Over Two-Dozen Ideas for Continuous Learning

Continuous learning (aka Lifelong Learning) has been touted as a management must before the dawn of quality improvement programs.  Why has this remained key to business success when other management concepts have come and gone?  It is important to continue to grow to keep up with changes and motivate people.  Whether the changes are economical, environmental, societal, or technical - to remain successful leaders must keep up with what is going on, not just in their industry but across many areas.

“Knowledge is power? No. Knowledge on its own is nothing, 
but the application of useful knowledge, now that is powerful.” ― Rob Liano

So how do you make continuous learning happen in a company or as an individual?  There are multiple method to incorporate the continuous learning concept.  These can include some or all of the below methods for increasing knowledge.  

  1. Ask questions or for help on a new or difficult task
  2. Observe how others do tasks to experience new ideas or learn different ways to do things
  3. Watch videos/DVDs on relevant subjects
  4. Listen to professional podcasts
  5. Subscribe to relevant blogs or e-newsletters
  6. Get feedback from others and work towards improving as needed
  7. Join a professional association/society and go to some of the meetings for networking
  8. Work with or as a coach or mentor - learning experiences are gained on both sides 
  9. Develop a skills matrix, create a goal plan, and track progress
  10. Read books or skill-specific magazines/journals
  11. Find relevant on-line articles, case studies, research, or white papers
  12. Complete workbook exercises, or team-building activities, or computer-based/on-line quizzes
  13. Hold leadership reading clubs or business book discussion groups
  14. Look for on-the-job training (OJT) opportunities
  15. Go to internal training classes and/or external workshops
  16. Participate in or lead seminars or webinars  - learn by sharing time with others
  17. Take part in Continuing Education Unit (CEU) courses
  18. Get a higher degree in your field or another degree in a different or related field
  19. Enroll in a certification program that increases skill-levels
  20. Benchmark/visit other companies or department within your organization
  21. Knowledge share with others via virtual meetings or a computerized database
  22. Volunteer for projects or teams that allow stretching current skills or learning new ones
  23. Check out leadership and educational programs on public television (PBS)
  24. Attend or facilitate presentations, face-to-face meetings, and Lunch N Learns - learn in a short time with others
  25. Plan quarterly, biannual or annual strategic meetings or team-building events
  26. Check into conferences, trade shows or product showcases
Continuous learning not only benefits leaders and other individuals by making them more knowledgeable, it benefits companies as well by providing better equipped and flexible employees.  Remember for one to truly learn something, an opportunity to apply and use the gained knowledge is also necessary.  So be sure that the new skills can be practiced on-the-job,  Knowledge is information, however wisdom/expertise is only gained in the application of knowledge.

See also The Business Journal article 5 Steps to Developing a Continuous-Learning Culture.

Gender Diversity: Women in the Workforce

Gender diversity usually refers to an equitable ratio of women and men in the workplace. This does not mean you must have a 50/50 split of females to males within every position within your company. You should still hire/transfer/promote the best person for the job, however you need to plan for a fair representation of both sexes in both job roles and organizational hierarchy.

Why is it important for your company to have women in the leadership positions?  A 2016 Survey by PIIE "suggest that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance." Another plus for more women in leadership positions is improved problem-solving and increased idea generation that comes from the different perspectives of a more diverse workforce - gender and race.  Leadership not only happens in corporate hierarchy, but also in teams and individual performance in every department!

Leadership is not the only place this is important.  It is important to consider the possible benefits of women in all positions.  For example, your sales department will need women since your customer base most likely includes many women.  How do you know that there are more women buyers out there?  Per Statista Demographic Report, women make up more than half of the USA current population and this trend is expected to continue.

So consider gender diversity in your recruitment and hiring process, as well as transfer and promotional opportunities.  This will set your company as a preferred place to work as you not only adhere to federal laws, you demonstrate that you value diversity in all forms.

For ideas on how to create a gender divers workforce, see SHRM article 10 Tips to Fight Gender Discrimination.  For suggestions for improving hiring processes, see article Write Better Job Postings in 7 Smart Steps.

Four Business Management Tips for When You Take Time Off

In this always-connected work-world we have created, it is hard to unplug when going on vacation or leave the office for multi-day events.  However, you need to do so in order to really relax, refresh, and come back rejuvenated.  So below  are four tips to help you prepare to be disconnected from work before you leave for vacation or any other event.
  1. Ask someone to be your "go to" substitute.  This could be one person who covers you typical work functions and the same person or another person for special projects you are involved with.  Give these people your emergency contact number and be sure they understand what might constitute an emergency that could require calling you rather than sending an email.  After you get their agreement, send out emails to those who may be looking for you during your vacation.  In the email include the dates you will be gone and the name(s) and contact information for your substitute.
  2. Check your work-related emails only once a day.  Plan for this ahead of time and if appropriate, let selected people know the time you may be checking email during your vacation in writing.  Send out an email which says "I will try to check my emails daily at ---."  This give your substitute, key team members, and your boss the option of asking quick questions or giving you a "head up" before you return.  Having a time they need to contact you by will keep you from having to worry about email when you should be having fun or relaxing.
  3. Limit business texts and phone calls.  The email tips above also applies to phone calls and those pesky text pinging you when you are in the middle of an excursion or fun photo.  So when you send out your email check time include a note about this too.  The note might be something like "Instead of texting or phoning me, please send an email so I have the details I need in advance to get back with you with the best possible answer."  This lets them know you want to help but puts the responsibility for questions back on them.  Often they may come up with their own answer or decide it is not as important as they first thought while trying o compose an email so they don't send it. 
  4. Set-up email out-of-office notifications.  This is an automatic email feature that tells people you are not available on certain dates and lets you compose a message.  Set-up a generic message body with the contact information of your substitute, but you do not need to say where you are going or why.  
If you do this right, there should not be any fires to put out or mounds of work waiting for you when you get back. Instead you should be ale to fall back into your routine immediately.  However, you should  expect to return the favor when another takes their time-off.

Infographic with Twelve Statistics on Social Selling

12 statistics as infographic that may convince you that your business needs to start social selling, originally from Sales for Life blog.  They also shared more stats in an infographic on B2B Solcial Selling.  

12 Stats That Prove You Need To Start Social Selling

Learn At Lunch: A Great Team, Sales, and Management Training Option

Lunch & Learn, Lunch N Learn, Lunch and Learn, Brown Bag Seminar
Learn At Lunch-Training Presentations 
Whether you call it learn-at-lunch (American Management Association term, circa 2013) or lunch-and-learn (also Lunch N Learn or "Lunch & Learn" terms @2007), this is a great option for disseminating short training nuggets. It can save both time and money when it comes to employee learning.

Please note, the older terms of Bring-Your-Own-Lunch Training or Brown Bag Seminars (started in the 1980's by offering short technical topics or product introductions) are dropping in popularity by business organizations due to language acceptability and labor issues.

Use learn-at-lunch time to:
  • Introduce team-building concepts or simple business skills that do not require physical activities or special equipment
  • Familiarize sales and customer service representatives with new products, services, or processes
  • Encourage supervisors, managers, leaders, and facilitators to adopt new procedures, attitudes, or policies
For corporate events, nothing says says you have to use the term Learn-at-Lunch.  Instead you can even make your lunch menu a fun match to the topics.  Some ideas might be:  Tacos & Tools, Pizza N Presentations, Sandwiches & Sales, Training N Treats, Salad and Service, or Noodles & News. Get the idea?

For tips on Learn at Lunch, see:

How to Get Topics and Participants for Learn-at-Lunch Events

How do you get topics for learn-at-lunch training sessions?

If you want to start lunch and learns but do not where to start, do an on-line survey (with SurveyMonkey or Social Media Polls) to see what topics people are most interested in to get started.  You can provide 10 topic areas and request those surveyed rank them in order of preference.  You may also want an optional fill-in the-blank field to capture ideas you did not think of for prioritizing in the next survey.  Be sure to provide a “do by” date to encourage timely responses.  The easy decision then is to start with the topic with the highest ranking and move down the list.  This type of survey could be done quarterly or annually to test new topics or determine which ones to repeat.

How do you get people to attend Learn-at-Lunch events?

The obvious answer is to make them worth attending.  How do you do that?  Below are a few ideas to think about for mixing it up and making it worthwhile for your training participants.

  • Do not just do lecture and a PowerPoint presentation!  You can make it interactive by adding games, case study review, quizzes, as well as "Q&A."  Make it more interesting by including skits, vendor or customer comments, video clips, demonstrations and music if appropriate.  You might find something funny on YouTube that could drive home your primary point. It should be so interesting that people want to come to the next one!
  • Consider capturing all the questions on a flip chart or marker board, if the lunch and learn involves a strategic change.  Then when you get the best answers from management, you can publish it as a FAQ document for all employees to access.  You may also want to record the event so you can share it with more people via the company intranet.
  • Find good presenters, people who are knowledgeable and can make their topic interesting!  You do not want a monotone voice reading slides and putting the audience to sleep after they eat.  Instead you want people to go away with more knowledge than they came with.  Presenters can be internal to the organization or motivational speakers from outside the company.
  • Make sure you space and equipment works in advance.  Not understanding how to link in remote attendees or on-line data is not only frustrating to them and the speaker, it is distracting to those physically sitting in the room.  If you mess up with technology and spend too much time fixing it, people may not come back to the next event.
  • Consider success sharing among teams and projects as potential lunch and learn topics too.  Let your teams shine and share to help others improve and grow.  This should be a learning session, not an idea generating meeting or project completion party – those should be separate individual team events.

Once you have your topics and your schedule planned.  Get the word out!  Start with emails and do not stop there.   Promote it with flyers, bulletin boards, or posters prominently placed around your business facilities.  If your organization has a newsletter or corporate e-calendar make sure your lunch and learns get listed there too.

Five Tips for Planning Learn-at-Lunch Events

Below are five (5) tips to consider when planning a Learn at Lunch training event in your company. Each of the five tips include questions to ask before proceeding with event planning.  

  1. Define the best time to hold your sessions.  When do most of your employees break for lunch 11-12, 11:30-12:30, or 12-1?  Choosing a time-frame that most prefer will help you get more people in the seats.
  2. Decide how often you want to offer these sessions. Should training events be once a quarter or once a month?  Or do you have an immediate need to disseminate information or want to break it into multiple modules where weekly events over a short time period may be more appropriate?  Choosing a frequency of events will help you arrange for presenters and plan promotions.  If you choose to do weekly events, make them the same day each week so it easier for your employees to plan for.
  3. Determine if you want variety of attendees or a targeted group.  Could you provide lunch or would it be better to tell your employees to Bring-Your-Own?  For a targeted learning, people will typically want to attend without extra incentives.  For a varied audience, the extra incentive a free lunch may get more people to show up.
  4. Discover a location that will work best.  Depending on the audience size, can you find a room large enough with table space as well as seating?  If you are providing lunch, is there room to set-up an area for people to quickly move through when selecting their meal before the training portion begins?  If you are not providing food and expect a large crowd, can you bring food and drink into an auditorium-type space and do the seats provide a fold-up writing space that may be larger enough for notes and food?
  5. Deliver meaningful content.  What topics are people do you plan to present?  Who can you get to present each topic in an interesting or unique way?  This is especially important for reviewing old material where you want people to see it differently and/or not be bored by hearing the same thing again.

Even though lunch and learns are more casual and shorter events than a training workshop, you still need to organize presenters, handouts, facilities, equipment, and food in advance.

*These same five suggestions above will work for non-profit associations who prefer to do lunch meetings instead of dinner events – just replace the word “employees” with “members” when reading the tips.

Five Top Business Leadership Issues

Business values and vision, empowerment and engagement
Each year, I search business articles for common leadership themes and issues.  These business leadership issues are usually presented sometime in the first quarter of each year.  This year it was harder to find the top leadership issues as they seemed to be all over the place!  Some articles had the common threads of technology use, company culture, leader's personal needs awareness, change management, and staff/HR issues.  Although their approaches were somewhat different and in some cases contradictory!

Of the common leadership topics, below are the 5 most discussed business leadership issues in order of frequency of appearance in articles.  Although many have been covered on this blog before, I will attempt to cover a few of the highest ranking concepts in posts this year and then link them here.

Five Top Leadership Issues 

  1. Gender diversity (encourage more female leadership)
  2. Continuous learning (promote training and education) 
  3. Change management (communicate what changes and what remains the same)
  4. Company culture (emphasize accountability and lead by example)
  5. Generational gaps/diverstiy (are no longer high priority issue, yet need to remain aware of it)

Below are a few leadership articles you may want to check out on other issues: