#46: Helping our teams with Individuals Learning

In this episode I wanted to continue the conversation on Learning.

In the last two episodes I talked about why Learning is so important to me personally and Organisational Learning.

In this episode, I want to move onto talking helping Individual Learning.

Or listen at:

Published: Wed, 01 Jul 2020 15:56:52 GMT


In this episode I wanted to continue the conversation on Learning.

In the last two episodes I talked about why Learning is so important to me personally and Organisational Learning.

In this episode, I want to move onto talking helping Individual Learning.

The very fact that you are listening to this podcast - for that matter, any non-fiction podcast - demonstrates that you have a willingness to learn.

As an individual, that is singularly the biggest hurdle to overcome.

If, as an individual, you are unwilling to learn, then it will largely be an impossible activity to "force" you to learn.

There has to be that willingness there to begin with.

And without the individuals within the organisation being prepared to learn, the organisation cannot learn.

Yet if the organisation does not have a learning culture, then individuals will feel that learning isn't permitted - that it is something frowned upon by the powers that be.

The mentality of "I'm here to work, not to learn" becomes enforced by the individual themselves.

Which was never likely the intent of the "powers that be" - but somewhere in the layers of management it has become this way.

So our organisations fall into a catch-22 situation.

Our organisations cannot developer the capabilities to learn and adapt because our individuals do not feel that the organisation allows them to learn and adapt.

The impasse has to be broken before progression can be made.

So why is it so important to support that learning?

I've talked previously about how complex IT and software development is. Not only is it complex; it is also constantly changing.

As such the ability to learn is one of the key characteristics required by any IT professional.

So how does this relate to ROI?

Simply put, the better trained an individual is, the better productivity they will have. Better productivity produces a better ROI.

With software development being so complex and in constant change – it opens a lot of possibilities for efficiencies.

It certainly isn't uncommon for one developer to looks at a problem and take 2 weeks to solve it, while a second developer will know a better easier way and have it completed in half that time.

The external result will be the same, but the second developer was aware of some technique or set-up that allowed for it to be completed in a fraction of the time.

As one practical example; within software development there are many “libraries” available. These libraries are pieces of software that can be composed into your software development. Think of it in the same way as buying pre-made cabinets for your kitchen rather than making them by hand – you are saving time because a lot of the work has been done for you.

There may be trade-offs with using libraries in our software development – the effort taken to learn or adapt it for our use, any licensing costs, etc. But in a lot of cases using those libraries will save time and effort.

But how do you know they exist? How do you know they will fit your product?

That is where the learning comes in.

Libraries are only one example – but a good example of why it is useful for your team of developers to keep abreast of what is available and what can be useful to them.

As an aside; this is also a great example of why you want your developers working as a team rather than as a group of individuals. Even if the first developer carries out the work, you’d expect that in team discussion that the second developer would put forward their better solution.

So how much is that increase in productivity worth to you?

Let’s say you have a £30k developer. A 5% increase in productivity gives you £1.5k increase in their value – so its easy to see that investment can be well worth it.

Leading a horse to water

Ok, let’s assume I've convinced you that training is a great idea and you want your software development team to learn lots more.

From personal experience, you can’t force them to learn. You can only encourage and provide an appropriate environment.

Think of as similar to looking after tropical fish – make sure the water is good & the fish will thrive. You can’t force the fish to thrive.

You will always get the best results if a person wants to do something.

And while someone can want to do something because they have a choice between doing it or being fired – it hardly creates a motivated attitude.

This goes back to the motivation sources I've reference from the book Drive by Daniel Pink.

Some people will simply have no interest in learning.

They feel they are happy with where they are and will actively push back against any well meaning attempt you make to impose.

In those situations, I would still try to make resources available for learning – just make it an opt in.

Forcing Personal Development Plans or other HR improvement programmes generally elicit the entirely wrong response.

Too many developers have been through situations where “improvement programmes” have been sold as “for them” – but only to find that its used in salary reviews as a means to justify low rewards.

As such Personal Development Plans are generally always poorly received

Even those that have the best of intentions from the outset become more a stick than a carrot.

They become an “easy” method to penalise an individual for not hitting a target rather than rewarding those that do.

So while I like the principals behind a lot of the personal development programmes, I’d certainly recommend keeping learning separate – otherwise it instantly starts having negative connotations.

So what should we be doing to create the right environment?

It is unlikely to come as a surprise to my long term listeners that I start with culture.

While I'm not expecting marching bands and loud speaker announcements through the office encouraging people to learn;

It needs to be understood that learning is encouraged.

And most importantly, any signs of negativity within the management structure are stamped out immediately.

We have been brain washed into thinking that learning is bad - thus anything that re-enforces it incredible damaging.

Next, make sure that people have time to learn.

And I do mean learn on the job - while you are paying them.

Google provides is employees 20% time. Where employees can use 20% of their time to work on any project that catches their fancy. 20% time has resulted in the birth of products like Gmail and Google News.

At Atlassian, a major software provider, its called FedEx days - the staff are given a day to deliver something. Individuals can work on their own or join with colleagues to prototype new products, add new features or fix some bug - basically to scratch an itch - and that itch is personal to each individual. Then after 24 hours, everyone does a show 'n' tell.

At 3M, a similar scheme is credited with the production of the now-infamous Post-It note.

By scheduling time - even if only an hour a week - re-enforces that learning is not only allowed; it is encouraged.

Next, invest in online training;

I'm a great fan of using online training courses to increase my knowledge.

Mostly I use a service called Pluralsight which has thousands of online courses across most IT Disciplines. It is a paid service, but I find it invaluable and have been personally paying for the service around 8 years.

There are definitely other online course providers out there.

Like everything - some are better than others.

In this I would listen to the options on the teams that will be using them.

Next, invest in books.

Yes books still have their place.

Almost certainly they won't be used as much as the online course, but they are definitely useful resources.

Next, encourage and support participation in meet ups and conferences.

There are various events that allow your teams to interact with others in their field. Allowing them to learn from others - as well as pass on their knowledge.

These can also be a great way to improve your brand for future recruitment.

This can be as simple as a local meet up - who are always looking for someone to sponsor the beer & pizza.

All the way up to prestigious international conferences. Supporting one of your team to be able to talk on an international stage not only elevates their profile within the Software Development community, but also that of the organisation.

I'd like to end this episode with a small warning;

As your team progresses and gets better and better at their job – don’t forget to reward them.

This isn’t necessarily salary increases (although sometimes it will be).

If you aren’t recognising an individual’s improvement, I’ll guarantee you that someone out there will do.

Richard Branson said

"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to."

Next week I want to carry on this topic of learning by discussing deliberate practice within software development.

Thank you for listening.

I look forward to speaking to you next week.