If you connect with that person early in the program, you can spend some time on the breaks making plans for what you’ll do.
When we say “agree that you will talk,” we don’t just mean that you mention it to each other and never think of it again. Instead, take out your phones and open your calendars, and set a time for a call or a meetup. Don’t leave it to chance, don’t assume “we’ll set a time later” — set a time before you walk out of the room, and then stick to it. You’ll be surprised by what you accomplish when you know you have to tell someone about it.
Teach someone else
The best way to learn something is to teach it. Sharing with others the things you learned in your class doesn’t just help them learn it too, it also firms up the knowledge in your own mind. Think about how you could teach these concepts to others on your team, which will add to their knowledge and also let them know how you might work differently going forward.
This does not have to be a formal class. It could be 15 minutes in your team’s regular meeting, it could be a “lunch and learn” session in the conference room one day around noon; it doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to happen. Talk to your manager before you go to training and settle on a way for you to share your new knowledge later. If you know you have to do it, you’re more likely to be paying attention and absorbing the material during class.
Your development is an investment in you, and you should maximize the return. Yes, your company is spending money, but you are spending time, and that’s a resource most leaders don’t have much of. If you’re going to spend it on a class, get the most out of it. The best way to do that is to be ready for it.