Learning is its own reward but when you and your company invest in professional development, the big payoff comes from applying those new insights in tangible ways that improve performance and results.
Despite current constraints on in-person learning, resources for online development are more abundant than ever. A critical resource available to all WFF members is the new WFF Connect
portal with content delivered by subject matter experts, tailored to all career stages and catalogued by links to the 12 WFF Leadership Competencies.
Whether you’re accessing WFF Connect, attending an online workshop, participating in virtual career roundtables or even going old school with books and printed industry publications, the real learning comes from putting insights into practice.
“A key to applying new learnings effectively is setting an action plan in motion even as you are wrapping up the professional development experience,” explains Nancy Polk, Ph.D., consulting psychologist and executive coach. “A best practice is to outline several tangible next steps before you leave the room or sign off from online training,” she advises. Otherwise, the insights you’ve gained may get lost in the daily hustle and bustle of work demands.
Consider this advice to put new learnings to work:
Take stock beforehand
. How you prepare for professional development can dramatically increase return on investment. Preview the agenda and materials and match them to your areas for growth. “Even taking ten minutes prior to a workshop to think about your most desired takeaways, leadership challenges you might struggle with, or skill sets you want to master will increase the benefits you derive,” Polk says.
Apply learnings immediately.
Carving out time to synthesize new learning right away will help you process the material or, at the very least, flag intriguing ideas for exploration. “The more you can translate learnings from abstract concepts to concrete actions, the bigger your payoff,” Polk advises. She suggests taking a sample goal such as ‘be more strategic and less tactical’ and breaking it down into tangible action items such as:
Create a 30-60-90 Plan.
- Schedule coffee with Sandra (who is skilled at strategic thinking) to seek advice and ideas.
- Block out Friday afternoons to think and plan for bigger-picture, strategic issues.
- Read one industry publication per month.
- Assign champions for each key strategic initiative and coach them on how to get started.
Break your action plan into time-related chunks that identify what you will accomplish in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Be specific about resources needed, internal expertise you can access and how you will carve out time to launch a new project.
Focus on your sphere of influence.
To accelerate progress, it pays to start small in areas you control directly and with individuals to whom you already provide supervision and guidance.
Become a teacher
. One of the most effective ways to make new information your own is to master it well enough to impart it to others. Concentrate on two or three areas so you can review the material in-depth and expand it with company-specific examples.
Host a subject matter expert session.
Tap into internal experts in your organization who can take a workshop topic to a deeper and more specific level. Use the learning materials to launch the topic and invite your inside expert to tailor the content to company needs.
Experiment, learn and adapt.
New ways of working don’t arrive fully formed with all the bugs worked out. “When trying out new approaches, tell people your intentions and what’re you’re trying to accomplish. Describe what you will be striving to do more of, less of, or differently,” Polk says. “Ask for their support and feedback as you work on your new approach and skills.”
Network with other attendees.
Ongoing connection with fellow training participants can increase accountability and provide a helpful sounding board as you both master new concepts. WFF Connect
includes an online member directory that enables you to reach out to colleagues who share your commitment to professional and personal development.
Create a mantra.
Succinct self-talk phrases (such as ‘Delve deeper. Strong voice. Ask questions. Hear them out.’) can help you stay focused on professional development goals in the moment, even when things get hectic and stressful.
Finally, check in with your manager after the training to share your plans for bringing new ideas to your work, gain needed feedback and approvals and, finally, to express thanks for the opportunity