I left my dream job 9 months ago and I’m still healing

After a long and winding career journey (from eLearning designer, PM, to UXer), during March 2020, I landed myself my dream role. I was leading research at one of the longest running edtech companies in the world during one of the most transformational periods of education. A company that set me out on my very own career path years earlier. It felt like my entire career had led me to that moment.

I onboarded into my role at the end of March 2020 (back when COVID was still in its infancy). From the moment I stepped foot into my role, I hit the ground running. I spent my time building partnerships with team members, talking to customers, evangelizing what I was learning, and training my teammates on the value of being customer-centric. It was during one of the most tumultuous times in online education and I was fully aware of it. I wanted to do anything and everything I could to advocate for learners and their experiences. 

The trouble started during Summer 2020 when I was approached by a university to become a potential adjunct professor.  It was such a transformational time in education. I wanted to give all that I could to the mission and put my skills to use; not only inside my organization, but outside as well. I reached out to HR at the company to see if I could pursue the option of being an adjunct. After weeks of talks and synching with legal, I was informed that employees were strictly prohibited from doing any outside knowledge sharing with others.

My heart was completely shattered. How could a learning company that talked about democratizing education have an archaic policy that said it’s employees couldn’t teach? It truly didn’t make sense to me. 

After that moment, I knew the ball was in my court. I took a step back and tried to shift perspectives and think of alternatives as much as possible. I consulted with a selected group of friends and I only saw one path forward. I made the abrupt decision to step down from my role and the request of management, I never shared the real reason why I left with many of my team members or wider friend group. 

Why leave?

For over ten years, teaching and learning has become the foundation of who I am.  To be an educator is to be of service. It is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have in life. Teaching is also a beautiful way to continue deepening your own personal practice.

When I was told that continuing to work at a company I loved would mean not teaching, it felt like going against who I was as a person. It felt like I would be repressing a piece of my soul and no job is worth that.

The Fallout 

After leaving, I spent a few months dancing through some consulting gigs trying to figure out my next steps. When I had began in 2020, I went into the role thinking I’d be there for at least a few years and in the blink of an eye it had ended. 

My experience at the employer always felt unfinished. I felt shame and frustration that I never got to stay and realize the full vision that I set forth. At the same time, I felt betrayed by a company I had given so much to. I kept asking myself whether it was a mistake to leave or not. It became difficult to trust myself and my own decisions. 

After leaving, even though I had left the role, I saw my passion of teaching start to fade.  I stopped writing on my personal blog and stopped creating content. I questioned whether I was even worthy enough to share things with others. 

Why share now?

Last weekend I watched the documentary The Wisdom of Trauma and the Dr. Gabor Mate described trauma not as the bad things that happen to you, but rather what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. In other words, trauma means disconnecting from our authentic selves. 

In that moment it hit me. I had been through a workplace trauma. I was still responding like the threat was still there even though it was removed. 

The truth is our capitalistic societies put profit and growth over everything, including the employees who get the organizations to where they are. As someone with a background in organizational development, I’ve had some hard realizations over the past few months. For instance, despite all of our good intentions that departments like HR and legal are there for one simple thing: to protect the business. 

At the same time, I’ve also been spent the last few months reading countless articles about the experiences of women of color In the workplace. From Timnit Gebru, Vivianne Castillo, and most recently Naomi Osaka. Their experiences have showed me that I am not alone. That no job is worth giving up a piece of your soul.

The unfortunate reality is that is not the first workplace trauma that I’ve been through and it likely wont be the last. Above all, it has taught me about the value of sticking to your instincts even in times of difficulty. It has taught me the importance of gauging company values before joining a team – not only what is said, but the actions that are carried out on a daily basis.

The truth is, I’m still healing from my experience. I’m 4 weeks into adjuncting a summer course for the OPWL program at BSU and I’m learning to share, coach, and guide others again. I am truly grateful for the students. Each time after I speak with a student from the program, I always make sure to pause and find myself thinking “This is what it’s all about”.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones way”

Vikor e. frankl

Learning Leaps Part 1: Tips for creating a culture of learning in the workplace

16 months ago, I made the decision to make a huge leap in my learning career and move into Product Management. With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves.

I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews over the past year and one of the major themes I’ve heard from tech and learning leaders is about their desire to create a culture of learning inside of their organization. This should come as no surprise to many practitioners in the field as the phrase culture of learning has become synonymous with increased employee retention and engagement inside of today’s organizations.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look to identify what exactly a culture of learning is and provide some tips you can take to get started creating one inside of your organization.

A Culture of Learning: Defined

It’s no secret that technology has had a major impact on today’s workforce. It has changed everything from the way we work, how we work, and where we work; inevitability impacting how we learn and perform on the job. Gone are the days that learning takes place in the form of a single training event. The paradigm has shifted to supporting employees during the flow of work. Thats why it’s more important than ever that organizations support a culture of learning for their employees. A culture of learning is one where employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve their individual and organizational performance. Ideally, an organization should have values, practices, and processes that supports this for their employees.

A culture of learning can look different depending upon the type of organization. Despite this, I’ve noticed some reoccurring trends that have come up in my conversations with customers during my time at Pluralsight. Below are a few tips to help get you started creating a culture of learning inside of your organization.

Tips for Creating a Culture of Learning

Build a foundation of trust

The foundation to any great culture depends on the basis of trust. If you don’t have trust, all other efforts are fruitless. That’s why if you’re building a culture of learning inside of your organization, the first step is to ensure that it’s safe for all your employees (regardless of rank) to make mistakes.

One of the main company values at The Predictive Index, is errors of action are better than errors of inaction. During my 3.5 years there, hearing this phrase empowered employees like myself to dive steadfast into challenges no matter how large the size. If mistakes we’re made along the way, we celebrated them and shared lessons learned with others. I frequently witnessed executive level employees get in front of the entire company and share stories about how projects went awry and how they might approach things differently moving forward. This cultural value of trust and vulnerability is one key element to building a culture of learning and should be embodied at every level of the organization.

Empower learners to take control of their professional development journey.

I’m a big advocate of the belief that career ladders are becoming somewhat obsolete. Employees are no longer staying in traditional career paths for 20-30 years. Rather, it’s more common to see employees do career pivots. Take me for example, after 8 years as a learning experience designer, I decided to take a leap and move into a Product Management role. I was able to bring skills from my previous role and apply them to my new position. I also had many skills I’ve had to pick up along the way.

During my time at Pluralsight, I’ve spoken to many learners looking to expand their technology skills in hope of transitioning into a new career. Thats why it’s important for organizations to empower their employees to take control of their personal learning paths. The employees themselves are the ones who know what skills they’re looking to expand and grow. As learning practitioners and managers, we can learn these by simply speaking directly with learners, either through 1:1 conversations or surveys.

Arm managers with coaching skills

Managers are often on the front lines helping their employees learn the skills they need in order to perform on the job. In organizations where there is a culture of learning, managers have the opportunity to adopt a coaching approach to managing. A coaching approach means enabling employees to identify problems, brainstorming solutions, and empowering them to success. This means that as learning practitioners, we need to equip managers with techniques on how to provide feedback. This could be in the form of discussion guides or reflective questions to help guide their conversations with employees.

Encourage expertise and mentorship

One of the biggest challenges organizations experience related to learning experiences is creating actual content and materials. One of the biggest untapped resources are subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs are often passionate about a skill or topic area and enjoy sharing their experiences with others. Pull these individuals into your initiatives and empower them to share their knowledge with others. At Pluralsight, we actually rely on our network of Authors to create content for learners looking to expand their technology skills. I’ve also talked to many organizations that have even created mentorship programs where experts are paired with beginners as they begin developing skills in a particular subject area.

Set aside time to learn

One of the biggest struggles I’ve heard from many of Pluralsight’s customers is their inability to find time to learn. With an increase on their demand for time and growing responsibilities on the job, who can really blame them? If you’re a part of an organization, developing a learning culture, you must be an advocate for learning time. Your employees should feel empowered and encouraged to take time out of their day to brush up on their skills. My team at Pluralsight blocks off 4 hours of learning time at the same time each week to do just this. This ensures that everyone knows they have the time they need to continue skilling up in areas that matter to them.

Make learning accessible

Modern workplace learning means recognizing that learning is a continuous process that happens in the flow of work. As learning practitioners, this means that we need to make learning content as accessible as possible to meet learners where they are, rather than making them to come to us. This might mean adopting an on-demand learning platform that allows employees to engage in learning experiences when they want to.

If you have a learning technology platform, it might mean choosing a solution that optimizes the learner experience like mobile access and single sign on. This could also mean supporting informal learning methods like learners sharing articles or chatting about new topics or skills. Overall, the learning experience should be intuitive, not arduous.

Support social learning

By our very nature, humans are social creatures. We naturally love to chat about our ideas, share resources, and hear other perspectives. As learning practitioners, we should nurture these qualities inside of our organizations. One of my favorite examples of social learning is being carried out by my favorite supermarket chain, Wegmans. During Pluralsight Live 2019, Scott Root shared insights about how Wegmans hosts monthly challenges, hackathons, and coffee hours with employees who engage in their Developer Fitness program. These social learning experiences led to increased employee satisfaction and skills acquisition across those involved in the program.

Encourage stretch opportunities for employees

One great practice that organizations with a culture of learning often do is provide stretch opportunities for employees. This means providing employees with a safe environment to fail or test out their new skills. In many of the organizations I’ve worked at, I’ve often been placed on a tiger team where I’m able to attack a large business problem for the organization. These projects have always provided me the opportunity to stretch myself and become more confident in my new found skills. This approach could also be formalized in the form of supporting career transitions and allowing internal mobility for employees inside of your organization.

Do you have any tips for others on how to encourage a culture of learning inside of their organization? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving into what collaboration looks like when creating learning products.