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Time is of Essence


There is little doubt among many of the leaders I speak to that development, learning and building skills is critical for success in today's fast moving and ever changing business world. According to PWC's 2020 CEO Survey, 74% of CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills and according to Gallup, organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development, report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees. Yet, it doesn't always mean companies or leaders follow through. One key challenge I often hear about is time.


I recently had a conversation with a learning leader about how difficult it a business world so often dominated by busyness to cut through and help leaders create the time and space for learning. Time is a challenge for all of us, so what can leaders (learners) and L&D leaders do to cut through and make enough time for learning and growth.


1. Get Learning on the Priority List

If things are a priority or urgent, we tend to find time for them. That's easier said than done. We all understand continuous learning is important but it doesn't mean it's a priority when our inbox is full, projects deadlines are approaching and we're spending days on end in video conference calls. But there are times when we see leaders make it a priority, usually when they are getting ready to apply for a promotion or new job elsewhere, when they are faced with a new challenge at work that they don't know how to solve or when they way they have done things in the past isn't having the same effect. Learning is often a way to become unstuck. By talking to other leaders, reflecting on our own behaviours, searching the internet for ideas or even, going on a course we can open ourselves up to different perspectives and approaches. Learning is a priority when it comes at the point of need. So here, some practical things leaders & L&D leaders can do to connect learning to the point of need:


Reflection Exercise for Leaders:

  • What are my top priority deliverables for this year that will really stretch or challenge me?

  • What outcome would I expect if I don't invest in my own development?

  • What are the key skills, mindsets or behaviours that I'll have to grow, change or learn to be successful in meeting or exceeding my objectives?

  • What and/or who will be critical to help me develop? What concrete action will I take, by when?


Ideas for Learning & Development Leaders:

  • Help people craft a good, simple and actionable development plan.

  • Rather than nominating people for programmes, use application processes or self-nomination to select people to participate in formal learning programmes - then you know they are motivated and it's the right time for them.

  • Guide leaders to on demand content, peer-to-peer learning networks or have a list of internal experts or coaches available for people to reach out when they need help.

  • Consider & recognise your leaders' level of ownership and investment in personal development in your talent reviews, performance feedback process, etc.. When we recognise continuous learning, we start to build it into our culture.


2. Integrate Learning in the Flow of Work

Especially formal development or training initiatives can often feel like they are added on top of all the work leaders are already being asked to do. So rather than competing for their time, use existing work, projects and activities as an opportunity to learn and grow.


Reflection Exercise for Leaders:

  • What am I working this week and how can I use this opportunity to learn or develop? Is there a meeting where I can experiment with a new approach, show up differently or step outside my comfort zone to stretch myself?

  • Is there a colleague or peer who's really experienced in an area I'm trying to grow in and what can I learn from observing them? Could I ask them for feedback after seeing me in action?

  • What teaching moments can I create for others that will require me to up my own knowledge on a topic?

Ideas for Learning & Development Leaders

  • Flip the emphasis of your programmes from theory to application and ensure application happens in their day-to-day job, rather than on top.

  • Leverage experience like stretch assignments, secondments or job-swaps as a core part of your development strategy and couple them with formal coaching or mentoring. Work hand in hand with the talent team & line manager to identify relevant and meaningful work.

  • Build the skill of reflection in your organisation. By helping leaders more intentionally reflect on their ways of working, actions and behaviours, they can learn more from everyday experiences.


3. Ringfence Time for Learning & Development

Finally, blocking time in people's diaries and creating space from them to learn, think, reflect and take a step back from the day-to-day is really simple but also really important. With all the best intentions and motivation in the world, sometimes it's just too easy to prioritise everything else and put ourselves last.


Ideas for Leaders:

  • Find an hour or half an hour a week and block it out for yourself in your diary. Pick a lunchtime slot, do it over a morning coffee or use a "Meeting-free Friday" to create space in your diary for yourself to reflect, read an article, attend a webinar or programme or have a coaching conversations.

  • Find a learning buddy who's working on the same or maybe even a complimentary skill and find a regular cadence to check in with each other on progress and keep each other on track.

  • Have a list of reflection questions to review key learning moments from the previous week, take stock and plan for the next week. Keep it simple, quick and make sure it adds value. Build the habit.


Ideas for Learning & Development Leaders:

  • As part of the calendar invites you send for instructor led training elements, also send calendar invites for some of the self-directed learning to help leaders create space.

  • Use peer-to-peer learning cohorts to allow people to learn as part of a group, creating a level of accountability towards the group.

  • Host a learning hour on a regular basis, inviting everyone to use it in the way they see fit, but actively putting optional time in people's calendars.


I hope you found some inspiration and some new ideas in this post to help you move your own learning and development up the priority list. If you'd like to find out more about building a learning culture or are looking to take your Learning or Talent strategy to the next level, get in touch.

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