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Learn Your Way to Success: How to Customize Your Professional Learning Plan to Accelerate Your Career

Learn Your Way to Success: How to Customize Your Professional Learning Plan to Accelerate Your Career

by Daniel R. Tobin

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What did you learn at work today?

“Every employee who wants to succeed in business should read Tobin’s new book.”
—Marshall Goldsmith, million-selling author of the New York Times bestsellers Mojo and What Got You’re Here Won’t get You There

“Nothing less than a survival plan


What did you learn at work today?

“Every employee who wants to succeed in business should read Tobin’s new book.”
—Marshall Goldsmith, million-selling author of the New York Times bestsellers Mojo and What Got You’re Here Won’t get You There

“Nothing less than a survival plan for a rewarding, relevant career. Read it if you are responsible for the careers and performance of others. Read it if you want to propel your own career. . . In any case, read it as part of your own commitment to learning.”
—Edward T. Reilly, President and CEO, American Management Association International

In today’s highly competitive work environment, continuous learning is an absolute necessity—a requirement to keep up with the latest innovations in your field and increase your productivity. Learn Your Way to Success helps you launch your career to new heights by being an “active learner.” It provides invaluable tools for:

  • Planning your personal learning agenda
  • Applying what you learn in a practical way
  • Using online learning resources to “learn what you need to learn”
  • Maximizing your learning at conferences or trade shows
  • Taking advantage of the unique learning opportunities of working in a team
  • Keeping track of what you have learned—and what you want to learn

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Education
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
3 MB

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The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2012Daniel R. Tobin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-178226-5



Learning on the Job: Set Your Personal Learning Agenda

For many years, a great many companies could promise a new employee lifelong employment and a predictable career path. Today, very few, if any, companies can make that promise. Whether you plan to stay with your current employer or seek opportunities elsewhere, you cannot rely on your company to teach you everything you need to know or to create a career path for you—you must take responsibility for your own learning, your performance on the job, and the shaping of your career.

Even if your company has a formal training department and offers a catalog full of courses for employees, no one knows better than you what you need to learn and how it can be applied to your job to make a positive difference in your performance. While many companies have promised their employees one week or more of training per year, the reality is that when times get tough, the education budget is one of the first items to hit the chopping block. Even if you get the promised week of training each year, no matter how good it may be, it will not be sufficient to ensure your improved job performance and new career opportunities in your future with the company.

So you must take responsibility for your learning and for building your own career path. You must be in a continuous learning mode: learning every month, every week, every day. Without continuous learning, you may well find your job and your career at a dead end. In this chapter, you will learn how to identify your learning needs and set your personal learning agenda.

All Learning Is Self-Directed

When you go to a training program, read a book or article, or take in information from others in any form, someone has created the content based on what he believes you need to know. Sometimes he is right on the mark, and you find that all the information is relevant to you and serves your purpose. But more often, not everything in the program will feel pertinent to your job or your situation, so you need to pick and choose the relevant content within the topics and focus on it. In short, you need to direct your own learning.

Let's start with a simple model—the Four Stages of Learning—to see how this works.

Stage 1 of the model is data. Like most people, you probably find yourself inundated with data: every book or article you read; every e-mail, instant message, and tweet you receive. In fact, everything you take in through your senses is data, and you may often feel that you are drowning in it. Management guru Peter Drucker has said that when you take data and give it relevance and purpose, you get information; that is Stage 2 of the learning model. When someone creates a training program, writes a book or article, or teaches you something, she tries to filter all the data related to the topic and distill what she believes will be relevant and purposeful for you and other learners. But that person can never really know exactly what is needed by every individual who takes the course or reads what she is writing, so you have to do a great deal of filtering on your own. That is why you may be directed by your manager to take a course, but you must self-direct your own learning by focusing on the content that is most relevant and most purposeful to you.

When you take what you have learned and use it in your job, you are creating knowledge (Stage 3 of the model). You cannot say that you really know something until you have used it. For example, when you were growing up, you watched your parents and others drive a car. When you reached a certain age, you enrolled in a driver's education program and sat through classes in which an instructor told you what you needed to know to become a good driver. You may have used a driving simulator, where you had a steering wheel and foot pedals, and watched a video of roadways so that you could develop your skills in a safe environment. But you couldn't say that you knew how to drive until you got behind the wheel of a real car and practiced. Research has shown that if you do not quickly start to use what you have learned, whatever the source, you will rapidly lose any knowledge or skill you have acquired.

Stage 4 of the model is wisdom. Wisdom cannot be taught, but it can be developed through dialogue, demonstration, experience, intuition, and experimentation. As you gain experience in using your knowledge and skills, you may think of new ways to apply your learning and experience, and you may experiment to see what happens if you change one or more parameters. When you were learning to drive, you may have been taught what to do if your car hit an ice patch and started skidding sideways. If you live in an icy climate, you will gain experience in handling skids and build a sense of how much to correct the steering when your car is sliding, how much to use the antilock brake system, when to accelerate, and so forth. This is all wisdom built on experience, intuition, and experimentation.

The purpose of this book is to help you identify your learning needs, both for your current job and for the future, to recognize the many opportunities you have to learn as part of your everyday work, and to provide a guide to help you utilize those learning opportunities on a daily basis. In this first chapter, we focus on setting your personal learning agenda.

Your Manager: Your Partner in Learning

While you must take primary responsibility for your own learning, your manager is your most important partner in identifying your learning needs and helping you to find resources to fill them. How can your manager help in your journey?

• Your manager can help identify what you need to learn in order to improve your current job performance.

• Your manager can act as your teacher or coach for some of your learning needs and help you identify other resources.

• Your manager can guide you as you apply what you have learned to your job.

• Your manager can act as a guide to a career path within the company and tell you what you need to learn in order to prepare for it.

• Your manager can approve your application to take internal and external training programs.

• Your manager can give you developmental assignments that expand your role in your current job or prepare you for your next job.

Let's look at how you, working with your manager, can identify your baseline learning needs.

When I first became a manager, I was sent to a weeklong training workshop for new managers. In preparation for it, I was given a lengthy questionnaire listing many characteristics and tasks of a manager. For each of the more than 100 items, I was asked to score myself on two criteria: how I rated myself on each item, and how important I felt it was to my job as a manager. I also was instructed to give a copy of the questionnaire to my manager, who was also asked to rate me on each item and specify how important she felt the item was for a person in my job, and then to return the questionnaire to me in a sealed envelope. During the workshop, participants were asked to open the manager's envelope and compare their manager's assessment with their own. There were a number of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant, that came from this exercise:

• There were some items on which my rating was far above my manager's rating, for example, areas in which I thought I had greater knowledge or skill than my manager gave me credit for.

• On some items, my manager rated me higher than I did; that is, where she thought I was more capable or knowledgeable than I thought myself to be.

• There were some items that my manager felt were much more important for my job than I did.

• There were some items that I felt were much more important for my job than my manager did.

This exercise led to a lot of discussion in the workshop and even more discussion with my manager when I returned to my office. It helped me to set my personal learning agenda, to set priorities for the skills I needed to develop, and to add some topics to my list that were things I didn't know that I didn't know.

Knowledge and Awareness

For each of us, there are things we know and things we don't know. We also have a level of awareness of our knowledge or lack of knowledge (see Table 1-1).

• In Quadrant I are the knowledge and skills that we know and use on a daily basis.

• In Quadrant II are the knowledge and skills that we use, but that we are unaware of—our hidden assets.

• In Quadrant III are our blind spots—the things that we are unaware of, but that should be included in our learning agenda. This is where we need the most help from others in identifying our needs.

• In Quadrant IV is our presumed learning agenda—the things we know we don't know and therefore need to learn.

You have areas of knowledge and skill that fall into each of the four quadrants. Becoming aware of the contents of each quadrant can help you set your personal learning agenda. No matter how well you believe you are doing in your job, you need to be in a continuous learning mode in order to improve your current performance and prepare for the next steps in your career.

Using the Knowledge-Awareness Matrix

Let's look at each quadrant of the Knowledge-Awareness Matrix (Table 1-1) and examine how you can use it to identify your specific learning needs.

Quadrant I: I Know What I Know

These are the skills and knowledge of which you are cognizant. "I know how to create a spreadsheet program, how to use word processing software, how to write a performance review, how to troubleshoot a broken personal computer, how to use the company's e-mail system, how to write a marketing brochure, ..."; these are the skills and knowledge that helped you get your current job. Your brain will also undoubtedly be full of other knowledge, and you may have other skills that are unrelated to your present position. Some of this extraneous knowledge and skills may have value in other parts of your life or at other times during your career (or in a trivia contest), but our focus here is on those skills and knowledge that are relevant to your current job.

Use Worksheet 1-1 (Job Related Knowledge and Skills Rating) to list your current job-related skills and knowledge and to rate yourself on each item that you list.

In listing your knowledge and skills, consider all the knowledge and skill attributes that enable you to do your job well. These may include the technical skills that you use every day to carry out your routine tasks, for example, entering data, using the company's e-mail and other systems, and telephone skills. But your list also needs to include the less apparent skills that enable you to work as part of a team, to relate to other staff members, to manage your time and your workload, to manage other people if that is part of your job description, to manage the parts of the business for which you are responsible, and so forth.

A good place to start in developing this list is the formal job description for your position, if one exists. While some companies have gone so far as to create a full competency profile for every job, most job descriptions are relatively sketchy and focus on key skills and knowledge for the position.

After you have rated yourself on each knowledge and skill area, you should also rate that area in terms of how important you feel it is to success in your current job. You will undoubtedly have some knowledge and skills on which you rate yourself highly but which have little to do with your work. It is important that you recognize all your areas of strength; while some may seem irrelevant in your current job, they may become more important as you consider your next position and the shape of your career path.

You may also find ways of using some of your strengths to improve your job performance, even if they aren't part of your formal job description. For example, few job descriptions list a sense of humor as a requirement. But many people with a good sense of humor—who know when and how to use humor appropriately in their jobs—find that levity is a very effective tool for building morale, easing tense situations, and reducing conflict.

Categories of Competencies.

Whether or not you manage other people, there are three primary categories of competencies that can guide the list of knowledge and skills you create on Worksheet 1-1:

• Knowing and managing yourself

• Knowing and managing others

• Knowing and managing the business

Knowing and Managing Yourself. In order to get your work done well and thrive in your workplace, you need to know and manage yourself, regardless of whether you manage others. Knowledge and skills in this category include such areas as self-awareness; self-confidence; time management; the ability to think critically, analytically, and creatively; having flexibility and resilience; and the ability to build trust with your coworkers and hold yourself accountable for your own actions.

You may have come to your current job with some of these skills already in place, while you may need to develop others. Depending on your present position, some of these competencies will be more important to your success than others; that's why the worksheet asks you to rate both your current knowledge or skill level and how crucial a particular area is to your job. In terms of your career path and the jobs you may want in the future, the competencies in the category of knowing and managing yourself may well be prerequisites for higher-level positions: if you cannot manage yourself, it is unlikely that your company will consider you as a good candidate to manage others.

Knowing and Managing Others. Competencies in this category enable you to work well with other people, whether as an individual contributor or as a manager at any level. Very few people work in total isolation, so you need to be able to work effectively with other people, be they colleagues, managers, customers, or suppliers. Competencies in this category include oral and written communications skills, relationship building, interpersonal skills, and, as a manager, performance management, delegation, and empowering and motivating employees.

It is important to recognize that a competency may be required for jobs at many levels of an organization, but that the nature of that competency may well change with the job level. For example, most employees in a company need to learn presentation skills, but the degree of skill required will vary with the level of the employee.

• As an individual contributor, you will need to be able to present your ideas to your manager and peers.

• If you are a sales representative, you will need to be able to make presentations to your customers.

• If you are a manager, you will need to be able to make presentations to your employees and also to your managers.

• As a senior manager, you will need to be able to present well to a larger group of your employees as well as to the company's executives and, perhaps, to the board of directors.

• As a C-level executive, you will need to be able to make presentations to all- employee meetings, to the board of directors, and perhaps to stockholders and the press.

So while your level of competence in making presentations may be sufficient at your current level in your company, you may need to learn more to qualify as a competent presenter at higher levels.

Knowing and Managing the Business. Competencies at this level again include some that are important for even individual contributors (such as knowing how to use company systems, problem-solving and decision-making skills, a results orientation, and the core functional and technical skills required to do your job) and some that are more relevant to managerial positions (managing and leading others, strategic thinking and planning, resource management, and so forth).

Again, start with your job description to identify the competencies in this category. If the description doesn't include a complete list, make a list of competencies and corresponding levels that you believe are necessary to succeed in your job. Once you have completed the list and rated yourself on each competency, specify how important you think every item is for your job.

Once you have completed Worksheet 1-1, it is important to review your ratings with your manager. You can ask your manager to complete the same worksheet and then compare your ratings with those given, or you can simply ask your manager to go through the worksheet with you and comment on the ratings you have given yourself. Your manager is your key partner in identifying your learning needs.

As in the story above, there will undoubtedly be some surprises when you do this review with your manager:

• There may be areas where your rating of your knowledge and skill is higher than your manager's. If this is the case, you should discuss with him whether (a) he doesn't know or recognize the level of knowledge and skill you possess, or (b) he feels that you need to improve in the area. A lesson to be learned here is that sometimes the level that you think is "good enough to get the job done" isn't good enough to meet the manager's or the company's standards. In the latter case, improvement in these knowledge and skill areas should become part of your personal learning agenda.

• There may be areas where the manager has rated you higher than you rated yourself. If this happens, you need to determine whether (a) this is an area where you have not recognized some knowledge or skill that you possess and that you should list in Quadrant II ("I don't know what I know") or (b) this is an area where the manager has presumed that you have greater knowledge or skill than you know you have. In the latter case, you should put the area on your personal learning agenda so that you can get up to the level that the manager expects.


Excerpted from LEARN Your Way to SUCCESS by DANIEL R. TOBIN. Copyright © 2012 by Daniel R. Tobin. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Daniel R. Tobin has more than 30 years of experience in the learning and development field. He has founded two corporate universities, served as vice president of design and development at the American Management Association, and delivered keynotes and workshops on five continents.

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