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Learning to learn: advice from a senior business continuity manager

By Ron Andrews

Do you have a Learning Plan? Do you have a self-directed road map that clearly outlines your learning efforts in support of your career? More specifically, are you taking advantage of the wealth of learning opportunities within your organization that may strengthen your career options?

Too often, as professionals we interpret ‘learning’ as meaning formal education: degrees, certifications, or attendance at workshops for educational credits. Generally, this is known as formal learning. Risk, emergency management and business continuity professionals understand formal educational requirements all too well.

What about informal learning? How can we leverage our organizational experience more effectively to further both organizational goals and personal career objectives? Informal learning includes, but is not limited to; special assignments, mentoring, networking, role-modeling, coaching agreements, self-directed work, and even volunteering in our communities. Informal learning offers countless possibilities to improve our hard and soft skills – skills that can be readily applied to our roles at work. Platforms for the creation of informal learning already exist within our organizational structures, business processes and the cultural realities of our workplaces. Also, our business, social and community networks all provide opportunities for informal learning.

A very honest and thorough self-assessment must first occur before you write up your Learning Plan. Ask yourself these questions – what are my values, beliefs and true interests? What are my competencies and skills? Am I engaged, willing and motivated to learn? How do I prefer to learn? Importantly, are my learning goals compatible with my organization and do I have the support of my manager? Have these conversations with your closest colleagues and significant others, all whom know you well and can offer constructive feedback.

After addressing these questions, set realistic development goals and time-based priorities. Ideally, your Learning Plan should document learning activities for one to two years, on average. Our work realities can change quickly and this can affect our learning priorities.

Now you are ready to place your first ‘road map’ on paper. Develop a straightforward and concisely-worded Learning Plan that outlines: what you want to learn; how you will learn it; the timeframe for your learning objectives; and your measures of learning success. Keep your plan to one page and use bullet points for brevity.

Be sure to incorporate informal learning in your Learning Plan. What your work role entails, how you perform your duties, your managers, peers, workgroups and other organizational resources all come into play when seeking out informal learning opportunities.

Perhaps you wish to develop a competency or skill in a certain area of practice? Maybe you are impressed by a co-worker’s business acumen or technical expertise? Maybe your role is evolving and you’ve identified ground-breaking learning opportunities? All of these possibilities can lead to informal learning.

Request a meeting with your manager to discuss your Learning Plan. Your manager can offer constructive feedback on your learning priorities and may be able to direct you to other activities that support both your learning needs and the goals of your organization. The support of your manager is critical to the success of your Learning Plan. In fact, the support of all organizational leadership is critical to creating a cultural landscape that welcomes Learning Plans and the creation of informal learning opportunities.

Now, more than ever, we live in a globalized world of constant change, disruptive innovation and an evolving risk landscape. In our organizations, we’re experiencing the demographic shift, continual succession planning and the need for effective knowledge transfer – with limited staff development budgets. We need the right tools to navigate this reality effectively and meet the expectations of our stakeholders.

Start with a Learning Plan and seek out cost-effective informal learning opportunities that can create organizational capacity to meet these evolving challenges. You won’t be disappointed.

The author

Ron Andrews, BA BSW HRM CIM MPA MBA ABCP, serves as the Senior Business Continuity Manager with the Government of Manitoba. Ron has 32 years of front line, managerial and corporate experience in the areas of enterprise risk, business continuity, safety and health, social services and emergency management. Ron holds graduate and professional degrees and certifications and regularly offers BCM workshops, training seminars and presentations to staff, students and conference attendees. Ron actively promotes the development of organizational learning cultures and works occasionally as a university instructor and practicum advisor. Contact Ron at

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