A Measurable Equation

(Reprinted from CONVENE, February, 2000)

Ronald Gross


To achieve success today, you need a new strategy for your professional development. This strategy goes far beyond keeping abreast by taking an occasional workshop or course. It focuses your learning sharply on what you need and want to learn, to achieve your career goals. It enables you to learn faster, better, and more profitably.

Because this process fuses your LEARNING with your EARNING, it is called L(earning).

L(earning) goes beyond conventional training and education in every major respect:

Why, When, Where, What, How and with Whom.

WHY: L(earning) is driven by your own career goals and needs, not what someone else thinks you need. And it leads to immediately profitable action.

WHEN: L(earning) occurs on a daily basis, in small chunks of time -- not as classroom experiences that are a half-day or longer.

WHERE: L(earning) takes place wherever you are ­ at your desk, in-flight, over lunch -- not in a training room.

WHAT: The subject matter of L(earning) is shaped by your current projects, colleagues, organization and profession ­ not by academic priorities.

HOW and WITH WHOM: L(earning) is usually collaborative and proceeds via inter-action among professionals rather than from an instructor or expert to a group of learners. It makes maximum use of computer-based information and communication, ranging from web-based learning to inter-active Intranets.

"This is the best strategy available, for building your career," says Jane Beckhard, who heads up the Human Resources and Training practice at the nationwide firm of Lloyd Staffing. "After mastering it in a convention workshop two years ago, I've used it myself, recommended it to my clients, and taught it to colleagues. It works!"

Workers and managers in every field and at every level testify to the fact that L(earning) works for them. I have documented its success with organizations ranging from the Electrical and Steelworkers unions, to Fortune 500 corporations, to associations of top professionals in medicine, law, and engineering.

No matter where you are in your career -- entry level or senior management -- L(earning) will enable you to earn more, advance faster, and get more gratification out of your work.


How do you build L(earning) into your own job, occupation, or profession?

In this career-driven learning, the key question be-comes: "Where do I want to go in my career and my life -- and what do I have to LEARN to do THAT ?!"

You need to begin thinking about your present job -- and the next one ­- in terms of learning. There are three steps to doing this: INFUSE, USE, and CHOOSE

1. INFUSE your work with learning and growth, on a daily basis.

2. USE what you are learning, to advance in your career.

3. CHOOSE your specific assignments, and your next job, with a view to how much you can learn from them.

1. INFUSE your work with learning. I have chosen the word "infuse" to describe this process, because its root meaning is "to pour into," Your L(earning) is not something you add onto your other job tasks. It certainly doesn't wait until you attend an annual professional conference in your field, or enroll for a certificate or degree program.

Rather, L(earning) is simply an aspect of your day-to-day work. It permeates everything you do at work.

Every day, you can and should find exciting opportunities to learn something new. Every initiative or project, if you approach it correctly (and debrief it creatively), will yield new knowledge and sharpened skills. Every evening on the way home from work, you should be able to answer the question: "What did I do today that was important and meaningful for my career?" (Readers will recall that this was a key point of the interview with Tom Peters in our October 1999 issue.)

I have covered the major strategies for doing this in previous CONVENE columns.

2. USE Your Learning:

The second step in L(earning) is to USE what you are learning to upgrade your productivity, effectiveness, and visibility. There are several ways to do this:

Teach what you've learned to other employees. This can be as simple as showing the guy in the next office how to launch Power Point after you've learned it ­ or as formal as a brown-bag lunch-break to share some important new statistics on your organization's clientele.

Calculate the ROI of your learning. Regularly tote up the impact of your learning on your effectiveness.

Make your learning a part of your "Permanent Record". After every major project, consultation, workshop or conference, distill out the major learnings and have them inserted in your HR file for review during your next Performance Appraisal.

3. CHOOSE the right job and assignments. The smartest careerists find ways to choose their jobs and assignments with a view to what they will be learning. (See sidebar at end, "When Harry Met Sally")

To do this, you need to answer three questions:

A. What do I need to know, and be able to do, to succeed in the position I want most?

B. In what assignments or job can I master that knowledge and competence?

C. How can I use training and educational opportunities of the organization to broaden and strengthen my skills?

Doing this kind of learning as a regular part of your daily work, has a number of exhilarating and profitable benefits:

* it gives you a feeling of control, despite the turmoil in your job. It helps you deal with the stress of constant change and challenge.

* It gives you the sense of continual growth, rather than just keeping your head above water.
* It makes you a valued employee, team member, boss, or consultant. You will find that those around you are energized by your continual development.


How L(earning) Pays Off...



Harry first met Sally in 1989, when they both started their careers as apprentice meeting planners at the American Archlight Association in 1989. Both of them were just out of college. Bill Barstow, mentor to both of them, said from the start: "Those two are like twins - their capabilities and talents are so similar!"

Harry and Sally lunched together frequently during those first couple of years, and it struck both of them that their abilities and talents were indeed pretty much equivalent. During one of those lunches, during the week between Christmas and New Year's, they made a little pact to meet ten years later, in l999 for a Millennial Lunch, to compare how they'd used their education and talents.

Little did they realize that there was a significant but invisible difference between them. Both were energetic, conscientious, and
creative as meeting planners. Both demonstrated their commitments to excellence, dependability, and integrity.

But from the start, Sally had an additional quality: a knack for learning.

For example, she designated a section in the back of her Day-Planner to making notes at the end of each day -- notes on things she was learning about meeting planning and association management. And she did four other things which were hardly noticeable to others: she asked questions, she did little "after action" reports about her projects, she used on-line resources ranging from the Association's Intranet to web-based learning modules, and she started a brown-bag lunch group which met once a week to talk about featured articles in the trade press.

Nothing dramatic about these things - but, taken together, they produced a slow but steady growth in her knowledge, skills, and understanding. Her growth was probably only about 5% more than Harry's.

But you could see the results in their Performance Appraisals by the end of their third year. Both were rated at the 90% level. But Harry's supervisor wrote about him: "I know I can depend on him to come through with consistently high performance whatever the assignment."

Sally's boss said: "The wheels just seem to be spinning around in her head all the time - cranking out ideas for doing things better, faster, and easier."

Each month, each year, that little 5% "edge" in learning and growth
which Sally had demonstrated early on, continued and compounded. While both she and Harry took regular training, seminars, on-line courses and went to professional conferences, Sally always seemed to find just a little more time and energy for these pursuits. Harry would tend to accept these them when offered or suggested by his supervisor. Sally sought out and requested such opportunities, selecting them according to what she called her "Learning Agenda."

A turning point in both their careers came five years later, when the AAA merged with the National Association of Arclight Organizations. The AAA was thrown into turmoil, as the scramble began for positions on the new organization chart.

Harry found himself discomfited by this tumultuous climate. He devoted himself conscientiously to continuing to do what he had been doing so very well. His assumption was that continued superb performance would commend him for a top spot.

Sally, however, found the everything-up-for-grabs climate as offering opportunities for many of the skills and ideas she's been developing over the past several years. She formulated a plan for what she could contribute to the newly-merged organization, which won her a place on the Transition Team. Appraising her work on that team, its director wrote: "She came up with half a dozen of the key concepts that will define the new entity."

The most recent time that Harry met Sally was at that Millenial Christmas Party last year. By this time, the difference in their career outcomes was obvious. Harry as well-ensconced as a Division director, where everyone said he seemed so well-suited that he might stay till retirement.. Sally, having served as Vice-President for two years, had just announced that she had accepted a new position as CEO of the Atlas Destination, Exhibit, and Communications Company.

Looking back at the careers of both Harry and Sally, the savvy Bill Barstow, now one of the "old hands" at the Association, said: "I
remember how similar those two seemed when they arrived here out of the college. But, somehow, ten years later, Sally is clearly three or four times more valuable as a manager. It's a bit of a mystery - but I got a clue to it yesterday when I stopped in to congratulate her on the new job. . After graciously saying how much she'd miss work with me, she asked pointedly: 'Bill, could we do lunch sometime this week. I'd really like to discuss compare notes on what we've learned from this whole merger experience. I've got the feeling there's some valuable learning in what we've just been through.'

Back to L(earning)