Education and Improvement

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One tiny bit of education can make the difference to you, your job, your executive, your company, your life, notes Rhonda Scharf

My dad had a heart attack recently, which was quickly followed by successful triple-bypass surgery.

It was an emotional time, but I’m happy to report that all is well, and Dad is recovering nicely.

A big part of his recovery is due to his medical team. Dr. Jones and his team were incredible. Dad’s nurses, Eric and Scott, were outstanding.

They were all outstanding because of the care and commitment they put into their jobs.

Dr. Jones has been a heart surgeon for more than 30 years. Scott has been a cardiac care nurse for 22 years. You can be sure that the technology and techniques they use change constantly, and drastically, improving as the years go by. The entire team is committed to the continual learning required to be exceptional at their jobs.

Because they are exceptional, my dad is still alive.

I wonder what would have happened if Dr. Jones and the entire medical team had been self-taught. I wonder if Dad would be alive if they had never made any dramatic improvements in their learning since their university days.

While your job may not be as essential to saving lives as theirs are, have you stopped making drastic improvements to your job and your knowledge? Once you left college or university did you decide that you knew enough about your job to be good for the rest of your life? When it does come time to learn something new (say a new software or technical skill) have you mistakenly relied only on self-taught skills? Do you rely on learning as you go? Do you tell yourself that you adapt quickly and are keeping your skills as current as they need to be? Or have you consciously and deliberately looked to improve your skills even in areas where you thought you were more than component?

I’ll bet that 20 years ago Dr. Jones was more than competent. I’ll bet he was one of the top heart surgeons in the country. But he didn’t rest on those laurels. He continued to pay for education and gather information and he believed there was still a lot to learn.

In the last 20 years, open-heart surgery has become almost commonplace.

Because Dr. Jones and virtually all of the medical community understand that things change every day, they know the importance of investing in their knowledge and not assuming that what they know today is good enough. Do you?

As administrative professionals, our roles are constantly changing too. Many of us work for companies that do not choose to invest in our education and knowledge, and we use that as an excuse as to why we don’t improve our skills. I’ve heard thousands of times “My company won’t pay for that.” While that is true for many admins, it does not mean that you shouldn’t invest in your education and seek opportunities that cost very little or nothing at all.

Look on YouTube for videos that will help you improve your skills. I routinely publish them on my social media sites. Spend 15 minutes on YouTube or Vimeo to look for quick videos that show you what you need to do (so you are not stumbling and becoming self-taught in a way that is inefficient or just plain wrong).

Executive Secretary Magazine provides a free weekly #adminchat webinar on YouTube, with training topics (travel planning, conducting a personal SWOT analysis, planning ahead) and interviews with industry leaders such as Dr Veronica Cochran, the new CEO of IAAP and RoseMarie Terenzio, John F Kennedy Jr’s former Chief of Staff. A new webinar is added every week, and all past webinars are available to view.  (You can subscribe to the YouTube channel as well – search for “Lucy Brazier”).

Join groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. There are lots of live videos that can help you im prove your skills. There are also thousands of articles shared daily in these groups which may give you a little nugget that will make you better at what you do.

Maximize any professional organizations in which you are a member (or join the ones that are for your profession). There is always a plethora of free education provided by associations.

One tiny bit of education can make the difference to you, your job, your executive, your company, your life!

After the surgery, nurse Eric gave my dad a small shot of insulin. I was curious, because Dad doesn’t have diabetes. Naturally, I asked why he needed the shot. Eric told me that it is common for blood sugar levels to rise after surgery. And since bacteria thrive on sugar, patients’ blood sugar levels must be carefully monitored in order to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Eric said the field of cardiac care is changing daily and that he continually invests in his own education, to ensure that he stays on top of developments and continues to excel at his job. If he wasn’t invested in continually learning about cardiac care, he wouldn’t be working in the cardiac care unit. If he wasn’t interested in constantly learning, perhaps fewer of his patients would walk out of the hospital.

When I was expecting my second son in 1993 I was offered a buy-out from the company I was working for. I had worked for them for 10 years and had done very well in that time with many progressively senior jobs. I had joined them directly out of college (where I studied nursing, which isn’t particularly useful when you are an executive assistant) and learned very quickly. I was more than willing to learn things on my own (these were the days long before YouTube), and I was a quick study. I was proud of all the things I had learned while I worked there as well as my ability to pick up the skills I needed.

When I heard that each person should invest 1% of their take home pay in their own education, I scoffed at the idea. 1% was a ridiculous amount of money to spend on me when my company would spend it (and I couldn’t afford it). I had never spent a dime of my own money on my learning once I started working full time back then.

After Patrick was born it was time to start thinking about what kind of job I would have next. Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t in the budget, so I needed to find a job. I realized that all the skills that I had were 100% perfect for the company that had just let me go, but those skills were not fully transferrable to other companies at the same pay grade I was at.

I was not as valuable as I thought I was.

I mistakenly thought that I could easily get another job for probably more money than I was already earning.

I realized that while I was a quick study, I had not invested into myself at all.

I justified this by saying that I had small children at home and I had no money. I said that my education wasn’t as important as other things. When the company I worked for offered training (which was extremely rare), I would take it if I had time. If I felt that the program wasn’t a good use of my time, or if I didn’t like the trainer, or if I felt I already knew everything they were going to teach then I didn’t attend. I did not subscribe to business magazines, books, or belong to an association. Why not? Because I had far too much faith in my own ability to learn and adapt.

And I couldn’t find another well-paying job that easily at all. I was quickly humbled.

Why couldn’t I have gone to the library and borrowed a business book and read it? Why couldn’t I have looked for resources and courses that my company would pay for? Why didn’t I attend every single training program that was offered, and why didn’t I ask to attend others? I didn’t even ask back then!

If you aren’t invested in continually learning, what are the potential consequences? Perhaps it isn’t life or death, but isn’t learning all that is new in your job in your best interests as well as your company’s best interests?

Don’t let excuses get in the way of you investing one hour a week in your ongoing education. Read a newsletter, read a blog, read a newspaper article. Join an association and go to a meeting or two, and if you can, attend the annual convention. Join a chat group where people are discussing and sharing information. Follow those you like and respect on social media channels.

Don’t get comfortable. Don’t get stale. Don’t rely on what got you here to get you there.

And tell those who are important to you that you love them—every chance you get.

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About Author

Rhonda Scharf

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If your team needs a boost by increasing their effectiveness and efficiency, then Rhonda will get you ON THE RIGHT TRACK (www.on-the-right-track.com). Rhonda is the author of Alexa is Stealing Your Job, available now on Amazon. Rhonda will be speaking at Executive Secretary LIVE in Johannesburg, 28-29 February and London, 27-28 March 2020. For further information and to book, visit www.executivesecretarylive.com

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