Five blocks to learning and their workarounds

As a design business owner, do you want to develop yourself and your people?

What gets in the way that, if you were to change it, would open up amazing opportunities for you, your people and your studio?

I was recently shown an interesting piece of research undertaken by an Australian designer Carol Mackay, Co-Founder of the Design Business Council. Her survey, sent out to design leaders based in Australia, asked their opinions on a number of areas and in particular their attitude to professional development.

The responses shed light on the beliefs that may cause a design agency owner to pause when thinking about professional development for their people.  If you’re an agency owner and you want to develop your people, but find yourself holding back, keep reading. You may recognise your beliefs below.  If you’re in the grip of any of these, there are some suggestions as to how you can loosen it just a little to get you moving.

Here’s what the design leaders surveyed said with a suggested diversion:

“Our Professional Development is ad hoc. If I see something of interest I may do it but it’s not planned or scheduled in any way”. Suggestion: Start by asking what do we need? Then ask: “What is my business about? What do my clients expect from us? Is there a gap?” These questions will enable you to start to understand what is needed, rather than expecting the answer to appear to you spontaneously. This also helps with a response to the next belief….

“Investing in Professional Development is of no value. I don’t want to invest in staff because they’ll leave and use the skills elsewhere.” Suggestion: Start by thinking about what the value could be? “What gap would be closed by professional development and what difference would that make to my business and my people?” If you can answer this you can begin to assess what value the investment may have. Yes, your people may leave. But what if you don’t develop them and they stay?

“Professional Development investment is wasted. The learnings are never used. The initial enthusiasm dies as soon as we return to the studio and client demands take over.” Suggestion: Start with how you can make sure the investment makes a difference. What can you do, to work with your chosen trainer to address this? Any good trainer should have a beginning that discusses goals and an ending that includes actions for the future. Your role as a leader is to make sure the people being trained are encouraged and accountable for putting into practice what they’ve learned. It takes work, but that’s what personal development is.

“Professional Development costs money and time – neither of which we have available.” Suggestion: Start with what you can make available. You could consider the options as a sliding scale, for example, starting with a one-hour Breakfast session, supported by some investment in books on the theme, leading to a lunch and learn, maybe then up to a half day workshop. Explore what you could create in terms of time and then what investment you could make available.

“Professional Development is ‘extra’ work – our designers finished learning when they graduated.” Suggestion: It is work. But ask yourself this; have your designers really ‘finished learning?’ Are they all they could be? And what do they think? You could ask them and you might be surprised by the answer.

How’s your thinking now around these five ideas? Is it starting to loosen? Can you see some space opening up? Why not share these questions with someone you trust within the business and ask them what they think? Or ask your mentor or coach. Getting training and development onto your agenda and into your studio and people could be the investment your studio needs to get where you want it to go.


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