Monday 20 November 2017

Lifelong learning only needs five minutes at end of day

Peter Bergmann

JULIE Anko*, the head of a division of a retail company I work with, was at risk of getting fired. Here's the crazy thing: she was a top performer. She had done more for the brand in the past year than any of her predecessors had in five years.

The problem was that she was a bear to work with. She worked harder than seemed humanly possible and expected the same of others, often losing her temper when they wouldn't put in the same Herculean effort she did. "I didn't know it was that bad," she told me, "but it doesn't surprise me."

I asked her why.

"This is the same feedback I received at my previous company," she said, "it's why I left." We could look at Julie and laugh at her ignorance. At her unwillingness to look at her failures and, as a result, repeat them. But the laugh would be a nervous one. Because many of us -- and this includes me -- do the same thing. I'm often amazed at how many times something has to happen to me before I figure it out. I believe that most of us get smarter as we get older. But somehow, despite that, we often make the same mistakes.

If we can learn from our own mistakes, everything else takes care of itself. That's how people become lifelong learners. And it's how companies become learning organisations. It requires confidence, openness, and letting go of defences. But here's what it doesn't require: much time.

It only takes a few minutes. About five actually. A brief pause at the end of the day to consider what worked and what didn't.

Here's what I propose:

Every day, before leaving the office, save a few minutes to think about what just happened. Look at your diary and compare what actually happened -- the meetings you attended, the work you got done, the conversations you had, the people with whom you interacted, even the breaks you took -- with your plan for what you wanted to have happen. Then ask yourself three sets of questions:

How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?

What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do -- differently or the same -- tomorrow? Who did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question? Share feedback?

This last set of questions is invaluable in terms of maintaining and growing relationships. It takes just a few short minutes to shoot off an email -- or three -- to share your appreciation for a kindness someone extended, to ask someone a question, or to keep someone in the loop on a project.

After several long conversations, Julie came to appreciate the efficiency of slowing down enough to see the others around her. She saw that she was working so hard and moving so fast, that even if she was delivering quality results, she was working against herself. So, over time and with great discipline, she began to change. Later I left her a message expecting a call back in several weeks, if at all, but she replied that evening.

"Hi Peter," she said, "I just wanted to let you know I got your call and appreciate you reaching out to me. I'm heading out with the team for some drinks. I'll try you again in a few days."And, sure enough, she did.

*Name and some details changed

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