By Dr Eugene Brink
We all want to succeed in our jobs and learn fast to enable personal growth and progress in our careers. Learning, after all, provides knowledge and experience and these are key component of success.
This depends on a number of factors, such as being able to learn and apply what you’ve learnt. For this, there needs to be some ingenuity and a willingness to seek out all avenues of learning.
“Learning on the job is probably the single most important factor driving your performance at work,” says Art Markman, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas in Austin. “You won’t know everything you need to about your job when you’re hired, no matter how good your education is or how much experience you had in previous positions. The road to learning starts with a willingness to admit what you don’t know and an interest in learning new things.”
If learning is succeeding – especially when you are a newbie – how do you go about it without damaging your credibility and popularity?
- Choose the right job
It might be too late once you are in a job to realise this, but that is why this tip is so valuable and should be heeded by everyone. Gaurav Dewan, chief operating officer of Travel Food Services, says your career is not like a one-day cricket match, but rather like a Test series.
Don’t be too hasty or else you might get stuck where your interests are dulled, and learning becomes an onerous drag. This applies especially to people seeking to escape their current job owing to “push” factors such as a nasty boss, but end up in a job that doesn’t satisfy them.
- Take stock of what you know (and don’t know)
According to Markman, there are three crucial types of knowledge that allow you to answer the questions, Who? How? and Why?. Who? refers to the people you must connect with to get the resources, information, assistance and approval to do your work. How? refers to the procedures that let you get things done at work. Why? involves having good causal knowledge about the way the world works within your domain of expertise. “With causal knowledge you can solve new problems in new ways rather than just executing a procedure you’ve learned,” he says.
Causal knowledge allows us to understand the complexities of our domain and systems so that unforeseen and new problems can be dealt with, while old ones can be solved in novel ways. Hence, it is important to find out what you don’t know yet and supplement these lacunas.
Tech entrepreneur Amy Augustine says you should insist on, and take advantage of, regular one-on-one meetings with your boss. Use these occasions to probe your progress, areas of improvement and key skills required. Next, seek out the achievers in your department and emulate them. Ask them to look at your reports and provide feedback.
- Don’t be overconfident
Tied to cultivating the belief that you still need to learn a lot, is not being overconfident and smart-alecky. On the other hand, by being a know-it-all, you only fool yourself and at the same time annoy people and put off those who could be helping you learn.
“Research on this topic by David Dunning and Justin Kruger has found that the least skilled people in many domains tend to be the most overconfident in their abilities. One big reason for this is that they don’t really understand what expert performance looks like, so they overestimate their own abilities relative to other people’s,” says Markman.
- Know your role
This is imperative as it focuses your learning and prevents you from going down interesting but dead ends in your journey of workplace enlightenment. Renu Bohra, director (HR) at DB Schenker, a transportation and logistics company, says nowadays a job description isn’t necessarily useful. Her advice is to get clarity from your manager on their expectations for you. Get agreement on priorities and timelines to deliver results and above all, keep them posted on your progress and seek constant feedback.
- Go further
Just like you’ll never achieve extraordinary results by working only office hours, you won’t do exceedingly well if you only learn the necessary ropes at your own company. Studies have shown that the lifespan of a university degree is only five years before its relevance expires. To stay on top, you need to learn constantly by reading the best books and industry blogs, listening to relevant podcasts, and leveraging experts outside your organisation as sounding boards. This keeps your thinking and problem-solving fresh and updated and prevents stale groupthink.
Amy Augustine, 2019, “Are you learning the ropes fast enough at your new job? Here’s how to find out”, https://www.themuse.com/advice/are-you-learning-the-ropes-fast-enough-at-your-new-job-heres-how-to-find-out.
Anjali Venugopalan, 1 October 2018, “Five ways to be a fast learner at your new job”, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/jobs/five-ways-to-be-a-fast-learner-at-your-new-job/articleshow/66034511.cms?from=mdr.
Art Markman, 6 November 2019, “This is likely the No. 1 thing affecting your job performance”, https://www.fastcompany.com/90361698/how-you-should-approach-learning-at-work.