Learning to succeed

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I sat on an interview panel yesterday and was impressed by the calibre of the candidates. One particular point which impressed me was the response which all the interviewees gave as part of their answer to the question “What personal attributes would you bring to the role in addition to your skills and experience?”

The common answer was an enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning new things.

Employers tend to write job descriptions and person specifications which focus on the specific activities and responsibilities of the job and the qualifications and skills required and this of course is important. If recruiting to a finance post it will be vital to ensure that the successful candidate is numerate, can use Excel, knows about SORP, petty cash and double entry bookkeeping, has an accountancy qualification and lots more besides.

But what is equally key is to establish that the person coming into the job has a willingness to learn and adapt. This is so important not only because the new person needs to become effective quickly and be swift at picking up new ideas and ways of working but also because in the dynamic environment in which we all live people need to learn and adapt to remain competent in their jobs and to ensure that the organisation remains effective and efficient.

Change is the status quo and charities need to ensure they have the willingness, ability and resources to adapt; to take on new tools, technologies and keep abreast of changing legislation and the economic and political environment. Over time the needs of service users will change as will the ways in which people communicate and relate to each other and benchmarking and research are important to keep in touch with what is happening.

Trustees need to do everything they can to keep their organisation learning and have a commitment themselves to learning as individuals.

Opportunities for learning are everywhere – it’s not just about training courses and formal education and recognised activities which count towards Continuing Professional Development (CPD) but also about all the informal and self directed learning which goes on all the time for some people.

Career changers and people seeking promotion into new jobs within the voluntary sector can seek out information from all sorts of sources: networking with and asking questions of experts; having conversations with other learners to share knowledge and experiences (which can be done face to face or through online forums); searching the internet (and knowing what to filter out!); attending seminars and conferences; volunteering.

The most successful people share many attributes but probably the most important is their enthusiasm for learning. To quote John F Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” and another famous American, Benjamin Franklin who said, “”If you empty your purse in your head, no one can take it away from you. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”- a 200 year old observation which still holds true today.

So, build learning into your organisation and encourage your people to learn new things as part of their work. Help them to identify what they need and want to learn, and support them in finding ways to do it. Make it part of the appraisal conversation and part of the budgeting process too. Encourage the trustees to learn – both together as a board and as individuals – and encourage people to ask questions. Have fun!