Just because your employer can’t afford to send you on formal training courses, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of scope for personal development if you plan for it. Straitened times can offer you excellent opportunities to build your skills, particularly when organisations are being restructured and jobs are being cut. Have changes in your department at technical or management level given you a chance to broaden your knowledge? Have pressures on the management team given you more autonomy to make decisions and act on these? Make the most of the upheaval to become more marketable.
People learn in different ways, and it’s helpful to determine what your preferred approach is. The learning styles model, created by occupational psychologists Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, defines four types of learner:
* Activists – those who learn best by jumping in at the deep end. Their preference is for experiential learning. Organisational reshuffles offer activists plenty of chances to “have a go” and build their skills.
* Reflectors – those who like to be fully briefed before they start a new experience. They learn best by observing or discussing a skill and then applying it to their own circumstances. If you are a reflector, ensure that you make time each week to review the events that showed you something new and to consider how best to apply this learning to your own situation.
* Theorists – those who need to understand the overall context of new information so that they can determine the value of what they have learned. They have to be convinced of the value of what they are learning and they get the most from a learning opportunity by seeing information in its proper setting.
* Pragmatists – those who learn best when they can see the practical impact of new approaches or information. Understanding how something theoretical will work in real life is their focus, and they prefer to learn from an expert.
Most people are able to learn in more than one of these styles, of course, but they will tend to have a favourite. Consider what yours might be and use this to help plan your development. You can find the original learning styles questionnaire at www.peterhoney.com.
Think about whether there’s anyone among your management colleagues whom you’d particularly like to be your mentor – most people are flattered to be asked. Outside your organisation, a friend who’s prepared to meet you regularly to share experiences and discuss development issues in a structured way can provide a valuable new perspective on your work.
Lastly, if you have people to manage, don’t forget to delegate activities to them that will encourage them to continue their own development. Work that may seem dull to you may be highly developmental for someone else. Such deliberate delegation increases the capabilities of your team and gives you more time for higher-level work.
Rachel Stone (email@example.com) is people management director at accounting firm Smith & Williamson.