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Upskilling Your Team – it’s the little things that matter

In today’s business world we are constantly being introduced to new tools, resources, apps, and programs. There is so much technology out there to help us in our day-to-day work that it’s often overwhelming just to keep up with how to use those tools. Every piece of software we use to aid in organization or production has at least 10 other features we don’t know about or don’t understand well enough to incorporate into our workflow. Keeping up with upskilling is almost like a separate job. Teams need dedicated time to upskill and to keep up with new technology and business trends, just to stay competitive and productive in our constantly updated work environments.

Sure, sending your teams off to conferences and courses sure can make a positive difference in your team’s perception of your investment in their development, but real upskilling happens in the day-to-day. Conferences are a fantastic way to inspire new ideas and peak curiosity. However, we learn a lot less when we are drinking from the information firehose of today’s conferences, than we do by fostering open communication among our teams, creating a learning-friendly culture, spending dedicated weekly time learning, and creating learning opportunities within our workflows, for all involved. So how do we achieve those things?

1. Fostering open communication and creating a learning-friendly culture

Do not, under any circumstances, use the phrase “Because that’s the way we have always done it.” That phrase completely destroys any hope for a learning culture. In today’s ever-changing tech landscape, businesses need to adapt to grow, or get left in the dust. Adapting means developing your people and giving them the time and resources they need to improve your business.

Have a dedicated communication space for learning and sharing. Use Slack, Teams, Miro, Trello, whatever works for your project – but within that, maintain a dedicated space to communicate and share ideas, tips, information among your teams. Having a digital space to share allows employees to step in and out of the learning environment as they have time between tasks.

Be the champion who sets the example and put together some tidbits. Seek out and share tutorials that you find helpful – sometimes it’s as easy as posting a Youtube link. Other times you may decide to do a little screencast using Snagit or Camtasia to show how to do something, step by step. Linking to job aids or guides and asking people specific questions about the document – “Can you think of any ways in which we can use some of the graphic elements in this style guide for this part of the project?” or “Everyone please list one thing you notice about these formatting styles that we may want to incorporate into our project style guide.” Spotlight the efforts of other departments in order to foster interest and cross-collaboration.

Plan to use some time during your regular team meetings to have team members do a mini presentation on the topic, or just have some dedicated discussion time for learning & development, where teams can share ideas, tips, and tricks – and then point to the resources around them for folks to check out during their scheduled learning time.

Try a rotating schedule and tasking people with finding something helpful to share with the group – maybe it’s productivity tips in Outlook for organizing email or creating email templates. Maybe it’s sharing a library of images or media they found online, or got access to from a different department in the company. Sharing the responsibility of curating the learning content reinforces the idea that learning and teaching is everyone’s job and it’s something you can all do together, with relatively little time investment. Making it a regular and rotating deliverable with discussion opportunities distributes the load and means that you’re not the only one coming up with things that no one thinks they have time to read anyway.

2. Spend dedicated time each week for learning

This one’s relatively straight forward. Schedule time on your calendar for learning. Do it for yourself and get your team to schedule time on their own calendars for learning. Remember, you set the example so if you want them to take it seriously, you better have that time on your calendar – sure it may move around sometimes, but you need to make it a priority. Whatever organization you are in, you should be able to allow your team at least 1 or 2 hours per week dedicated to learning and developing themselves to do better work. Hold up - before you start thinking, “There’s no way we have bandwidth for that!” hear me out: In a 40 hour week, 2 hours is 5% of their time; if that makes the other 95% more productive, it should be more than worth it. If it shows your employees that you care about their development and keeps them from jumping ship to greener pastures, then it should be more than worth it.

3. Create opportunities for learning in workflows

This last one is a little trickier and depends a lot on your business, your team’s structure as well as their responsibilities and functions within the organization.

You need to observe your team – your whole team, not just a few over- or under-performers. Be present in their work and know what they struggle with, or where they need improvement. If a team member is consistently writing unclear or garbled emails, or launching into ultra-verbose essays when a few sentences are enough, then you (as their leader) can decide to either: A.) remove that responsibility from their list, or B.) give them an opportunity to improve their writing skills. A writing course over a few days or weeks may be a great experience for that team member that could save not just you, but your whole team hours of not having to read through and interpret a jumbled 2-page mess of thoughts every week.

Or maybe there’s a team member than just can’t seem to remember to check all the boxes before submitting a report and there’s always missed steps in their work. Maybe that team member would benefit from spending some time learning about how to organize their work and develop their own checklists or accountability systems.

Maybe there’s a team member who has expressed interest in certain duties that could shadow another employee through a particular process and then write up a summary of their experience to help reinforce what they have learned and bring about some new ideas on how to improve the process – which just might end up in your having to explain why X can’t be done, but that gives them new insight into the process. Alternatively, they come up with fantastic ideas on improvement and you win yet again, all by paying attention to your team and being on the lookout for development opportunities. This isn’t as quick and easy a solution as the first two – it requires being aware, involved and invested in your team. It is, however, far more valuable and effective an approach for a leader who cares about growing their people, their productivity, and their impact on business success.

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