Many talented people feel that they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough.
Those who are determined and who work hard often spend a lot of time and effort to learn new skills and maintain their existing ones. They display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above the management-sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve.
Eleven years ago, Ben got a job working in the mail room at a local business during the summer before starting college. The company had been in existence for over 60 years and was currently being led by Jack—a longtime employee and company legend who started in the mail room. Three weeks into the job, on his way from the basement to the top floor, the elevator stopped and who should enter the elevator but Jack. He smiled at Ben, introduced himself, and mentioned that he started out in the mail room. Ben was a little star struck, but as they both exited the elevator, Ben asked if Jack had any advice for him.
“Never stop educating yourself,” Jack said. “In fact, come into my office and let me elaborate. I have 15 minutes before my next meeting.”
Jack proceeded to share these five pillars for continued education:
1. You are responsible for your education. You alone are responsible for your education. Whether or not it makes sense to invest in a formal education, there are free and for-fee learning opportunities available to everyone. The public library and the Internet are two examples.
Another invaluable source of education is through people. Spend time with people who can do things that you can’t. It may mean volunteering to stay late to observe someone, going to lunch with more experienced associates or finding a mentor.
You can also learn by taking on challenging assignments that are above your skill level. Discuss the help you will need to be successful and the company leadership may reward your initiative by providing an experienced staff member oversee your on-the-job training.
You can learn pretty much anything, if you work hard at it.
2. There are no entitlements. Time in service should be no guarantee of advancement. It is what one learns with his or her experience that determines the value of the service time. In other words, if you put in your time, you are guaranteed nothing.
As your time with the company grows, seek lateral transfers or increased responsibility without necessarily a corresponding increase in title or pay. Realize you are making yourself more valuable to your employer and view the stretch assignments as an investment in yourself.
Although we are living in a time of an increasing sense of entitlement, we must all take care of ourselves.
3. You can’t rest on your laurels. Many talented people feel that they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough. They become complacent. They decide they don’t need to put in more effort and stop striving for success.
When you reach a goal, celebrate your success, but identify your next goal and begin to take action. When you stop moving forward and rest on your laurels, in actuality you are falling behind all the others who continue to move forward.
4. Stay current. Likewise, you need to stay current with industry trends by reading industry literature and blogs. If you are moving into management, read leadership books and blogs. New trends are frequently entering the workplace. You have the choice to be aware of and lead the change or try to catch up—or even worse—resisting the change.
Joining industry and trade associations is another way to educate yourself on current trends.
5. Understand the new and old generations. A big issue in many industries is getting several generations to work well together. Each generation has different learning and working styles. You have several options to handle this reality. The first is to do nothing, since it’s your fellow employee’s responsibility to get with the program. You can leave it to your company’s leadership to implement a program to fix the problem. The higher percentage choice is to educate yourself on the differences between generations, the issues these differences these issues bring to the workplace and some things others are doing to address the issues.
You can use this information to change how you interact and to the extent you can, help your organization improve its processes.
Ben took Jack’s advice to heart. After graduating from college, he got a job with another company in another field. His education did not stop when he left school. He subscribes to industry and management blogs, has joined his industry association and seeks out challenging assignments and develops relationships with other successful employees at his company. He has been identified by his management as a high-potential employee and is one of the youngest employees at his level. Ben’s future is bright. Amazing what a chance encounter in an elevator can do.
Walt Grassl is a speaker, author and improv performer. He hosts the radio show Stand Up and Speak Up on the RockStar Worldwide network.