The opinions in this paper represent the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of Denali Therapeutics Inc. or its team.
You may not realize initially how influential your character, your personality, can be to reach your goals. At school, you began to forge friendships, at home you experienced being constantly with others. In middle school and high school, you learned that it is easy to work with some and difficult to work with others. Group work is hard. And suddenly, you are thrown into college where you need to navigate all aspects of life while enjoying the emulation of being on a campus and living with new friends.
Clearly acquiring knowledge and know-how and develop as a human being are two important dimensions of growth. The education system emphasizes much more the first one, but life has its own way of highlighting the need for the second dimension, the personal one.
After working for a couple of years, you also realize that growth is a lifelong undertaking, and is a mean to an end. Sometimes you grow because you want to prove yourself to others, you want to show that you have the capacity to “do it”, or you want to have more impact, achieve more, reach a new ceiling, branch into a new discipline.
Sometimes, the pace of change is such that you have to go back to the drawing board to stay in the game. A surgeon, a scientist, an engineer, a technician, a baker, a cashier, a driver, anyone in a job has had to learn the ropes of that job and has had to adapt to changes. This is hard and could, at times, be disruptive. If you are now a mechanic not understanding electronics, can you service successfully cars? If you are a programmer, can you ignore new languages, can you stick to using the waterfall approach? If you work in a circus, can you do the same performance year after year? If you are an actor, can you do the same play year-round? If you are an architect, are you now leveraging 3D modelling or parametric design? Well, take any job, and you will realize that nothing is static. As a professional, you need to adapt, you need to be curious, learn, share with others, seek new certification, experiment and, sometimes, let go of what may have brought success to you not so long ago.
Developing your professional capabilities is clearly one of the dimensions of your growth. The second one, as we have seen above, is your personal growth. Think about your life, about yourself as a whole individual. You do not exist only through your capabilities or competencies. You exercise them by interacting with others and those interactions require what Josh Bersin has recently labelled the “superskills”, such as Empathy, Kindness, Time Management, Optimism, or Curiosity. The label of emotional intelligence is also used to talk about what will make you a better team player, a better leader and, for some of you, a better people manager.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, introduced the notions of fixed mindset and growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you will consider that there is a ceiling to your development. If you have a growth mindset, you will be driven by curiosity and consider that you can expand your capabilities through learning. Whether speaking about a fixed or growth mindset, or about readiness to change, the third critical component of growth, outside of the professional and personal growths, is the willingness to reinvent oneself in a dynamic and supportive environment.
In this article, we will look briefly at each of those three dimensions and at their implications for the Learning and Development infrastructure required to support them.
The Professional Growth
Let’s focus on your professional life.
When you join a company, you have to learn the specific body of knowledge of this company, even if your related core capabilities were strong. Let’s say you joined as a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer, or an HR Technology specialist, your expected technical contribution differs from one company to the next. You bring your body of knowledge, but you have to learn the specifics of your new company and it is not always well documented. If you are an expert, you may be solicited more than you would like to be by those trying to develop in your area of expertise, and if you need expertise from someone else in your company, it may not be easy to identify who you should contact.
There should therefore be an internal market for specific company knowledge, with an easy way to post knowledge, search for posted knowledge or for the right expert to address unanswered questions. As a professional, you will be pressed to browse through this ever-growing body of knowledge to keep up with what your company is developing.
As techniques, technologies or the science evolve, you may experience a similar pressure from the outside. What is going on? What is new and promising? What is disruptive? What may make sense to bring inside? You could attend a conference, a seminar, a webinar, go back to school, read articles to develop the ever-changing capabilities required in your profession.
There may be functional academies available, with curated content allowing you to understand the trends in your field of work, or, as an expert, to curate content for others. The dissemination of content in your field of work is probably multi-faceted and your network and professional affiliation are probably key components of the system you use to keep abreast of new developments in your field of work, but you should be able to keep track of new interesting material in a repository of knowledge where a piece of knowledge may reference others (if you liked this, you may like that) and could be scored (not useful, neutral, useful, very useful, for ex.), building an always more meaningful learning environment for you and others in your specialty.
In your work, you may also need information from other fields of study, on the use of productivity tools, for example, and you may need this information “in the flow of your work”. You may not remember how to do a VLOOKUP on Excel but need to use this feature, or you do not remember how to use a function in “R”. Could this be provided to you just as you need it? The content could be curated, or created, with a taxonomy allowing to easily search for and access relevant information. It should be delivered to you instantly if you need just one piece of information to move on.
From just looking at those three dimensions of your professional growth, the maintenance of your core qualifications, the acquisition of the specifics of your company and the access to information from other fields of study, here are broad requirements we can derive for your Learning and Development environment:
You need a taxonomy of capabilities, and a quantified expression of the mix of capabilities required to deliver successfully on the goals and strategies of your company. Everyone should know what potential technical gaps they may have, and be able to access suggestions to address them. Take a peek at what such environments as Degreed or others could provide to you.
You need also a platform allowing to buy or create content and deliver it as required for the jobs performed at your company. It could be in the flow of work or as a way to acquire new capabilities or extend existing ones. It should marry different types of content, such as webinars, reference documents, videos, access to MOOCs, checklists, classroom training, Virtual Reality environments, or mentoring. Look here at environments providing a learning experience rather than just training.
You could also think about a talent marketplace, where employees could be given the opportunity to acquire new capabilities while working for a different function or team to provide a helping hand. Tools on the market could help you manage your talent marketplace.
The Personal Growth
As we look at personal growth, we talk about very different learning patterns: changing behaviors, which is what personal growth is about, requires changing habits, and that is not the same as acquiring technical skills.
What are you looking to achieve? Which changes of behaviors would help you succeed at home, at work, with your team or as a leader? What would allow you to live more closely to your company’s values or your own values?
Whether through a dialog with others, inputs provided by a 360, a mandate to change, or your own willingness to improve your embodiment of values, you will gather the inputs needed to select a target behavioral change and, progressively, reconnect your brain to reflect this new way of thinking and behaving.
Do you have strong company values, with a description of corresponding behaviors? Do you have a leadership model that identifies expected behaviors? Do you have role models who guide what you do and how you do it, and shape how you see the world? Do you have in mind your ideal self? All of those elements should drive the choices that you make, year after year, to improve yourself.
You may decide to talk less, or more, listen more, be more patient, have more empathy, be more attractive and less powerful, share more of your life, be less confrontational. There are plenty of ways to be more effective, but what would allow you to go as far as you can right now? Which change would mean the most to you?
How to start? By cultivating your self-awareness and emotional intelligence muscle, identifying the behaviors to improve and deliberately acting on it. There is a ton of great literature on emotional intelligence and how to change habits. Let’s just emphasize here a couple of points which should be meaningful for the choice of technologies which could support those efforts.
You need an environment where each employee can provide feedback to others, where pulse surveys or employee experience surveys could be run, analyzed and translated into potential actions that you or others could take. You need access to a library of connected content. You could also be matched to a coach if you wanted to have a sparring partner to help you grow. This could be provided internally, by one vendor or a set of vendors.
For example, you could have an employee listening tool; a 360 environment to assess managers against your leadership model; a solution to connect employees or managers with a mentor or a coach; and an environment to track goals and enable the exchange of feedback between employees.
Now, you may provide the best learning environment for your employees, but to be effective your employees have to have a “growth” mindset and your culture should encourage and reward those actively managing their growth.
It should be safe for employees to experiment, to learn, to provide feedback in a diversified and inclusive environment. Calibrated survey questions could allow you to know if your environment is psychologically safe and inclusive and, therefore, an enabler of growth, or understand if you have areas, teams, functions where this is not the case.
Other points should be considered:
- Are you investing into the wellness of your employees?
- How do you cultivate resilience within your company?
Your policy in response to those two points could affect the ability of employees to grow.
Obviously, you cannot control everything. Things may happen in the life of your employees and last year has offered us, with the effect of the pandemic, a new perspective on the blend of work and home which we will have to integrate into our planning for the years to come. Gone is the time when we had a clear demarcation line between life at work and life at home, issues at home and issues at work. The privacy line has definitively shifted, and companies are expected to provide a level of personal support that was not existing before.
Think about these suggested five dimensions of wellbeing:
- Mind and body: Are we providing the right benefits for the physical health, the mental health and the emotional support of employees and their families?
- Financial: Do we understand the financial hardships that they are experiencing? What type of financial education and tools can we provide to help employees on this sensitive and personal subject?
- Family and Community: Can we build our company as a community where we help each other? Can we provide outside expertise (extended EAP program) to help employees think through the challenges they face? Can we have a proactive role in our local community to help those in needs?
- Human Connections: Are we enabling a trusted environment?
- Fulfillment: Will the employees’ growth have a meaningful impact?
Now, we also want our employees to develop their resilience in order to better cope with the discomfort of growth and what they face. The top drivers of resilience growth crosses what we already discussed. Let’s list them for reference:
Self-Management: The extent to which we regulate our emotions to remain calm and collected.
Self-Compassion: The extent to which we are compassionate towards ourselves, treating ourselves with kindness and empathetic understanding.
Cognitive Agility: The extent to which we adapt and shift our thought processes, leading to more positive outcomes.
Remember the concept of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge. What we are suggesting here takes into account further developments in the field of Organizational Design, but the idea is the same. Your company culture has to support the growth mindset, has to offer a safe and inclusive harbor, should support the wellbeing of your employees and their resilience.
It takes a village to build a growth environment and provide employees with the opportunities to challenge themselves. The number of tools that could be deployed in support of your growth strategy could be numerous. Obviously, in this article, I suggested many more tools than any company should deploy, but a learning infrastructure does not consist anymore of just one Learning Management System (LMS). You should define and deploy the different components of the growth ecosystem you deem critical to success.
The two prerequisites for the selection of the components of such a learning ecosystem are a strong company culture and values supporting growth, and the definition of learning goals in support of a sound business strategy.
In this context, employees should be able to re-discover themselves, identify a targeted future, design a growth plan and execute successfully on it. In today’s world, where flexibility and agility are two critical components of success, the ability for employees to re-design themselves and adjust quickly their capabilities may be the key to continuous positive outcome.