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How to make room for professional growth in your own room

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At PEAK6, a pandemic can’t stop professional growth. The shift to working from home that began in March 2020 changed a lot of things, but it didn’t dampen our company’s focus on supporting employees’ growth. The HR Learning team quickly pivoted to enable employees to achieve their learning goals from afar. We sat down with Denise Dunlap, chief people officer, and Kate Vincent, director of learning and organizational development, to find out more.

How did the pandemic affect professional development at PEAK6?

Kate: With nearly all of our employees working from home, we didn’t want anyone to put their growth and development plans on hold, so we got creative. We started encouraging our people to explore remote learning, and they found amazing learning opportunities from home.

One of our core values is, “approach every day with curiosity.” We are helping our employees live this core value by giving them opportunities to learn and grow–pandemic or not.

How do employees access remote learning opportunities?

Denise: We reallocated some of our budget to create a virtual learning fund for remote learning and development opportunities. Employees apply for funds once that employee and manager identify a learning opportunity that supports their measurable business or professional development goals. Then, employees pursue their learning opportunity, get reimbursed, and teach back to their colleagues about the experience and what they learned.

Teach back? Tell us more about that.

Kate: We encourage everyone to share the knowledge they’ve gained at a training, conference or other learning opportunity by writing about it and sharing with colleagues on our intranet. This contributes to our culture of learning at PEAK6. Some employees also report out in a team meeting, share a tool or tip with others to incorporate in their work, or teach a session on the topic they’ve studied.

How do employees choose their learning goals?

Denise: We encourage and empower employees to own their learning and development path and drive their career growth. We want them to be able to recognize which learning opportunities are a fit for their specific learning goals. For instance, what development areas is that employee focused on this year? Are they trying to amplify a strength or leverage it a different way? Are they looking to acquire knowledge or a new skill? We also urge employees to consider what they know about their own learning style. Do they prefer something in a cohort format with interaction, or self-paced independent work? What about how much time they can commit? Is a one-time class better, or something ongoing? If they need support, we are always available to chat with them about career growth, help craft developmental goals, and assist in matching them with opportunities.

Did employees take advantage of these opportunities?

Denise: Absolutely. Through the program, in the summer of 2020 we awarded funds to more than 50 employees for conferences, coaching, classes, and even books on a range of topics including financial modeling, machine learning, leadership, customer service, Linux, Python, strategic human resources, and more. This wasn’t the only way for employees to fund learning and development opportunities. Our business units also funded many opportunities directly, plus team members took advantage of free online classes, and our own internal learning and development program.

How did people find about these opportunities?

Kate: Many team members found opportunities through their own research. In addition, we sent weekly alerts about upcoming learning opportunities across a variety of subjects, levels, modes and costs. For example, we shared a mix of podcasts, videos, blogs, reports, white papers, books, webinars, online courses and virtual conferences covering everything from health and wellness, working remotely, and implicit bias, to managing change and effective leadership.

Can employees get reimbursed for a class on mindfulness, poker, or improv?

Kate: If the employee and their manager agree that the skills will benefit that individual’s current work and professional development, we consider it. Sometimes getting out of their day-to-day context can help build perspective and there are many skills that can be applied across disciplines.

Learn more about our core values. View our open positions.

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