The times, they are a-changing – and as businesswomen who need to stay on top of the game, we need to change too! We all do plenty of networking, attend conferences and probably go to workshops on marketing and social media, but do we neglect our own personal and professional development? What about our personal effectiveness skills, our people management abilities, the kudos of more letters after our names?
I’m now working on my 3rd professional qualification (ooh, get me) and frequently go to seminars to keep up to date with changing employment law, plus assorted workshops on skills to make me ‘new and improved’ as an HR consultant. Not just because it makes good business sense, but also because I enjoy it! But it seems that very few Professional Women I come across make that investment in themselves, even though it’s effectively an investment in their business. So here are a few tips on how to make sure that you’re focused on your own continuous improvement, and how to make the most of your learning!
Get beyond your barriers
It’s all too easy to find excuses not to invest in ourselves – so give yourself a stern talking-to and overcome those barriers!
“I’m too busy!” Yes, we all have business, families, commitments, a backlog on the Sky Plus – but we can all make time for the things we really need. Whether you only have a day, half a day, a couple of hours or ten minutes, there is something out there to suit you. It could be an intensive one-day masterclass, a one-hour seminar or just watching a five-minute video clip on websites such as ManagersPitStop.com or even YouTube. So whatever time you have, you can use it wisely.
“It’s too expensive!” Not all training events cost the same as a week’s holiday in Tenereife, or even a weekend in Bognor Regis! In fact, there are plenty of freebies out there – that’s right, nought pence – if you know where to look. For example, City Business Library runs a huge programme of free seminars on a range of business and personal effectiveness topics, with some great speakers (like me *ahem*). Many firms of solicitors run free events such as legal updates or people management topics.
“I’d be better spending the time networking.” You can do that too! There could be plenty of potential new contacts at seminars etc. – so use them as an opportunity to plug your business to a bunch of new people over a cup of tea, as well as a learning opportunity.
“It’s been ages since I did anything like that – I’m out of practice.” Don’t worry, no-one’s asking you to write an essay. (Well, unless you’re going for broke and doing a full qualification, and many of those are now based more on observation and reflection than academic rigour.) You learn new things every day whether it’s consciously or not (otherwise how would you be able to work your iPhone?) So you’ll soon get back into the habit of developing your knowledge and skills.
“I don’t need any training – I know everything and I’m perfect.” No you don’t and no you’re not. Really.
So kick those excuses to the kerb, change your mindset and get ready to learn!
Know what you want to know
As with anything, you need to know where you’re going in order to know how to get there and when you’ve arrived. So be clear about what you want your learning outcomes to be. What do you want to know that you don’t know now? What do you want to do differently/better? Why – how will it help you? How will you put it into practice? Will you be able to tell the difference a few months down the line? How? Lots of questions – but until you know the answers, any learning activities will be a stumble about in the dark.
Learn how to learn
We all have different ways that we prefer to learn, or that have more of an impact on us. Some of us like to get stuck in and give things a go, some prefer to watch others, some like to figure things out for ourselves, and so on. To get the most out of your learning activities then, find ones that suit you best. If you know you’ll be bored silly listening to a presentation, then find something where you can get actively involved! If you haven’t the patience to read stuff, watch video clips! If you hate group activities and don’t play nicely with others, do some home study by yourself!
You can find out your own preferred learning styles, and how to make the most of them, by doing a simple Learning Styles Questionnaire. (It’s a bit like a Cosmo quiz, nothing too stretching.) Then you can choose learning activities that you will enjoy, and that will really help you to learn effectively.
Practice makes perfect – and so does reinforcement
However wonderful the trainer, you’ll never be an expert after a few hours of death by Powerpoint/role plays/team exercises/facilitated discussions. There are 3 stages to really effective learning, and you need all of them for it to really have an impact:
- Initial learning activity – It’s not all about courses you know! What about e-learning, mentoring, reading, watching, workshadowing, action learning…? Not to mention possible the best learning experience of all – making mistakes. (Now that one really does leave a lasting impression, even if it’s a toe-curling memory!) Many things can constitute a learning activity so broaden your horizons.
- Follow-up – We only remember a small amount of what we see and hear, and less and less over time – so we need reminding! Reinforce your learning activity with some follow-up activities (a bit like revising for an exam only without the stress.) So, do a bit of Net research, watch some online clips (YouTube is a wealth of business skills stuff – it’s not all skateboarding dogs), re-read any materials, read some new stuff (online, books, magazines, etc.), think about it, talk about it with your husband/mate/dog and so on. Eventually it will all sink in and you’ll know a lot more than you think!
- Put it into practice – There’s no point to any type of learning if it makes no difference to the way you behave. So the most important step is putting it all into practice! It may take some time and error (hence becoming another learning experience and completing the learning cycle – we don’t just throw these things together you know!) But in time you’ll become so much better at budgeting, social media, time management, assertiveness, knitting or whatever it is you’re learning about.
So, whether it’s technical know-how, personal skills or a black belt in origami, spend a bit of time and effort (and maybe a few quid) on continuously developing yourself – your business, customers, colleagues, boss etc. will thank you for it, and you’ll thank your stars you did!