Research into human nature shows us that across all cultures and socio-economic levels people yearn for a feeling of growth. The feeling that we are progressing and learning is important to all of us.
Studies show that executives are 20 percent more likely than managers and 70 percent more likely than employees to feel they are progressing. I have been in management and executive positions for my entire working life and I admit to some very flawed thinking on my part in the past. I thought I was just more ambitious than most. I was wrong. We all want to learn and grow; people just differ dramatically in their desire to advance in the workplace.
We tend to think that if someone does not show interest in career advancement they must lack ambition or they don’t want to learn. The truth of the matter is that they just don’t want to progress in the traditional career sense in the organization. We all want to progress in the general sense and this is where great managers create incredible levels of engagement. By taking the time to understand the unique perspective of each of their team, by asking questions about what part of their work they find most rewarding, by asking and observing what they do in their free time, by asking what they would want to do if they had all the money in world and so on, great managers get a sense of where someone wants to grow, what they want to learn.
If we can bring learning and growing into the “same old job” we can make it a more rewarding job.
One manager I asked about this idea shared a great story with me. He talked about a team member who was very frustrated with computers. After several discussions about her frustrations, he found she was frustrated not just with the computers in the workplace, but computers and technology in general. Her children seemed so comfortable with them, where she was so awkward. It was even bothering her at home too. Despite her frustrations, he sensed she wanted desperately to learn and grow in this area. She wanted to understand what her children and some of her more savvy friends and co-workers were doing.
With much discussion and encouragement, she agreed to take some classes the company offered and he encouraged her to set up a web-mail account on the computer at her work. They then had some fun. They decided that for the next month they would only communicate by email. The only verbal communication would be to explain things that she did not understand or need help with. Between the classes on the programs they used and dealing with her manager only by email, she slowly but surely got over her fear of computers. From the beginning, the manager had the idea that she would likely be strong in this area if she just got over the initial hump, and he was right. She has since gone on to become very adept at not just the basics of email, but also is the best person in her location at operating the administrative systems of the organization.
I am sure if asked about her workplace this woman would have many nice things to say and I am also sure that she would feel she learned and progressed just as much as any high climbing executive ever did.