It's hard enough to prepare for a career that's fairly defined. It's even more difficult when you find that you're spending a lot of time in that "Other Duties as Assigned" section of your job description or when you're the Marketing and Fundraising Manager.
Particularly when you work either for yourself or for small to medium-sized organizations, odds are that you'll be called on to perform a lot of duties that you have neither the training or work experience to really do. Even if this isn't the case, the need for ongoing learning to remain competitive certainly makes it necessary to explore ways you can construct meaningful personal learning experiences that don't cost an arm and a leg.
This is where the the Personal MBA framework can be very instructive. It's based on the premise that reading a core series of business books, gaining related work experience and discussing the books and experiences with other learners will get you pretty much the same education that you'd get from spending upwards of $100,000 to go to B-school. For the price of 69 books (currently $1,300 for the "Motherlode" Personal MBA collection) and an Internet connection, I can get something pretty close to a master's in business. As an extension of my BA and work experience, this seems like great value for the money.
Creating a Personal Education
On a personal level, I think that constructing this kind of personal education is very do-able for many fields and, in fact, I'd argue it's necessary, especially as so many of us find ourselves in "accidental" roles. As an example, many, if not most of us who end up in management are actually accidental managers who receive little training prior to being thrust into supervising others. We can wait around for our organizations to send us to training, or we can come up with something on our own. I'm picturing this, for example:
- Develop a personal learning plan--Review your current managerial competencies and identify areas where you want to improve and/or learn more. Preferably you do this in consultation with your own manager, but no reason you can't do it on your own, if necessary.
- Find key books and resources related to management and particular management areas you want to develop. Some good resources include:
- Find a group of 2-3 other people who are willing to work with you in discussing the books you're reading and who will provide you with feedback on the ways in which you can put your reading into practice. This can be done in person (think Brown Bag Lunch discussions) and/or with technology, like with a Google Group or Ning community (existing or new).
- Set up a personal blog to reflect on what you're learning and also to act as a sort of "home base" for engaging in conversations with other bloggers.
- Start filling your RSS reader with good management-related blogs. These can be a potential resource for additional magazines and books to be reading. They are also great ways to extend your thinking, practice and conversations.
- Look at ways to practice what you're learning and to reflect on those practices. For example, The Manager's Tools podcasts have some great step-by-step episodes on how to do a performance evaluation. Set up a learning experiment where you work with one of your direct reports to practice the process. Get their feedback on how it went. Blog about the experience and what you learned for the future.
This is a process that could be applied in many other areas, too. How many staff end up as "accidental trainers" or find that they're taking on major marketing and PR functions with no real expertise in those areas? It's also a framework you could use to develop competencies in areas you'd like to go into. I'd argue that using this idea, you could put together a pretty decent little "training" program for yourself with minimal financial investment. It might even be more fun and beneficial than entering a formal program.
From an organizational perspective, the Personal MBA also creates an interesting model for designing professional development programs. Find the core competencies and areas you want to help people work on and then facilitate connecting them to resources, books, discussion forums and communities of practice to continue that learning. There's no reason organizations can't sponsor the same process I described above to prepare people for managerial positions or for many other job functions.
This seems like a particularly rich area for further exploration. I can see a lot of interesting applications on both a personal and organizational level.
What do you think? How could this apply in your industry or field? Do you see this as a workable professional development model?