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Eight key & Action points

Eight key activities to assist you in developing your asset base

Being aware of the brightest and best in your industry gives you power. If you can comment on your company or area of expertise then that is of value but, if you can also comment on what other competitors or industry sectors are doing then that gives you even more power, as it makes you more knowledgeable and useful to others. Ask yourself if you know enough about what is happening in your business, markets and industry. Self- directed reading is a process that involves developing your knowledge through a programme of targeted reading. To secure maximum benefit from the process we need to focus on the specific range and depth of information that we need to improve our knowledge base. When devel­oping a programme of directed reading, consider the following sources to develop your knowledge and information database:

  1. Internal notes and minutes from key meetings.
  2. Internal reports and documents.
  3. Websites.
  4. In-house publications.
  5. Professional journals.
  6. Industry journals and websites.
  7. Books.
  8. Newspapers, magazines and periodicals.

When reading be aggressive in making notes in the margin of books or underlining sections in articles and reports. Banish any childhood disciplines about not marking books etc – they are a resource: use them – but of course make sure you own them when you do this. Use highlighter pens to indicate important points or passages.

  • If you see a good article in a newspaper or magazine about your business or interest area cut it out to read at a later date.
  • Operate a binder where you put things to read for quiet periods.

Secondments are concentrated periods of time spent in other depart­ments or functions within your organization. The aim of a secondment is to help us understand how other parts of the organization operate. Alternatively, a secondment might take place with a customer or supplier to help us understand their businesses practices and approaches. If your organization does not operate such an approach why not ask or request that you spend some time working with another department, customer or supplier.

To achieve real benefit from any secondment establish:

  • Clear objectives for the secondment period. What is it that you want to learn or develop?
  • An agreed and structured programme of work – leaving things to the person we are allocated to is not advisable. So agree a set of clear learning objectives at the outset.
  • A date for a structured review and follow up afterwards. Report back the learning you have acquired to the business.

Training and development programmes when matched to our learning needs can provide an excellent and accelerated means of improving our skills and capabilities. When considering any training or development programme ask the following questions:

  • What knowledge or skills do I want to improve or develop?
  • Is a training programme the most effective way of meeting my needs? Can I gain the skills or knowledge by any other means?
  • What courses are appropriate and available to obtain that knowl­edge or skill?
  • What is the reputation of the course or provider?
  • How will I evaluate the learning?
  • What is it I want to emerge from the training being able to do?

Shadowing involves spending a period of time closely observing or accompanying people as they conduct their roles on a day-to-day basis. It might be regarded as similar to a secondment, but is generally more intensive and involves spending a much shorter period of time.

The aim of shadowing is to gain an understanding of a particular role or operating environment. Again, to secure maximum benefit from such an experience the person we shadow needs to have a clear understanding of what we want to achieve. At the same time they obviously need to be receptive to sharing information and insights on their role and work with us. Spending a day with a sales representative or engineer oper­ating with customers in the market place can provide a valuable and interesting experience.

Our everyday work provides valuable learning opportunities. Indeed, most of us actually learn more by working on the job. We can seek to maximize these learning opportunities through a structured process of coaching and guidance by selected managers. A coaching manager can provide extremely valuable sources of advice and guidance on a contin­uing basis.

Work projects and assignments can be powerful tools for learning and development, providing opportunities for developing skills in a number of key management activities including:

  • Project design and management.
  • Information gathering techniques.
  • Interviewing skills.
  • Problem solving skills.
  • Analysis of information and generation of proposals.
  • Report writing.
  • Presentations.

As well as increasing our knowledge and skills, special projects or assign­ments also provide us with new information and insights into our organization. The important point when using this approach to aid your learning is to choose a project that involves a real live business issue. That way it will generate real management interest and so encourage us to generate a quality result and so heighten any learning experience.

Irrelevant projects which do not enjoy management interest are unlikely to motivate us to deliver superior results or outputs.

Open learning is a process involving the acquisition of knowledge and skills at a pace and place determined by you and involving a range of learning media. It is an approach that has and will continue to grow very rapidly with the onset of new and more exciting forms of web- based media.