Purposeful Talent Development: How to Develop a Solid Success Structure for Learning

Hand uses a yellow highlighter to mark spots on an illustrated lightbulb with illustrated heads and brains in a row demonstrating learning structure and steps
Lesley Sears Photo
VP/Consulting Services

5 minutes

Accomplish a big goal by breaking it down into small, palatable ones you—or your team—can easily tackle.

Sometimes we set big learning goals—so big that they’re daunting.

For example, how many credit union leaders do you know who’ve said, “My goal is to get promoted in two years” but never quite managed to do what it takes to get there?

A technique I recommend for accomplishing big learning goals is to build a structure for learning that includes breaking down big goals into smaller, attractive ones. This allows you to celebrate each success along the way and measure your progress toward achieving your larger goal. This practice helps build a reinforcing cycle where each learning milestone helps to propel you toward the next.

Building a structure for learning not only works for organizations but also for teams. Let’s look at each of these in turn. 

Atomic Habits Can Support Your Learning Structure

In the case of your striving for a promotion in two years, a good learning structure would start with talking with your supervisor to find out what you need to do to move up to the next level, then break down those things into small steps.

In his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear says achieving goals has everything to do with letting go of old habits and creating new ones. (If you buy the book, be sure to check out the bonuses he offers to purchasers.)

Clear suggests applying these four ideas toward creating habits that will help you achieve your goals:

  1. Make it obvious. For example, if your first stepping stone toward your promotion is to take a course on time management, leave the tab with your online course open in your browser even when you’re working on other things. Keep it visible!
  2. Make it attractive. Continuing with our example, choose a course format that appeals to you. If you love to watch videos, take a video course. If you’re an in-person person, seek out a time management seminar you can attend. 
  3. Make it easy. Maybe you learn best with a cohort. If that’s the case, see if any of your colleagues have the same goal and would want to take the course with you.
  4. Make it satisfying. Find ways to feel good about taking the time to achieve your milestone. Maybe you ask a colleague to be your cheerleader whenever you tell them you’ve done another chunk of your coursework. Maybe you give yourself badges or certificates along the way to celebrate your progress.

Do the opposite to get rid of bad habits, Clear advises: Make them invisible, unattractive, difficult and unsatisfying. When you do these things, you’ll find your efforts will have a loop structure, with accomplishing each goal being a satisfying pleasure that drives a craving to approach and accomplish the next one. 

Team Goals Benefit From Structure Too

This format—developing a structure for learning that breaks big goals into smaller ones and makes developing new habits—works well for teams too.

Maybe your team has a goal to get better at project management this year. Start by spelling out what success will look like. After you clearly defined the goal, break it down into small parts that you can make visible, attractive, easy and satisfying. 

Let’s say you’ve defined success as having 75% fewer missed deadlines. Your smaller steps might include having everyone on your team take training on how to use your project management tool, undertaking a pilot project during which everyone examines the team’s use of the tool and having each team member help present the findings.

How could you make this effort visible? Maybe you set up a progress bulletin board in the office or a project management dashboard for a hybrid or remote team. 

How could you make it attractive? Maybe your weekly progress update meetings include sweet treats or great music.

How could you make it easy? Consider how much time per week is realistic for team members to spend on this project. Then stick to not going over that time limit. 

How could you make it satisfying? Remind team members that success with the project will eliminate friction when undertaking future projects.

Learning benefits from structure. At CUES Consulting, we’re experienced in helping credit unions with all aspects of learning and development. If you’d like to discuss this further, please reach out.

Stepping into the gap between corporate complacency and organizational excellence is where Lesley Sears strives to be. In her role at CUES as VP/consulting services, Lesley leads CUES Consulting, which provides talent strategy support to credit unions of all sizes. Lesley is passionate about helping leaders find their company’s superpowers in talent development through a holistic approach: identify–develop–document–repeat. She’s a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a certified executive leadership coach and has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations across many industries to strategically develop their talent’s best selves. When she’s not working to help organizations maximize their potential, you can find her digging in her flower beds, reading or watching classic movies. Maybe, on a good morning in the spring and fall, you’ll find her running—really slowly.

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