Sunday, 10 April 2011
“Only a mediocre person is always at his best” – Somerset Maugham
I started my career back in the Dot.com days when we celebrated the launch of new products with champagne and strawberries on a weekly basis. Back then, the going was good and everyone was encouraged to invest in training in order to deliver more value through personal development.
During the boom, I attended conferences such as JavaOne in San Francisco and TheServerSide Symposium in Las Vegas where I learnt a great deal from peers and thought leaders. In spite of being a software developer, I even attended a course on Project Management where I gained invaluable insight into how project management can add value when it is applied correctly. All the training I participated in helped me see the bigger picture beyond writing code, my core competency at the time.
Then came the crash and organisations no longer seemed to care about the return on investment when it came to training. When the training budget eventually shrunk to almost a taboo, I got creative.
Get creative to learn
During the crash, I got into the habit of investing in my own personal development with my own money and holiday. At first, it was by setting aside a modest book budget. Then I extended it to include conferences. As a result, I learned a great deal by focusing on value when others were busy concentrating on budget cuts.
Nowadays, my learning budget includes events and trips that help increase the value I deliver. It’s not a big budget so I make sure I get the most value out of what I invest in.
Get personal about your development
Over the years, my attitude and approach to training has evolved immensely. My view is that training is a means to continuous learning. This means that anything which helps me learn qualifies as “training”.
Tip #1: Take responsibility for your own learning
You are your own greatest asset. Learning increases the value of that asset. Since you are the primary beneficiary of your personal development, it’s up to you manage that development, not your manager or anyone else.
Tip #2: Put your money where you mouth is
If you truly believe in the value of personal development, you need to invest, be it through time, money and/or effort.
Up close and personal
Here’s a list of things I do to maximise my investment in personal development.
1. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Most organisations have a training budget. Find out how much of it can be invested in you. Get details of training options, from training providers to ways of learning such as courses, conferences and 1-2-1 mentoring.
2. Identify your learning preferences to maximise the value you get from the different ways of learning. Do you prefer lecture-style learning or interactive learning? Get smarter by mixing and matching what your learn and how you learn.
3. Think of each training request as a business case. Identify the value you and your organisation will get out of the investment as well as the costs. How will you give back after getting training?
4. Present your training request as a set of options with varying value and costs. For instance, I like to come up with between 3 – 5 options for each course or conference I attend with the aim of getting the training request approved. My goal is to ensure that my request contains so much value that the cost is negligible by comparison. Think “Value for Money”.
Ways to increase your value proposition
For many people, learning is a passive activity such as being an “attendee” at a conference. The key to increasing the value of an investment is become an active participant.
Here are some ideas on how:
- Define your goals and success criteria before the course/event and regularly track progress in terms of your goals and criteria throughout the course/event. It’s also useful to reflect afterwards to determine the estimated vs actual ROI
- Active participation during sessions through personal contribution – This helps you exercise the theory of what you’ve learned right away and increase the effectiveness of the learning cycle
- Share what you learned with your colleagues through a series of lunch-and-learns – This helps generate conversations with others or give rise to new ideas
- Submit a proposal to the conference – This is a great way to get feedback as well as learn how to receive feedback and take improvement actions
- Present a session at the conference – Similar to submitting a proposal and at least 3 times more valuable in terms of learning through session R & D, public speaking and face-to-face networking. For me, it’s a great test of personal agility
Ways to reduce the cost of training requests to your organisation
- Become a conference presenter (presenters usually get free entry) – It’s a great WIN-WIN formula, as a presenter you get more value AND it reduces cost
- Offer to pay for one or more of the following where the number of $ denotes the relative and estimated cost of items: conference entrance fee $$$, accomodation $$, travel $$, expenses $ and days off work (by taking it as holiday – the value of holiday differs from person to person) $$
Learning as a personal investment
Something sobering happens when you start thinking about learning as a personal investment in terms of time, cost and effort. The most poignant moment is when you translate what you’re personally prepared to pay into $$$ value for an opportunity to learn. You know you’re serious about learning when you really put your money where you mouth is.
How much have you invested lately? How much will you invest this year?