I am approaching this article with a few beliefs about professional development already in place. First, for an association to be successful, constant learning is essential. Second, countless learning opportunities are available that are free or low cost. Third, learning is for everyone; from the receptionists to the mail person to the executive director.
However, there are some steadfast beliefs about education holding back the association community today. Let’s run through each myth and look at how we can bust them.
1. Others know better and I have to pay for their knowledge.
We tend to believe others know better and that you get better learning if you pay more for it. This limits and underestimates the amount of expertise we already possess as association professionals. For me, to teach is the best way to learn. Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing facilitates deep understanding by filtering information through people’s specific languages and contexts. Job shadowing or observation can be a useful way of doing this. Spend a day watching another team in a totally different department work on their projects.
2. Learning happens on a strict schedule (i.e. when we have the budget for it.)
There’s a time lag between the culture of the employees and the culture of the organization. The organization might think learning only happens at the end of the fiscal year when they have the budget for it, as opposed to day-in, day-out. When learning opportunities are reserved and budgeted only for a select few in certain roles, people get shut out. Bite-size improvements add up and make a difference. Making learning a regular habit indicates a culture that goes beyond token educational events once a year.
3. Recognition should be reserved for rare occasions.
Recognition is either underutilized or misdirected. Instead of giving out a “ten years of service gift” once, let’s use recognition to reinforce everyday achievements that we want to see emulated. For example, giving a shout-out to someone who took a course and shared what they learned with colleagues. Recognize valuable behaviors intentionally.
4. Everyone learns the same way.
I’ve always been a fan of competency frameworks. I like the structure and the organization they provide. However, this planning style can produce a one-size-fits-all set of solutions that says, here’s what we need to learn this year to get the organization moving in a fixed direction, rather than being adaptive and tailored to individual needs. Utilize the tool in the right way. No one wants a competency framework that becomes eighty five items—it’s too hard to manage. Short and sweet is key. What must we know to survive?
5. Asking for help reflects badly on you.
People need to be comfortable saying “I don’t know”, instead of associating shame or embarrassment with that phrase. There’s maturity in admitting what you don’t know and recognizing where you need to grow. It opens doors and speeds things up when you can ask for help. There’s power in saying, “Tell me more.” And the person you ask will feel good when they can teach you something they are passionate about.
6. Learning is separate from work.
I have heard some people talk about the idea of “sharpening the axe”. If you take time to do that, you can chop the wood faster. That to me represents taking the time to learn to make yourself and your organization more productive, efficient and effective.