Tuesday Feb 10, 2015

Do You Have a Learning Habit?

Habit (hab'it)

  1. An act or practice so frequently repeated as to become almost automatic.
  2. A tendency or disposition to act consistently or to repeat.

We all have habits, and most of the conversation around habits consists of talking about how bad the habit is and how difficult it is to stop the habit. I’m going to switch the conversation on you and tell you that for 2015 you should have a habit – a learning habit!

I was on a call a couple of weeks ago, and the topic of learning habits came up. The question was “What learning habit do you have or will you build for this year? Using the definition above, a learning habit is something that you do repeatedly or consistently in order to develop your knowledge. It’s really nothing more than making a commitment that you are going to do something to stretch your knowledge.

On my phone call, people shared what they already do or are planning to do, including:

  • Read one news article each day in my professional area.
  • Watch 2 or 3 TED talks each week that look interesting.
  • Read one business related book each quarter.
  • Read one Business Book Summary each week. (Oracle employees have access to Business Book Summaries through the Virtual Library).
  • Interview one leader each month that you feel is a great leader and find out what they do differently.
  • Have one-on-one meetings with your team members each month to learn more about them and what they want to achieve.
  • Finish my degree (whatever level it may be).

Any advice we read on leadership tells us that great leaders are continual learners – without constantly assessing where you are, where you want to go and what you need to get there, you will never improve.

So here’s my challenge to you – figure out what you are going to do in the next 7 days to start your learning habit. Write it down in your learning journal. At the end of seven days, check in with yourself and see how you did. Repeat this process for the next month (or quarter) until your habit is established. If you’re feeling up to it, share a comment about what your new habit will be.

By incorporating a learning habit into your leadership actions, you will be modeling continual learning for your employees and taking a great opportunity to develop yourself.

Tuesday Jul 29, 2014

Yes, You Can Use My Light Bulb Moments

I’ve talked with quite a few managers in the last couple of weeks, and one of the questions that has come up in every conversations is “How do I go about sharing some of the interesting things I’m learning?”

Sharing can be difficult sometimes because you’re excited about the new stuff you’re learning, but the rest of your staff…well..they’re not that excited about it.

Enter the light bulb moment.

In a previous job, I was in a director role for a very diverse team (everything from learning to black ops), and most of the team was not that engaged because they had been through a number of directors and managers due to acquisitions, team member changes and so on. Being in a team meeting with me was not high on their list of things to do.

At one of our first meetings, I shared something I had read about that week that made stop and think about the work we were doing. I told my team that it was “an a-ha moment” for me – the light bulb went on in my head. I saw heads nodding, and I asked if they had ever come across information that made the light bulb turn on for them. Every person nodded their head yes.

So I challenged them. At our next meeting, I want each of you to come to the meeting with a light bulb moment. That is, something you came across during the week that made you say “a-ha” and made you want to share it with the team.

I had 12 direct reports, and every one of them came into the next meeting talking about their light bulb moment. A few weeks after I took over the director role, I had one person tell me that he was leaving. He explained that he had applied for a new job before I became his director, and he was really sad to be leaving because none of his prior managers really cared about anything he was learning. And then he asked me if he could borrow my light bulb moments to share with his new team. Of course, I said yes.

When managers ask me how they can share something they’re learning, I share the light bulb story. In turn, I’m always asked “Would it be okay if I use that?”

And my answer is always “Yes, you can use my light bulb moments.”

Hope it works for you, also!

Friday Jul 11, 2014

What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

As we were finishing a conversation this week about blogging and communicating, my colleague asked, “What’s your motivation for writing?”

After thinking for a minute, I realized that I write because it allows me to synthesize all the information that I’m receiving about a particular topic. As I write, I can recognize common threads, define questions for myself, come up with possible answers and make sense of all the content that comes my way. Blogging is, quite simply, one tool that I use to learn about and organize information.

This realization made me think about the concept of personal learning environments (PLEs). I first heard of PLEs last summer when we were at my neighbor’s house for a backyard fire. My neighbors are teachers, as were a large number of other guests, and they were all talking about their PLEs. As a learning person, my ears perked up.

I found out that a PLE is basically a flexible structure – identifying digital and non-digital resources that help people organize the influx of information that is a part of their learning. All of the applications, tools and resources in a PLE are selected by the user, thereby the ‘personal’ part of the equation. The “E” is a visual representation of everything.

Because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I mapped out my own PLE, and it looks like this:


My PLE shows my ‘gathering’ activities on the left and my ‘action’ stuff on the right. I’m a big gatherer of information – I love to read, search and explore, and I do this with a wide variety of tools and resources. Once I have this information, I move to the right side of the page – I need to act on it. For me, ‘action’ might mean aggregating like ideas, writing a blog or tweet to share some kind of insight, sharing the information with my colleagues, or putting something out on Beehive for later use.

Yesterday, I felt like my brain is just always busy. Today, my PLE gives structure to how I gather and process information. Educators argue that mapping this PLE and understanding how we deal with the huge influx of information gives us the opportunity to reflect and build our capabilities around any given topic. This is a key feature in what educators call Information Fluencya triad of domain knowledge, critical thinking and presentation & participation – a state of competency in any subject.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks has mapped out some common activities that occur as part of the Information Fluency triad:


Although this concept is used in the education world, I think it has a great deal of significance in the business world as well. Think about it like this: You have a person supporting a new product (I’m going to use ‘his’ just for ease of writing). That person needs to increase his knowledge about the product and does so by talking with others, reading user guides, observing other support people (domain knowledge). As knowledge increases, he can start analyzing issues, explaining problems, etc. (critical thinking). As he becomes an expert, he might blog about the product, speak at OpenWorld, or serve as a mentor to new people (presentation & participation).

The Information Fluency triad provides the model for defining competency; the Personal Learning Environment identifies the tools and resources used to achieve that competency. Understanding these two components might make us better at helping our people learn the things they need to be successful in their roles.

Overall, I think mapping your Personal Learning Environment is an interesting exercise as it gives you the opportunity to:

  • See how you access information and what you do with that information
  • Identify areas of strengths
  • Identify areas for improving knowledge and/or productivity
  • Use it as a discussion point with your manager
  • Use it to define opportunities for your development plan
  • Reflect on how you learn and how you are motivated

So, my challenge to you is this: map out your personal learning environment.

If you’re concerned about what it should look like, don’t be. Google ‘personal learning environment’ and click “Images.” You will see that a PLE is as unique as any one individual. Start small and take your time – PLEs are meant to be dynamic and will change and adapt to your learning needs and goals.

Those teachers talked about a lot of other things around the fire that night, but I’ll save those for another post!

Wednesday Jan 18, 2012

The Lesson of the Cookie

My family went out for Chinese food the other night, and the end of the dinner brought fortune cookies (my kids’ favorite part). When I opened my fortune cookie, the fortune said:

It is never a shame to learn from others.

Wow! Given that my background is in learning, my job focuses on learning, and I’m an avid believer in lifetime learning, this was a great fortune to receive. It also made me wonder why someone might feel shame in learning.

Delving back into my past jobs, I thought about two vastly different managers. The first manager was one who came into our department knowing nothing about the work that was being done – he was brought in for “his managerial skills.” Instead of taking time to learn what worked and what didn’t, he proceeded to tell all of us how things were going to be done. I was asked to do some research, and when I gave this manager the research results, he became angry that I spent time doing the research. I know – it confused me also!

The second manager that I thought about was in a situation where multiple companies had been purchased in a short timeframe, and we needed to integrate those companies as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This manager, when asked about specific topics in meetings, would turn to a staff member and say “I hired you for your expertise in this area. What are your suggestions?” Let me repeat – in meetings that staff and executives attended, this manager would admit he didn’t know the answer and ask the “expert” for his or her opinion.

Both of these managers were considered leaders on the corporate org chart, but which one was considered a leader by the employees? (This is a rhetorical question, by the way).

As a consultant, I had plenty of customer questions that I couldn’t answer. Using some great advice from my mom, my response was always, “I don’t know, but I'll get an answer for you by tomorrow.” Before the next day, I was online trying to learn from my fellow consultant so I could have an answer for my client. Surprisingly, I had many clients who told me that I was the only consultant they ever hired who admitted they didn’t know an answer – and those clients were all impressed that I was willing to learn.

Sometimes as leaders (whether of teams or projects), we think that we have to have an answer for everything lest we be perceived as lacking knowledge. We can’t graciously accept “teaching” from people because we’re “the boss.” In reality, we make a better leader if we’re able to admit that we don’t have all the answers and learn from those people who might be smarter than we are. In the words of the cookie…it is never a shame to learn from others.

Friday Sep 12, 2008

Just a Bunch of Engineers?

I recently finished a class on Crucial Conversations (Sun employees can view the internal class schedule) and was impressed with the content of the class.  It helps you identify conversations that are or will become sticking points in achieving success and lets you practice techniques in turning around the conversation to achieve a meaningful outcome for all people involved.

During the class, one of the concepts that we talked about was labeling people - HR folks, those engineers, bean counters - you get the picture.  In a side conversation, one of the people in class made the comment that they (specifically not specifying "he" or "she") really liked these kinds of classes, but their team was a bunch of technical guys - is that a label I hear?- and wouldn't like this kind of class at all.

What?  Wouldn't like to know how to recognize difficult conversations and walk into those conversations with confidence and a game plan for success? As Vizzini would say - Inconceivable!  Are technical people really so far removed from real life that they never have conversations?  With anyone?  (I'm being a little sarcastic simply because my husband is one of those "technical" people).

If you read my About section, you'll notice that I manage employee learning for the United States.  So, I'm curious - all you "technical people" out there at Sun - are you really interested in only technical courses, or are you interested in other classes that add to your repertoire of business skills?  If you are interested in other business skills, which ones are most important to you?

Tuesday Aug 26, 2008

Are You Accountable for Your Learning?

“I don't care if you create the best training in the world.  If it doesn't change behavior, it doesn't do me any good.”

These words were spoken to me by an executive vice president at an undisclosed company.  I wanted to argue that if the training was the “best in the world,” it would actually be designed to change behavior and would undoubtedly cost more to create and evaluate than he was willing to fund (which, by the way, was $0).

The comment got me thinking, though.  How many of us expect to have a learning path handed to us and be told “This is what you need to do and how you need to do it?"  If you check off the boxes, will you be successful?  I doubt it.

On the other hand, how many of us spend time researching topics that interest us, engaging in communities at work or on the web around those topics, and explore options that will allow us to continually expand our knowledge.  What is it that makes this person completely different from the person who wants the checklist?  And, perhaps more importantly, how can we encourage or enable the checklist person to be more of an explorer?  Further, are there characteristics of each that should be emulated?

I am convinced that learning does not have to take place in a classroom.  There are a variety of sources – free seminars (or webinars), social networking sites, interest groups at work, programs through professional organizations, blogs, etc. - that will allow us to learn and develop as individuals, co-workers and general human beings.  We as individuals, though, need to be responsible and accountable for our learning.  Yes, a classroom may be appropriate for some things.  Heck, even a checklist is appropriate at times.

Challenge yourself to be responsible for your learning and accountable to yourself for expanding your knowledge.  My bet is that you'll be more engaged in what you're doing and more valuable to your employer.  Yes, we may be able to create the best training in the world, but it's up to each individual to consume and internalize what's out there.

Thursday Aug 21, 2008

30 Ways to Foil Development Plan Dread

Yes, it's that time of year.  Again.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it (not that you have a choice) is to create your annual development plan.  Surprisingly (said with a lot of sarcasm), most people create their annual development plan about two or three days before their annual review.  Somehow, that seems a bit wrong!

Unfortunately, I think this happens because most people look at a development plan as just another thing to do and just some more boxes to check off at the end of the year.  How many times have you thought "I don't have a clue what class I want to go to this year.  Heck, I don't even want to go to a class this year.  Who needs a development plan anyway?"  

Here's a thought:  It doesn't have to be this way!!

If you read my previous post, you read about the two questions - what do you want to do with your life, and what can you offer the world that nobody else can?  If you read the manifesto in its entirety, you may have even looked at your 1-year, 5-year and lifetime goals.  If that's the case, use your need to create a development plan to re-evaluate those goals and make sure you're on track with what you want to achieve.

Employee development doesn't have to be just attending a class and checking a box at the end of the year.  Check out this list of 30 ideas for development activities.  You might just find something that is interesting to you!  

  1. Attend a local, regional or national conference. Be sure to bring your findings back to your team. MANAGERS: Make sure you provide the opportunity for sharing to occur.
  2. Present at a local, regional or national conference.
  3. If your company has an internal conference (user groups, engineering conference, etc), apply to present at that.  Actually present if accepted.
  4. Complete a course at your local university or at an online university.
  5. Finish your undergraduate or masters degree.
  6. Write an article for a professional publication or organization.  Be sure to check the submission requirements for the publication!
  7. Join a professional organization and attend a local chapter meeting or seminar.
  8. Attend a seminar or workshop offered outside of your company.
  9. Teach a TOI (transfer of information), Lunch & Learn or something similar for your team or another team in your organization.
  10. Create a video on a topic of your expertise and post it to your internal platform (Sun employees can use the Sun Learning Exchange)
  11. Review 2-3 journals or magazines every month to monitor industry trends.  You can access many journals through EBSCO Host - commonly available in public libraries with your library card.
  12. Read Harvard Business Review or California Management Review to understand business trends.  Both of these can be accessed through EBSCO Host as well.
  13. Pick out a top business book - read it and discuss it with your manager.  This would be a great opportunity to take your manager out for a cup of coffee to get his or her undivided attention.
  14. Select a technical book to review.  Discuss it with your team, your manager, or your mentor.
  15. Mentor another person.
  16. Ask someone to be your mentor.
  17. Volunteer on the board or a committee of a professional organization
  18. Google free webinar <insert topic> and see if there's a free webinar that interests you.  Attend and share what you learned with your team.
  19. Start a blog to share your thoughts with others.
  20. Participate in an online community - respond to a blog, start a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.
  21. Attend an instructor led class offered through your company.
  22. Attend a web-based class offered through your company.
  23. Engage with local colleges to be a guest speaker or host a workshop on campus.
  24. Participate in Sun Technology Fairs at local campuses.  (Okay, this is really targeted toward Sun employees, but, hey, that's what I am!  You could adapt this to "participate in career fairs (or something similar) at your local colleges).
  25. Look for volunteer opportunities with state and local government agencies to provide IT help.
  26. Plan a technology fair, science fair or something similar for your company.  Recruit people to present and share ideas.
  27. Join an open source project and get involved in the product development, forums, or aliases.
  28. If you have a Masters degree, check with a local university or college about becoming an adjunct professor (sometimes called a contract or network instructor).
  29. Volunteer to teach computer skills (or your area of expertise) at a Senior Citizens Center.
  30. Ask your local school districts if they offer any kind of special event around kids and technology.  Volunteer at that event.
  31. BONUS 1: Coordinate an internal conference where best practices can be shared for a team within your company - a sales conference for sales people; an IT conference for your technical team, etc.
  32. BONUS 2: Volunteer to teach a class at a local Recreation Center or Community Center.
  33. BONUS 3: Apply to teach classes for a continuing education program (typically offered through local universities or community colleges).

Okay, so I gave you a list of 33 when the title promised 30.  Sorry about that, but once I go started, I just couldn't stop.  Consider it a gift!  :)

As you can see, there are many more options for "development" than just attending a class.  If you have other ideas that should be added to this list, please leave a comment in order to share with everyone else.  Hey, then you can add #20 to your plan!

Happy planning! 


Tuesday Aug 19, 2008

Just Do It!

Apologies to Nike, but they were not the first to use the phrase “Just do it!” It's a phrase I heard often growing up as I had an older brother who wasn't afraid to double and triple-dog dare me.

It's a phrase one of my Russian gymnastics coaches used to get me to do the tumbling pass that scared me. Although, Boris made it sound more like “DOOOOT!”

It's a phrase I heard when I was standing at the end of a diving board after my swimming instructor said the diving board was just like the vault in gymnastics. Just for the record, you run a lot faster and harder for the vault than you need to for the diving board. Yea, you get the picture – the dive was pretty; the ending wasn't!

And it's now a phrase I'm hearing as I contemplate jumping into that bigger pool of blogging. So why bother? I think that I might have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation around the importance of learning to improve yourself, those around around you and your organization or company. The scary part is that you'll be the judge of that – not me. So, let's get started, shall we?

++++++

This time around, I'm hitting the topic of personal improvement.

Last week I found a manifesto with a catchy title: A Brief Guide to World Domination (and other important goals) – How to Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World. Who wouldn't want to read that? Chris Guillebeau, the author, believes that you can achieve remarkable personal goals, help others at the same time, and do so in a way that challenges conventional belief that mediocrity is good enough.

In doing so, Chris puts forth two challenging questions:
1) What do you really want to get out of life?
2) What else can you offer the world that no one else can?

I found myself nodding in agreement as Chris talked about setting 1-year, 5-year and lifetime goals and how they can help define the answer to question one. I found myself agreeing as Chris introduced examples of people who were really living a remarkable life and helping others at the same time – Randy Pausch, professor extraordinaire ; Sam Thompson, ultra marathon runner, and Matt and Jessica Flanery, founders of kiva.org.

The overriding message in the manifesto is that you don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. Other people will tell you that “it” (whatever your “it” is) can't be done, or that you need more experience, or that you need (fill in the blank). These are the gatekeepers – the people who want you to remain conventional and unremarkable. You can listen to these people, or you can listen to yourself.

Chris does provide 11 tips on remaining unremarkably average. Four of my favorites are:

  • Accept what people tell you at face value
  • Don't question authority
  • Don't stand out or draw attention to yourself
  • Jump through hoops; Check off boxes 
If you're still with me, you're probably intrigued by this manifesto as well. I guess that means you have an inner desire to be remarkable and a bit unconventional. Read the manifesto, answer the questions, complete the Ideal World exercise. Determine what it is you need to do to live a remarkable life.

What you choose isn't the most important thing – what's important is that you pick something and then just do it.



About

Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!

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