4 steps to learning that sticks.

Posted: December 2nd, 2019

We all know the importance and value of learning, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.  Over the years I have worked with many different organizations to build the skills and abilities of their people and so in this article I wanted to share a 4 step process to helping ensure we learn, and the learning sticks.  It’s not rocket science, but I find that we don’t always approach learning in a systematic way and so things don’t always work as we expected! 

1. Pick just one thing

First of all,  we need to get specific.   Learning new things is about changing habits, and changing habits takes energy, effort and focus.  Most likely you are already busy,  you don’t have time to focus on lots of different learning goals, so don’t..  just pick one.   

How do you pick?  Well,  you can get some feedback from others about your strengths and development areas or you can contemplate what makes you happy and what things you do in your role/life that you wish were easier or more enjoyable.  Maybe, you can think about impact and what you’d like to do more of or do differently to be ‘better’ (whatever that means to you), or you can think about strengths you have that you could apply in other places.

 There’s no right approach, but don't limit yourself in the beginning and brainstorm all your thoughts.  Once you've done that, then start to slim down your thinking based on what will a) give you best return for your effort and b) excites you most.  At the end of the day you  want to make most use of your time and energy, and if you’re not excited by it, you won't do it.      Slim down the list until you get to one thing.  

2. Set your (small) goal

"Aim for the moon" they say.  Or other expressions like  "Go big or go home".   Well, when it comes to learning, baby steps are always better.   Our brains are not actually good with goals or objectives that are too big, so if we aren’t clear on specific actions or next steps then our brains will put the goal in the 'later' pile and we end up procrastinating.    

People often identify big, and vague areas, even if they are excited.  They say “I’m going to get better at giving feedback!” , or  “I am going to tackle conflict more directly in the team” or “I’m going to work on my communication skills”.  Those are all great intentions, but to really drive learning we have to get specific about what we want so that we can be more targeted in how to get there.  So,  replace “ I am going to get better at giving feedback” with “ I am going to ensure my team always know how they are doing,  or  “I am going to stop putting off raising concerns with my team members”.  Then, once you have a clear vision of what good looks like you can focus on getting there. 

3. Determine a specific action

Back to our brains; we need specificity.  If I don’t know exactly what I am going to do, its too easy to put it off the action until another day.  “I am going to schedule weekly 1:1s with my team where I reinforce positives and raise concerns”  or  “I am going to share positive wins and success stories with the team at the start of our team meeting”.   Think what, when, where, who and how so that you get to the real details of the action.     This level of specificity means you can also measure whether you did it, because what get’s measured gets managed.  Think about how you can track your progress in your action.

4. Identify your reward

If what gets measured gets managed, then what gets rewarded gets repeated.   We could write a whole blog post on how to build habits (and maybe we will!) but its absolutely critical to ensure you feel rewarded for your learning efforts.   If there is no pay off, then it doesn’t feel like the effort made is worth it and you will likely stop doing whatever you set out to do .  So identify how you can reward yourself.  Hopefully, the positives and benefits of whatever you set out to do will show themselves and you’ll feel inherently rewarded by the results, but in the beginning it may still help to have an actual solid reward you put in place; treat yourself to something when you achieve your goal so that you keep on doing it! 

 All that sounds simple and, on paper, it is.  But when we are busy and life takes over we can skip steps and then our learning slides.   Try taking a systematic approach to your learning and grow one step at a time. You might be amazed at how much more sticks!

For more information, tools, tips and resources for developing people, visit our training and membership pages at ethree.ca/training and ethree.ca/membership


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