We often hear the term "self-development"... like there’s any other kind!
Organizations can architect learning cultures. Talent professionals can construct career journeys and learning paths. Training and development departments can offer catalogues full of courses.
But in the final analysis, the decision to learn and grow is very personal. All employee development is self-development.
Organizations invest considerable resources to create external environments in which learning can happen. They implement strategies to become "learning organizations." They install systems that provide easy-access to countless developmental resources. And they train their managers to leverage learning like they do other investments.
But missing from these plans is the fundamental understanding that what's happening on the outside matters much less than what’s happening on the inside.
The inner game of learning
Before anyone can take advantage of the learning resources available in the world around them, they first have to engage in an inner dialogue that readies them for learning. They have to grapple with and mentally utter three sentiments:
"I wonder..." Learning begins with a sense of curiosity and quiet questions to one’s self about how things might be different in the presence of new knowledge or skills.
"I want to..." Motivation and a growing desire for a change provides a powerful impetus. Sensing a gap between today and a better, more effective and interesting tomorrow inspires action.
"I will..." Learning can be risky business. It requires the acknowledgement that current performance might be improved. It requires taking steps in new and unknown directions. And this requires optimism and confidence that learning is possible and achievable.
The inner game of learning is owned, controlled, and driven by the learner.
But just as supportive fans can spur a sports team on to victory, supportive supervisors and peers can help build the curiosity, motivation, and confidence to help others grow and develop.
Enabling employee self-development
Supporting powerful employee self-development comes down to facilitating three essential activities:1. Internalizing intentions
The most effective learning is based in a conscious, deliberate decision to change.
Frequently this takes the form of learning goals. But goals tend to be externally oriented — the what, how, and why that serve as a framework for organizing action — but do little to propel one toward genuine learning.
Learners need to set their own internal goals or intentions that inspire them with a sense of meaning, invigorate their minds and souls, and inform action.
These intentions aren’t perfunctory; they’re personal. They build the human rather than business case for development. They also enhance the meaning of the work and the instructive process.2. Observing progress
Many development processes include a focus on tracking and reporting progress, generally for the benefit of those charged with follow up, coaching, or administrative action. But external systems and feedback are far less effective than internal monitoring.
When individuals are responsible for observing their own behavior and results, they become self-monitoring. They turn their attention inward and gather data for themselves. They recognize alignment or misalignment with their intentions. And they can use this as a basis for making self-adjustments.
This sort of curious observation and self-reflection promotes learning, growth, and effectiveness beyond what external systems can deliver.3. Extracting lessons
Activity is not the same as learning. The most powerful and appropriate development experiences mean little until we extract lessons from them.
The quiet process of reflection helps mine the meaning to be found in workshops, projects, events, or assignments. Meditation, journaling, blogging, and further assessment help to surface insights, recognize best practices, generalize principles, and find the "learning" in the learning activity.
How can you support the above?
- Ask your employees to review their own performance and based on that assessment, draft their own learning goals
- Have employees write down or verbalize their learning goals before completing a learning activity
- Ask employees to reflect on and document what they've learned after they complete a learning activity
- Use opportunities like one-on-one meetings to verbalize employees’ learning goals and talk about progress
- Invite employees to share the lessons they're learning about themselves through work and learning activities
- Encourage the use of performance journals
The above can really help your employees be more autonomous and accountable when it comes to managing and owning their development.
It's up to the individual
Learners ultimately own the decisions they’ll make about accepting, internalizing, and incorporating new information and skills. Recognizing the dynamics of this inner game helps everyone — the individual, leader, and HR/training professionals — support and ultimately achieve optimal self-development.
Your turn: What about you? What’s your inner game of learning? What motivates you to grow and develop?