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A Learning Addict’s Guide to Learning and Development at Work

I’m Emma and I love learning. In fact, I have a learning addiction.

So far in lockdown (is it week 823?) I’ve bought 15 books. That’s a lie. It’s closer to 30. Don’t tell my boyfriend. I’ve taken to stashing them behind the sofa.

This isn’t a new addiction. The bowed shelves in the attic, the kitchen, and the living room and the random piles of books on nearly every surface show this has been going on for some time. But I’ve definitely upped my game since Covid (if the game is to become a kind of frequent flyer for books).

The additional spare time enforced by lockdown means I’m reading more but there’s something else behind it. I take a weird comfort in accruing knowledge. Books equal power. And escapism. And really don’t we need that right now? We can’t travel anywhere but we can open a book and be in India, France or America within seconds.

Why am I telling you this?

Well this week is Learning at Work Week 2020 and creating a culture of learning at work is one of the most important – and fulfilling – parts of my job as Head of Content and Social at WMG. And that love of learning started with a love of books.

Whether you lead a team of 50 or you’re in your first job reporting to a manager that you don’t know that well, you need to be thinking about learning at work. Why? If you’re in your first job you’re likely thinking about how to excel in your role and how to get promoted. If you manage a large team, you’ll want them to work efficiently, to work well together, to be able to manage change, and to deliver results.

Developing a culture for learning at work will do all these things and more.

Creating a culture of learning at work

I’m lucky that throughout my career I’ve been encouraged to learn on the job. As a journalist I was actively encouraged to be nosy! And I had to become a mini expert on whatever I was writing about in the space of two or three hours, usually with an angry man called Giles breathing down my neck asking if I’d finished yet. Speaking to experts, whether that’s a kidney specialist, an artisan baker, or a world-famous fashion designer, is part of the job.

That support for learning has continued at WMG. Whether that’s the opportunity to learn direct from our chief exec, Dennis, and the senior team at our weekly Account Development Summits, find new insight through the pizza-fuelled Lunch & Learns, or discover new tools via our very own Research & Development department.

When I hire for the content team, I look for energy, enthusiasm and a growth mindset as much as I look for writing skills. I want to lead a team of people keen to learn and share ideas.

Within the content team we have people who have worked as journalists, recruiters, estate agents, wedding planners, teachers…imagine the skills we have to share.

So, creating a culture of learning starts with the right people. Then comes the framework.

Sharing is caring

We begin every week with Content Share. An idea borrowed from my days at The Guardian and ASOS when we started each day with conference – a melting pot of ideas and stories that would throughout the day, become the newspaper or the website.

We gather, over Microsoft Teams currently, to share an article that we’ve loved or hated. We discuss why it worked or didn’t work. I believe that you become a better writer by being a better reader. And the more widely you read, the better a writer you’ll be. This weekly meeting encourages that. And it also provides a positive, enthusiastic start to the week where we’re all together and aligned on one goal – to produce great content.

Outside of our weekly meeting there are daily emails flying about and Teams chats with links to articles, social posts and videos that people have found helpful or interesting.

I consume as much content as I can – social media, magazines, weekend papers, books, podcasts – but I still miss things. And that’s when I love our team sending round articles they’ve spotted and things of interest.

Introducing Content Academy

We’ve always run regular training sessions within the content team. But, at the end of last year, I decided I wanted there to be more structure to our training, to make it a real focal point that was talked about not just by our team but the wider department and business.

In January we launched Content Academy.

Formalising our internal training – and giving it a snazzy name – has really focused us on why we’re doing it and how to make our training really useful. Not just for us but for the wider SEO team.

We run 3-4 sessions per month. The team are tasked with thinking up training sessions that they would find useful, planning them, developing them, structuring them and promoting them to the SEO team.

To date we’ve run 18 training sessions this year across a breadth of topics and had individuals attend from our Tech, Outreach, PR, Studio, Marketing, and Content teams.

Each session lasts a max of 30 mins and these have been happening over Teams while we’re all working from home.

Not everything has to be literal. Yes, we run sessions on how to write finance articles and how to interview people, but we also run useful, practical sessions on things like how to manage tight deadlines and stress because that’s also a huge part of our job.

What are the benefits of learning new skills at work?

One of the top concerns for businesses is finding and retaining top talent. Offering a strong training package and regular opportunities to grow play a key role in talent retention. Your company will gain a reputation as a forward-thinking, supportive environment where people want to work. 

Once you’ve got that top talent, you’ve got to motivate them. Every individual is motivated by different things and it’s important as a manager to find out what motivates each member of your team. But providing a clear progression path with regular opportunities to upskill is one of the most effective motivators I’ve come across. People love sharing their knowledge and people love to learn new things. Win win.

What does this mean for our clients? Even better content. Having a team of multi-talented people with really varied life experience and backgrounds who are all excellent writers gives us the ability to write brilliant content that resonates with people.

Barriers to learning at work

Most roles will offer at least some opportunities to learn and grow at work, although you might have to hunt them out yourself depending on what the culture is like. But there are many reasons why learning at work gets de-prioritised in some companies and by some managers.

The main push back is time. People are simply too busy to fit in additional work even if it would benefit both them and their company. It’s important that managers think strategically about learning and development opportunities. Training should be scheduled in regularly along with monthly 121s so that it can be tracked and the value assessed.

In companies like WMG, with a growth mentality, training is prioritised because we truly value our people and we know that providing them with greater skills can save time and win us clients in the long run.

Resource can be another barrier to learning. Perhaps your company doesn’t have the expertise to run internal training or the money to send people to external sessions. Strategy and planning need to play a role here. You might not be able to offer training this year but what can you do this year to make sure you can offer something next year? What steps can you put in place now to ringfence some money or resource for training? What favours can you pull in from friends or contacts?

There are tons of online resources to help you create a culture of learning. My favourites are:

  • Future Learn – hundreds of free courses online from social media to psychology, copyright law to military history.
  • MasterClass – the premise? Famous people teach you things. Want Gordon Ramsey to teach you how to cook or Anna Wintour to explain creativity and leadership? Of course you do. Unlimited access to over 80 classes from experts like Annie Leibowitz, Martin Scorsese, and Natalie Portman costs £170 per year. You’re not spending money on going out right now…
  • Podcasts – a great way of finding out loads of new things. Search a topic or a creator and listen away!  

For any learning at work to be successful, you have to get internal buy-in. If your senior team have a non-flexible mindset or are solely focused on the short term, then it’s going to be difficult to get things off the ground. Difficult but not impossible. Can you trial some training sessions and present the success of these to your managers to get the go-ahead to run more? If you value learning, you’ll find a way.

Top tips for learning at work

If you’re a manager:

  • Lead by example – if you show an aptitude to learn from your team, it will encourage sharing
  • When you’re making hiring decisions, ask questions around learning, growth and flexibility to help you build a team that helps promote a learning culture
  • Factor in the time for either yourself or your team to develop and prep training sessions and for people to attend – and protect this time
  • Set yourself goals – how many training sessions will you aim to run each month or each quarter? What does success look like?
  • Hold yourself accountable – I review our team training achievements each quarter asking attendees for feedback, looking at the topics covered, and identifying areas for the following quarter where we might need training
  • Sell your training sessions to your team – come up with eye-catching titles and synopses for each session, tell people how long each session will last and what skills they’ll take away
  • Follow it up – get feedback from your team on what they’ve enjoyed and any builds for future training
  • Read Sir Clive Woodward’s book

If you’re an employee:

  • Be proactive – don’t wait for your manager to suggest training sessions for you to attend, find ones that interest you and that will help you do your job and make a case for them
  • When you’re interviewing for roles, ask what learning and development opportunities there are at the company. If the interviewer gets excited by this, you should get an indication that this is important to them and the company. If they give you a stock answer, it’s probably low down their list
  • Once you’ve done some training, share what you’ve learned – send an email round to your boss or team with a handful of bullet points of what you found most useful from the session
  • If time is an issue, look at implementing a Lunch & Learn training session where people bring their own food and you provide the training or look for ways of learning you can do for free outside of work

What learning at work resources do you use? If you want to find out more about life at WMG and what kind of training, development and progression opportunities we offer, take a look at our website.