Developing yourself and others on a tight budget

Sue Willcock Food for Thought

It’s no surprise that learning and development budgets for many organisations are being squeezed ever more tightly.  With this in mind, I know that individuals and managers will be having conversations during the year on how to achieve personal development and growth on a low (or non-existent) budget.
Personally, I have a strong belief that the lack of a formal “training” budget (whether from your own purse or your employer) is no excuse for not developing and growing either yourself or those you may manage.  For me, I would say that some of my best personal development simply happens when I jump (or am pushed!) out of my comfort zone.
So, I’ve written this ‘food for thought’ along the theme of the ten ways to develop yourself on a tight budget.  Hopefully it will spark some thought for you personally and also be useful if you are a manager having personal development conversations with your team.

  1.  Actively seek feedback on your performance.  A great way of identifying areas to develop yourself and identifying strengths to build on is simply to ask for feedback.  Whilst a formal 360 feedback process can be very valuable, you can just ask those around you to give you feedback.  For an easy to remember acronym to gain useful feedback, use WWW-CBI:  What Went Well? And what Could Be Improved?    Relate this to specific areas you are interested in finding out about (e.g. your presentation skills, meeting management) to try and get specific enough information so you can act on the results.  Of course, be prepared to listen to the feedback you receive, reflect on it and take action.
  2. Get out of your comfort zone.   Get involved in a challenging project which you know will push you outside of your comfort zone.  Is there a chance for a secondment or new role at work, or are there local volunteering projects which will support your learning?   Or how about a move overseas for a new challenge?
  3. Set yourself a stretch-target and then create a plan.   If getting completely out of your comfort zone is too uncomfortable, set yourself a target which builds on an area where you already have strengths and then use this to give some structure your planned development.  Make sure you set a clearly defined goal so you know when you’ve reached it too.   For example, if you are OK at writing project reports but want to be brilliant, how will you know what ‘brilliant’ is? (Feedback, benchmarks with others etc.).  Once you know ‘what good looks like’, you can then plan how to get there.
  4. Know and use the Performance-Image-Exposure model.  The PIE model developed by Harvey Coleman tells us that our success at work depends on our performance (10%), image (30%) and exposure (60%).   Given this, map out your existing network of contacts (a mind map format works well).  Review the document harshly, looking at where you want to take your career and who you can learn from to help you get there.  Are there people with specialist knowledge that you could learn from?  Are there ‘types’ of people missing (e.g. do you need to surround yourself with more entrepreneurs/risk takers/creatives?)  Create an action plan to help you build your networks and exposure to support your learning.   
  5. Find some learning buddies.  The network exercise above does not mean befriending people in a shallow way just to meet you own ends!  What knowledge might you share with someone in return for them teaching you a new skill or giving you their expert opinion?  How might you create a buddy relationship to support development for you both? 
  6. Engage with social media.  Many sectors use social media much more than others to learn from colleagues outside their immediate networks (the IT sector is one that springs to mind).  Online forums can be an invaluable source of learning.  Special interest forums on Linked-In, together with specific websites for your sector (websites associated with sector magazines usually have good discussion forums) will help keep you up to date.
  7. Explore i-Tunes and You Tube for learning.  If you haven’t discovered i-Tunes and You-Tube for learning, then go exploring!   Many organisations such as the CIPD have Podcasts and many management topics are covered in video shorts on You Tube.  
  8. Use libraries and other public resources.  OK, so Amazon makes it easy to order books for delivery direct to your door, but a visit to the library not only provides a quiet space for thinking, but by simply browsing around can spark thoughts and new lines of thinking.  The British Library is one of my favourite places and has a fantastic business centre with regular seminars taking place.   Likewise though, local libraries are also great resources for self-development (and quiet space!).  Museums also very often have free entry or specific talks happening that are reasonably priced and may be aligned to your learning goals.
  9. Question your newspaper, radio and TV choices.  Challenge your thinking by questioning your reading, viewing and listening habits by changing for a while and tuning in to new things. 
  10. Go to the free exhibitions attached to conferences.  Many of us receive invites to exhibition/conferences where the ticket price is often prohibitive to attendance.   My advice here is to weigh up the networking opportunities and the exhibition (think about the PIE model above), know who the exhibitors are and plan your day in advance to meet and mingle to meet your needs by just attending the free bit.  Often you pick up lots of free learning material from exhibitors and gain immense value from the free seminars and networking.  Just be clear on your objectives before attending.

And finally, I have sneaked in an 11th idea, if you are looking specifically to be more creative (and because it was just too good to miss out!)
Buy a pot plant.  According to Professor Richard Wiseman in his book “59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot”, “adding plants to the office results in a 15% increase in creative ideas reported by male employees and helps their female counterparts produce more original solutions to problems.  The plants help reduce stress, increase good moods and add to the creative environment as a result.”  A 15% increase in creativity for the price of a plant?  It may not be free, but I think that the Return on Investment is rather impressive!