3 Techniques for Leaders Who Want to Set the Learning Curve
Retail has changed a lot in the half-century since Jelmar's founding. Customers now demand the opportunity to shop online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores. Because they can’t necessarily see or hold products, they rely on digital descriptions and reviews to inform their choices.
At the same time, consumers want their interactions with businesses to be seamless across omnichannel platforms. At Jelmar, this means people who purchase CLR while grocery shopping expect our customer service representatives to reflect the promises we make on every product.
Anticipating the needs of customers can be difficult in this constantly changing marketplace. We count on the digital world to stay afloat by sharing our message with new people, but businesses are always vying for attention online. There are more opportunities for media, but it can be difficult to cut through the noise to reach people. Through all these challenges, I’ve found that the most beneficial learning experiences are the uncommon ones — the ones that take me by surprise.
Modeling a Thumbs-Up Approach to Learning
When CEOs don’t learn new things, they tend to fall back on trusted — often antiquated — habits. This is definitely true for me. Constantly re-examining my knowledge keeps me in the loop on human resources practices, technological choices, and consumer behaviors.
I strive to learn something every day, even if this new knowledge seems mundane. After all, the seemingly smallest things sometimes lead to the biggest epiphanies.
Leaders are best-suited to promote an educated workplace teeming with people who are eager to learn. Executives should showcase a desire to learn by investing time in reading books, attending workshops, and studying everything from cinema classics to chess. Their quest for knowledge will naturally spread to their teams, igniting enthusiasm for staff members to do likewise and ensuring everyone grows together.
Education on the Job
I’m hardly the first executive to promote upskilling everyone in a company. Amazon recently announced plans to invest $700 million in employee education by 2025. The corporate giant knows that its employees must stay ahead of the learning curve if it wants to avoid getting eaten by disruptors. And make no mistake — disruption keeps the C-suite awake at night.
According to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 80% of top-level executives worry that their workforces won’t be able to keep up with the fast pace of technology-related improvements. It’s a serious concern, and learning opportunities are the only way to develop an agile culture that is able to adapt.
Ongoing education at all corporate levels has helped our brand weather decades of change. The following strategies have enhanced my team’s learning:
1. Let people learn for themselves.
When I started working at Jelmar, I didn’t go through any formal training. Looking back, I benefited from being thrown into foreign situations because I learned how to make snap decisions. Learning by doing helps people grow, giving them the ability to confidently make decisions without backing out or delegating. Although I never want anyone to feel overwhelmed, this practice can open doors for innovation.
2. Push employees in strength-building directions.
There are times when employees don’t think they have an aptitude in a certain area. If I believe otherwise, I try to have them work on projects that will strengthen their skills — especially qualities outside their wheelhouse. Leaders have to be willing to help people grow by seeing what they may not see in themselves. An outgoing person who wants to get into sales might be better suited for internally facing communications, for example, so I’ll do my best to guide them toward those types of responsibilities.
3. Rearrange the deck chairs from time to time.
Recently, I have started to think of ways to move individuals into new departments or roles. As the business landscape continues to evolve, some employees might be best suited for different positions. It only makes sense to keep an open mind. If your team members are improving their skill sets constantly, your company could benefit by promoting earnest and loyal contributors to more challenging and rewarding positions.
I’ve seen the benefits of pushing myself — and my employees — to treat every experience as a learning opportunity. Over the years, I’ve learned more from the challenges I didn’t expect than the ones I saw coming. Whenever possible, I’ve used those experiences to build a culture of adaptation and education. With a little encouragement, your team can do the same thing.