Your to-do list versus your to-learn list

Written by
Alistair Shepherd, founder, Saberr

04 May 2020

04 May 2020 • by Alistair Shepherd, founder, Saberr

Having a to-learn list is a great way to feel productive and in control but, as circumstances change, the way we learn must adapt too, writes Alistair Shepherd of Saberr. 

Our to-do lists are never ending, and in the face of a crisis this isn’t likely to change. However, many people have taken some time over the past weeks to reflect as the pace of life changes. For some people this has meant they have a little more time and for others simply working remotely has meant a change in routine giving them the opportunity to consider what they might want to learn. Having a to-learn list is a great way to feel productive and in control but, as circumstances change, the way we learn needs to adapt as well. 

The value of a to-learn list 

Most people have a to-do list to hand at all times of the working day, but a to-learn list is rare. We ask children what they learnt at school all the time but at a certain age that stops. We should be able to continue to ask that of our friends, family and colleagues throughout their careers. Even in times of rapid change or crisis learning shouldn’t stop. In times like these learning is what will help people adapt to change and generate essential new ideas that will help businesses survive.

The importance of continuous learning in a new world of work

As Josh Bersin put it, “In the consumer world we want people to spend more and more time on our content. In the corporate learning world, we want them to spend less.” Instead of spending all day browsing content we want people to learn, apply the learning and go back to work. This type of continuous learning means steady improvement and progress throughout the organisation. Encouraging your team to build a to-learn list will aid this type of regular learning, it means that when they have time set aside to learn they can start straight away and quickly apply the knowledge to their work. Conversely, a to-learn list helps avoid distractions during day to day work. Rather than diving into something you’re suddenly curious about, adding it to your to-learn list will keep you on task saving more time to learn later. 

Continuous learning is also much easier to apply in remote environments. Instead of scheduled full day courses which, in normal circumstances, have limited impact and today are impossible to run, online learning, accessible at the point of need and in the flow of work can be made available to your teams wherever they are and whatever hours they’re working. 

Positive impact of learning on mental wellbeing

With so much uncertainty at the moment, it’s essential to put the mental health of your teams first. Research shows a link between dopamine and the learning process. The novelty centre of your brain is activated when you learn something new which triggers a rush of dopamine and an improved sense of wellbeing. This, paired with increased self-esteem and value from being able to offer a new skill, can be a much-needed boost for employees’ mental wellbeing and motivation at a difficult time. 

More autonomy 

For now, at least, we’re also seeing much more autonomy at work; difficult circumstances mean companies are forced to offer more flexibility and unprecedented shifts in work patterns. This means for managers in particular, learning shouldn’t be just task focussed - leadership development is more important than ever for increasingly autonomous teams. While traditional leadership development programmes may be on pause due to cost constraints, leading organisations will look for tools like CoachBot that can offer leadership development and support managers practically in leading their teams and encouraging team members to own their own skills and knowledge development and take charge of their role like never before.

How you can help your team to learn 

Managers are essential to employee experience. According to LinkedIn  getting managers to make learning a priority is the number one L&D priority for this year. This may have shifted in recent weeks to a focus on learning how to manage remote teams but it’s still essential to champion learning of all kinds. 

Currently teams or employees will fall into three broad categories, which managers will need to support in different ways:

Those with more time on their hands. Help them harness their curiosity or even venture beyond their field. Learning something that’s not directly related to their role can help your team develop new ideas, skills or ways of thinking that can aid problem solving. In times of stress it can also be a refreshing change to focus on something more fun or relaxing and provide a real sense of achievement for employees whose purpose might be less clear at present.

Those who are busier than normal. Ruthless prioritisation is essential, but this doesn't always mean cutting learning. In fact, new ideas, skills and tools will be essential to getting more done with less. You could encourage your more technical team members to research or try out new tools (a huge number of vendors, including Saberr, are offering their tools for free to support businesses at the moment), and more people focused team members might want to learn how to keep their colleagues engaged and motivated. Supporting colleagues within the team is more important than ever at the moment; with less face time and more pressure, teamwork champions may well be just what you need. 

Those who are facing a reality check. For many, a sudden jolt into uncertainty will have prompted an urgent reflection on what skills they need to do their job, to further their career or even find a new job. Again highlighting how essential ongoing learning and skills development are, even in times of crisis. According to the World Economic Forum, "As the rate of skills change accelerates across both old and new roles in all industries, proactive and innovative skill-building and talent management is an urgent issue. What this requires is a talent development function that is rapidly becoming more strategic and has a seat at the table."

So, whatever your circumstances, as a manager or a leader of an organisation you must enable your teams to find time to learn. Encourage and support employees in creating a to-learn list as well as a to-do list, treat both lists with equal importance and ensure they’re regularly reviewed and, most importantly, that action is taken. 

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