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It took me a long time in my career to understand that my success, development and growth were solely up to me. In school, the professors always made it sound like the company would care about our success; that they would foster us through different experiences to keep us on the right career path.

Turns out that may have been the case 15 years ago, but it’s definitely not the case anymore. Perhaps it’s because career ladders don’t really exist – at least not in their very strict form; or maybe it’s because company’s see their employees differently (as cogs instead of important personnel). Regardless, of the WHY, learning has shifted.

What Learning and Development Really Means

If you work at a big company, chances are your HR department has a special group with the specialty title of Learning and Development. While it’s different for each company, usually this group manages employee learning, leadership growth, as well as organizational changes. All important things…

But they are focused on it from the company’s perspective, not on how it will benefit you.

You have to take advantage of what’s available.

The most common complaint I heard when I was helping employees advance their careers within an organization, was that they weren’t able to attend the necessary pre-requirement courses to be considered for the next position. Their boss (or their own schedule), wouldn’t allow them to find the time to learn.

HUGE mistake. While corporate L&D can only take you so far, they can provide you with a ton of new information and knowledge – while your company pays for it. So whatever you do, make the time in your calendar to do it. If you have to work late for a week, then do it. If you have to use your breaks to catch up on email, then do it (although I’m frowning).

Find what your L&D department has to offer, then take advantage of it. Go on – I’ll wait for you to search their course calendar to find a few things. Seriously, do this now.

Classes will only take you so far.

One of the lynchpins for L&D departments, is to deliver training classes to employees. Everything from new hire orientation to very specific application training, they are there to help teach employees how to best serve the company. But learning in the classroom can only take your knowledge so far.

We’ve all experienced that – how many times have you taken a course and learned a lot, but never actually applied the things you were taught. My list is so freaking long, I can’t even count! Sometimes what we learn in the classroom is simply information to be added to our toolbox, but isn’t the point to improve ourselves?

One of my favorite examples of a course that I absolutely loved but found it difficult to apply, was Situational Leadership. I’ve even taught this course a few times. The information is awesome, the way it helps you relate to others is great… but if the entire organization (or department, or team) isn’t using the same principles, it makes it very difficult to apply.

You have to take the knowledge learned, and incorporate it into your work persona. It will take time, and it will take practice. But there is a reason you wanted to learn the information and skills provided in the class, so start acting on them.

You drive the bus – seek outside support.

I have said this a hundred times at least, but you – and only you, are responsible for your growth and development at work (and in life). You absolutely must create a growth plan. Determine what skills you want to have that are currently missing, and identify how to get them.

You must think bigger than classes – this is an investment in yourself! We learn best through doing, through application, through making mistakes.

Find a mentor who can help you figure out what to target/learn; shadow a colleague for a day to see what they do and what skills could come in handy for you; volunteer for a rotational assignment; get a second job to expand on skills that you want to learn; and so on.

The bottom line is that you have to consciously choose to expand your knowledge base… and then do something about it.