"Where is my career headed? Why am I unable to progress in my company?"
"Have I learnt everything I need to in my profession?"
"Am I getting stuck in a professional rut? Will I be redundant to my organisation?"
These are few of the common angst-ridden thoughts employees are plagued with at some or the other stage of their careers. Indeed, we operate in a dynamic work environment amidst intense levels of competition, where the possibilities of being displaced not only by your own peers, but even by technology, are not unlikely scenarios!
This makes it all the more important for employees to regularly update their knowledge base and skillset not only from a business perspective but also from the point of view of personal development. Globalisation, economic integration and rapid changes in technology have all made learning beyond initial education and vocation training part and parcel of the workplace environment. But even though many employees often do give a lot of thought to ‘going back to school,’ (for either short-term or longer courses), it is forgotten too soon as life and work take over and education is put on the backburner. While such a resistance to change becomes more and more evident the further you progress in your career, the fact is that today skill development and capacity building programmes are essential at every stage of your career, and in fact, are essential for career growth.
It’s never too late to learn
Yet learning transcends age, social strata, and seniority. There is a visible transition now from an era of technical knowhow to a knowledge-driven outlook, where employees can establish their edge by increasing their knowledge base about current industry trends (rather than simply relying on their technical skills, superior as they may be). This is true for any profession or trade.
Adopting an approach of lifelong learning allows an employee the capability for critical reflection about his/her approach to work, and increases one’s flexibility in adapting to rapid technological and market-related changes.
Seek to learn, even if your organisation does not offer it
There are multiple avenues that support lifelong learning for anyone who seeks knowledge. Many large companies have internal support systems that ensure regular training and developmental programmes are conducted, based on identified employee grades and needs, often with the help of external experts. Even if your organisation does not have such an option, there are other supportive avenues like distance learning or executive fast-track courses, e-learning, skill enhancement seminars or even general grooming courses.
Getting involved in recreational activities outside work (such as sporting activities like trekking, golf, or hobbies such as photography) or social initiatives (such as CSR activities) can also support social skill development that may have direct bearing to your career approach. Evaluating market trends or engaging in collaborative discussions with your peers on how they are equipping themselves with new skills, can help employees in understanding the necessary skill sets they may require.
Identifying mentors and turning to them for advice can help in providing an unbiased perspective. Mentors are usually senior level employees in your own organisation, or someone from another company, or even another sector, who can offer a mature and well-informed perspective to your career. However, one should not shy away from seeking the expertise and support of peers or even a subordinate.
Creating a dynamic human capital
The need of the hour for organisations is to create a culture of lifelong learning running through all levels of their workforce. This creates a dynamic pool of employees who are equipped to respond with agility to changing business environments. Not only are they technically equipped, they also become capable of ideating through inclusive contribution, and can value add towards organisational goals and stay abreast of competition.
By becoming a melting pot of culture, experiences and capabilities, such a dynamic employee base can be particularly useful for cross-functional collaborative tasks. For example, an employee in Operations with a better understanding of Quality requirements could directly improve the team’s processes and efficiency, etc.
Training your C-Suite Executives
A major misconception that must be addressed by every organisation is that their senior management (C-Suite executives) are exempted from training programmes. But it is as important to periodically help the senior management brush up their skills in developing strategies to ensure operational efficiencies. Time management, for example, is an important learning tool, or effective handling of stormy boardroom meetings, for instance, can be important skillsets top-level executives would like to know more about, but often don’t want to ask.
Developing this kind of executive programme is different from that for other employees. The learning process for C-Suite executives should be in an environment where they can hear and learn from experiences of their own management-level peers. In short, CEOs should learn how to learn from one another without any inhibitions.
Newsletters and whitepapers are one of the forums through which C-Suite executives can voice their opinions and learn from their peers. Conferences or webinars where a CEO can engage with his/her peers are other common platforms where insights can be shared.
Even keeping their ears open to what is being talked about their organisations or themselves on social media could become a self-learning experience and an invaluable decision making tool. These forums all add value to the ‘crystal ball’ CEOs are often expected to gaze into to decide on their – and their organisation’s – potential growth segments in future.
With access to this kind of broad-based or ‘no-holds-barred’ information that is shared in a constructive learning environment, C-Suite executives can make well-informed opinions for any potential business disruptions and keep themselves abreast of market developments.
Instead of being resilient to change or getting too comfortable by running the business on ‘auto pilot’ mode, these programmes go a long way in helping CEOs can make the right choice in with regards to the changes their companies need to incorporate.
A culture of learning
Organisations that become game-changers in their domains often have a deep-rooted culture of innovation, to nurture disruptive ideas. Bringing these ideas to fruition, and coming up with new ones, is an on-going process that encourages employees at all levels to constantly update their skillsets and add value to larger organisational objectives.
Hence, investing in employees to expand their knowledge base has the potential to directly convert business opportunities into successful projects, and can also cultivate a new generation of leaders.