I remember a cartoon posted on the wall of one of my high school classrooms many moons ago. In it, a boy sits at a man’s feet, apparently the victim of a father-son talk. “That’s it,” says Dad. “That’s all I know.” The sad part is that some are indeed contented with what they know, preferring not to have to learn anything new. Of course, that cartoon predated the internet by a couple of decades. With every type of learning opportunity, from webinars to podcasts to MOOCs now available at our fingertips, there is no longer any excuse to be satisfied with what we think we know. After all, a minute from now what you think you know will no longer be correct. The only solution is to be a lifelong learner. How fortunate that employers like Zappos encourage expanding our horizons, resulting in personal growth and increased ability to contribute to both personal and professional success.
Zappos Core Value #5: Pursue Growth and Learning
My wife’s friend is quite clever. Although she herself doesn’t enjoy reading, she understands the importance of encouraging her children to read and to maintain a sense of curiosity. Accordingly, when her kids were small, she would walk around with a book as often as possible and sit holding a book even if she weren’t actually reading it. Her children got the message, and now it is rare for either of them to be seen without a book. In our age of smart phones and tablets, I find this most amazing.
Indeed, it is true that instilling a passion for knowledge is among the greatest gifts we can give our children. Growing up, I spent as much time as possible inside a public library. I consider myself a lifelong learner, which is a distinct advantage in an age in which facts become outdated almost as soon as one learns them.
At work, I encourage my employees to jump on every possible training opportunity, including those not directly related to their current employment. Whether this means attending a two hour seminar or signing up for a course at the state university, I support it. If I have to change an employee’s schedule to make this possible, consider it done. It doesn’t matter what “holes” this creates; we’ll figure out a way to make it work. Not only is broadening and deepening of knowledge an investment, but it improves an employee’s ability to contribute to our success and increases life satisfaction in general.
I encourage my staff to do outside reading, to look things up online, to figure out how what we do relates to the rest of the world. In my department, we’re just a little puzzle piece and it helps to have a grip on where we fit in with the big picture.
Back when I first started working in the court system, I discovered that my predecessor had no use for training. Staff members never went to refresher training and were discouraged from making the three hour round trip from our remote location to the nearest training venue. I am proud to say that I changed that. Whenever possible, I would have the subject matter experts come to us.
My people would laugh when I would crook a finger and say “Don’t tell me you already took that training class. That was ten years ago. The world is not the same place that it was then.” It was a novel concept to some of them that checking off a class on the training list didn’t mean that their obligation was forever resolved.
These days, I work in a place where training is decidedly rather hit or miss. You never know when or if the training class you want will be given, whether you’ll be able to get in due to limited class sizes and whether your manager will allow you the time off to go. Many of us don’t get a lot of formal training, so I encourage everyone to take the initiative to train themselves. Thanks to the public library, the internet and the community college, there’s really no excuse to do otherwise. Yes, I know you have a busy life. So do I. It’s all a matter of priorities.
The kind of place where I want to work has a well-stocked library, training that can be accessed online at my convenience, and a management attitude that no learning is ever wasted. Let me improve myself so that I can improve my contribution to the company.
By the way, I’ve just described Zappos. I don’t know whether I’ll ever get to work there, but at least I can hold them up as a model of a business that has proven that training and learning are assets we can’t be without rather than liabilities that we can’t afford. And I am particular impressed with the Z’Apprentice program, in which employees get to try out working in other areas of the company to see whether a good fit exists. More of that kind of learning, please!
Tomorrow: Core Value #6 – Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication