Enabling skill development in a jam packed day

Finding ways to enable learning on the job can be tricky, and essential to retaining valued staff. Riia O’Donnell referenced a Glassdoor study in her article Career development can be an invaluable retention tool — but only if done right:

When workers don’t have a clear path to advancement, they leave, recent research shows. And with the current tight labor market, retention is more important than ever.

Many UX practitioners find themselves too busy for training, and yet we need a whole range of skills. We need to know:

  • Our tools
  • Our techniques
  • How to facilitate, collaborate, communicate and empathize
  • How to build excitement about what we do, and who we do it for (the user and the business).

And as we run or jog through every 2 week sprint, there’s little time for learning or reflection. What’s more, learning on the job is often the most effective means of training. What’s a UXer to do? How can a manager keep their team up to date and moving forward professionally?

Mike Kehoe, in his short blog 4 Habits of People Who Are Always Learning New Skills offers insights which UX managers and practitioners can leverage to create a team who is always learning and growing.

Focus on emerging skills.

Job requirements are quickly evolving. To ensure relevance, you need to focus on learning the latest emerging skills.

Being up to date is particularly essential for UXers, a field where new tools and techniques are a given. Kehoe points out that it’s easy to look up training online, and end up with outdated learning. As the manager of a UX team, you may have more time than your team members to track emerging tools, techniques and skills. Find topics you’d like them to learn and provide links, opportunitites and the time to learn – this can be as little as one hour a week.

Today there are an increasing number of industry groups, slack channels, online gatherings as well as blogs and articles to stay current. I sought out local events for my team, encouraged them to attend person by person based on their professional development plan. Some were UX focused, some about professional development (eg speaking) or relevant to our work (eg healthcare).

Get synchronous.

It’s not enough to read alone in your cubicle – working alone often leads to poor recall.  Instead, have team members learn together. Solidify what they learn by having them teach it to the rest of the team in a team meeting. Keep items small, manageable and actionable.

Kehoe calls this pairing up “synchronous cohorts”. People learn better together when they can discuss what they’re learning. I’ve had my team attend webinars together, for example, which we follow up with a discussion about applicability. We might capture key points on a whiteboard as we go, or capture items on sticky notes to help facilitate a discussion.

Finding mentors for your team members – either internal or external –  is yet another way to help your team members grow professionally.

Implement learning immediately.

Learning is solidified through practice.

Choose topics that are emerging and can be applied right away. Found a new way to communicate research findings? Implement a small study and try it out. Curious if more collaboration will lead to better functioning scrum teams? Learn a new way to work together and be transparent about your goals. I’ve had success with short (eg 1-3 hour) workshops in which we learn a technique together, try it out in a quick and dirty way and then critique the experience. These can happen over pizza at lunch or at the end of the day.

Teach, don’t just tell, what you’ve learned to others. You might have team members share their learning plus try-out with a blurb on your intranet, or present at a Lunch & Learn. Don’t forget to provide feedback to help your team continually improve, and track what they’ve done during the course of the year especially for less formal training occasions.

Set a golden benchmark.

Above all, managers should tie the emerging skills to each team member’s professional development plan. Aiming to build better presentation skills? Provide some training, a topic and lots of practice.  UXers need both soft skills (communication, presentation) and hard skills (how to facilitate a user test, how to communicate with colleagues).

Tying the learning to a larger goal, such as your performance targets or a professional goal, is often a strong motivator.  With this in mind, a few of my team members had talks accepted to a local UX conference. They then practiced multiple times in front of office mates, both from UX and other teams.

Solutions that enable professional growth for your team will make a huge difference to the employee experience, retention and, above all, deliver great experience design. Make time in your schedule and make it happen.