Work is One Big Fat Teachable Moment

by Merrick Rosenberg, MBA


When I speak at conferences about retaining winning talent and the problem of turnover, I often ask attendees to raise their hands if their fathers worked at three or fewer companies throughout their careers. As you would expect, just about everyone raises their hands. I then ask them a second more revealing question: Raise your hand if you have worked at more than three companies in your career. You guessed it…just about everyone’s hands go up again.

The moral of this story is that people don’t stay at one company for their entire career anymore. In fact, twenty years ago if your resume showed that you switched jobs every three or four years, you would have been perceived as an unstable job-hopper. Employers would have thought, “Why can’t this person hold onto a job?” Today, you would be seen as a career-oriented go-getter.

There has been a fundamental shift from lifetime employment to lifetime employability. People want to know that no matter what happens with the current employer, they will be employable elsewhere.

In a recent study by Career Systems International, career growth and development was cited by 43 percent of respondents as the reason for staying in organizations. And yet, a McKinsey study found that only 3 percent of 13,000 managers agreed that their organizations were effective at developing people.

The problem is that managers are often not great coaches, and organizations frequently don’t provide the needed training to retain employees. So on one hand, organizations complain about high turnover rates and lack of worker loyalty, yet on the other, these same organizations do not provide the very thing that employees most desire…the opportunity to learn and grow.

The best employees are life-long learners.
High-performers know that work is one big fat teachable moment. They recognize that learning comes from observation, practice, and experience. Further, they proactively seek opportunities to learn from everything they and their coworkers do.

According to research by the U.S. Department of Labor, 70 percent of workplace learning occurs informally, while the remaining 30 percent comes from formal learning programs, such as training and coaching interactions. Superstar employees don’t wait for training programs to be offered, they seek them out. But more importantly, they also make connections and draw critical insights from everyday experiences.

Individuals who seek learning in everything they do often exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They are avid readers. They don’t wait for knowledge to come to them.

  • They pursue it.

  • They search for greatness and stay close to it. You’ll find these people hanging out with those who talk about what can be, rather than those who whine about what is not.

  • These individuals find mentors who have walked the path before them and seek their advice.

  • They volunteer for challenging assignments--the ones that nobody else wants for fear of failure.

  • They learn from their mistakes, but perhaps more importantly, they learn from others’ mistakes so they don’t have to repeat them.

Looking forward
Individuals who leave an organization hoping that the next employer will better develop them may be sadly disappointed. Growth comes from an unwavering passion to be better and do better. The future of your organization belongs to individuals who drive their careers by seeking learning in all they do.

Ask yourself a few straightforward questions: Where do you want to be five years from now? What knowledge and skills will you need when you get there? What don’t you know yet or can’t you do yet? What are you going to do to achieve your goals? Are you taking personal responsibility to develop yourself, or are you expecting your manager or organization to help you?

Commit to making learning a priority and watch your life unfold as the grand tapestry you dreamed it would be.