How to upskill and perform to a high level quickly

Awareness of your personal strengths, gaps and resources in relation to tackling a new skill will catapult you forward in your progress faster than anything else, says Insights Learning and Development’s Tanya Boyd

Skilling, upskilling, and reskilling is the name of the game in the world today. In the current environment, the need to acquire new, different, or more advanced skillsets – and to use them at a high level extremely quickly – is key to progression. Organisations need current employees to perform quickly in new roles, under new circumstances and facing new challenges as roles shift due to restructuring, the adoption of new technologies, and in response to a rapidly changing business environment. 

While the pandemic accelerated the learning industry’s shift from classroom-based training to virtual classrooms, the basic premise of corporate and academic learning has not changed drastically. Most learning is still offered primarily through courses. While there is growing recognition of the value of personalised, self-directed learning journeys, most courses are still offered primarily under an overarching ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy, which is not fit for purpose in these turbulent times. Changes to learning and development are coming, but until then, you can accelerate the speed and effectiveness of your own skill development through the practice of ‘activating awareness’.

Awareness of personal strengths, gaps, and resources

Activating awareness means being able to draw on your awareness about personal strengths, gaps, and resources related to a specific outcome to guide effort and energy to achieve that outcome.

Awareness can be activated by answering three very simple questions that have the potential to exponentially increase how quickly you are able to perform a new skill at a high level. They are:

  1. What are your existing strengths related to this skill?
  2. What is your biggest challenge in gaining this new skill, and how will you overcome this challenge or obstacle?
  3. What is the best way for you to learn this skill?

Simple questions, but not easy to answer. It is tempting to dive right into the actions associated with learning a new skill because action feels like progress. However, training yourself to take the time to activate awareness will catapult you forward in your progress faster than anything else, so it is worth the initial effort.

1. What are your existing strengths related to this skill?

This is about placing yourself on the journey towards mastery of the new skill. Based on your previous experiences, knowledge and related skills, your starting place may be different from someone else’s; and that makes a difference. When you activate these strengths, you will either see opportunities to skip irrelevant parts of available training (if allowed) or be able to approach that training (if required) with the mindset of looking for a refresh/update rather than being bored or frustrated.

Activating your current knowledge and strengths is also motivating and will provide energy you can draw on for the more challenging parts of your development of this skill. If you have a hard time identifying your strengths or related skills, using a personal preferences profile or skills audit can help.

2. What is your biggest challenge in gaining this new skill, and how will you overcome this challenge or obstacle?

Ask yourself what is likely to be your biggest challenge in learning a new skill. Challenges can cover a broad range of things, from gaining a specific sub-skill to finding it hard to prioritise time to practice the skill in question. The key here is to identify what the biggest obstacle is likely to be for you.

A peer learning the same skill would likely identify something else. You will know you’ve found it when you feel a bit uncomfortable. This is because thinking about what might trip us up can cause some anxiety; it isn’t pleasant to think about possible failure. Sit with the discomfort, then figure out what resources you will leverage to overcome this challenge. This may not be immediately apparent, but it is worth putting in the effort to find your answer.

Taking the time to identify what you will do to address your challenge when it shows up is the one thing that will make the greatest impact on the speed at which you arrive at high performance. Having this awareness will also give your confidence a boost as you start out on your learning journey. If you struggle to answer this question, ask for input from those who know you well or who may have overcome similar challenges. You don’t need to go it alone; other people often see more resourcefulness in us than we see in ourselves or may themselves be resources we can leverage.

3. What is the best way for you to learn this skill?

The old saying ‘All roads lead to Rome’ has particular relevance in skills development. Activate your awareness about how you best learn the kind of skill in question. Your organisation may insist on a one-size-fits-all course; if so, then the previous two questions will help you get what you need out of that course.

However, an even better option is to identify your best pathway to the needed skill and follow it. If you are someone who learns by reading, look for ways to read your way to the new skill. If you learn by trial and error, ask for projects that require the new skill and put in some safeguards to guide you along the way. If you find the pathway that best fits your learning preferences, it is likely to be the most effective and efficient way for you to get there.

Keep coming back to awareness as you progress along your journey, and celebrate your successes. As you learn more, does this process change what you believe you need to develop or what the best way forward for you would be? Once you make it past your biggest obstacle, what is the next obstacle you will face, and how will you overcome it?

In today’s world, learning is increasingly self-determined and self-directed. Individuals know how to learn what they want or need to learn. Changes in corporate and academic learning will be driven by learners. You can help your organisation embrace and support this approach by:

  • Sharing the impact of activating awareness on the speed at which you can develop and perform new skills
  • Suggesting that upskilling be offered in multiple modalities to support different learner preferences, rather than in a one-size-fits-all format
  • Looking for ways to activate awareness in your colleagues and direct reports and helping them to note the impact on their own speed to performance.

Tanya Boyd is Learner Experience Architect at Insights Learning and Development, a people development organisation. She holds a PhD in industrial organisational psychology from Seattle Pacific University.  

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