The Power of Lifelong Learning and Personal Development

I just finished a book called Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and DiscoveI just finished a book called Mindshift. Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover your Potential by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Drawing on the lastest..r Your Hidden Potential by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Dr. Oakley moves above simplistic notions of “aptitude” and “ability,” which simply give a glimpse of who we are right now—with no thought to how we may change. Instead, she draws on the most recent neuroscientific breakthroughs. The key message I got from it was that failing is a critical component of learning how to fuel your own development and personal progress, regardless of the business you work in. Putting aside our fears of failure, as human resources professionals, we must encourage people to pursue learning and development opportunities in order to maintain their engagement in their work and overall happiness.

The Power of Lifelong Learning and Personal Development

This is what I’ve been working so hard to do with my business and I aim to present various viewpoints and opinions that encourage learning and unconventional thinking. Then and only then can we truly challenge ourselves to work, live, and develop in new ways. Speaking specifically to the human resources sector and our sector’s leaders, we can only play a strategic role as consultants and partners in talent acquisition for the businesses we work with. We must develop and innovate if we want to continue to be relevant and valuable to the companies we help.

Learning to Disrupt HR

Human resources must be disruptive, willing to fail, and able to upend the status quo in order to advance on the evolutionary scale. I believe we have reached a deadlock because HR has a large number of administrative professionals that are heavily focused on paperwork and compliance, even if this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although it is a part of our past and current functions in HR, it is in stark contrast to HR’s strategic business partner role, which supports the development of the company’s most valuable resource: talent.

hr, roi, scle, personnel management, strategic

I keep returning to Paul Kearn’s chart from his book Evaluating the ROI from Learning (seen above) that talks about the role of education and evolution in human resources. Being a strategic partner means getting out of our comfort zone, saying no and engaging learning and development in different ways – outside of conference, events, and even in the books and meetups that we attend. We can’t keep going to the same old local SHRM chapter and push boundaries if they are inviting the same speakers they did 10 years ago.

That’s exactly the realization I had when I was attending a local SHRM chapter event. It was the same topic and discussion about Millennials in the workplace (sigh) where it was pretty much an “us versus them” thing. There is no us versus them. We’re all in this together and if we keep thinking that we’re not, we will never move forward. This was compounded by the fact that I was the only person in the room tweeting about the same topic circa 2009. And replace “Millennials” with “Gen X” and it’s the same topic from 1999. Are we going to remain caught up in a 20-year loop with recruiting innovation and development? I hope not, and I’m working hard to disrupt this within my industry.

If we are going to be a strategic asset to the business of HR, we can’t keep doing this. We need to push ourselves and move to a very uncomfortable place, especially when it comes to learning and growing as a business, as a team, as an HR department and as individuals.

Getting Comfortable With Discomfort

We have to develop a level of comfort with discomfort (as uncomfortable as it might be) in order to have conversations with C-level executives and hiring managers on what’s broken so that we can help fix it. If we continue to propel forward with an “emperor’s new clothes” mindset, fearing failure or judgment if we point out what and where processes are not working, we’re setting ourselves back into a rubber-stamp role that (for most of us) isn’t innovative or interesting.

Having uncomfortable conversations is part of our job descriptions. Teaching other people how to accept constructive criticism is another. If you haven’t had a difficult conversation with your CEO or department head in the past year, you might be overlooking a terribly important facet of your job, again being a strategic partner in talent acquisition. We have to push the envelope when it comes to diversity, accessibility, and other topics that make people (including ourselves) uncomfortable. There are problems in these areas that will never be fixed unless they become part of an everyday conversation in human resources.

Disagreement can be uncomfortable. Questioning the status quo can be uncomfortable. Being the only person in a conference session who points out that a panel on diversity and inclusion is not exactly diverse and inclusive if it’s comprised of 100% men can be really uncomfortable (ask me about it sometime). But it’s those of us who are willing to be “that person” that can affect change in human resources. Question away. It’s part of our jobs. Settling for what’s comfortable only sets us back.

Where Learning and Development Comes In

Sometimes it seems that certain people are “naturals” when it comes to recruiting leadership. I’ve had many conversations with influencers in our industry over the years, particularly on the Workology podcast, and I can share a secret with you: None of this comes “naturally.” Every single innovator or leader in our industry has a backstory that includes failure, and one common thread is that their failures taught them something important. They learned from taking risks, from introducing uncomfortable discussions, from pointing out the elephants in the room. Oftentimes they were the only person willing to do so, but it led them to affect change, to find their passion, and to make a genuine impact on our industry. I love hearing about “try and fail” when I interview recruiting leaders, because it says a lot about their ability to adapt and become innovators. Innovation in any industry is a necessary part of evolution, and we’ve never gotten anywhere by being resistant to change.

The LEARN by Workology  product I’ve developed (now in beta), was created with all of the above in mind. It’s on-demand learning for HR and recruiting, and covers HRCI and SHRM approved courses, as well as a robust course catalog that includes disruption in HR, diversity, and inclusion, accessibility, introducing programs in a change-resistant culture, innovating human resources processes, conflict resolution, along with many of the topics I’ve mentioned in this post. Join LEARN beta, check out the course catalog, and see how embracing ongoing learning and development can change your perception and the way you work. 

In order to really drive and innovate in the businesses we support, we need to first start with ourself. It’s critical to personal and professional growth for your most important asset, yourself.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. Josh Hersh says

    Hey Jessica! I’m so grateful I came across your blog and podcast! I’m actually working to make a career change into HR and so far, I’ve just been cobbling together learning resources from different places.

    I’ve been in the tech industry and I actually just blogged about not seeing an HR equivalent to companies like General Assembly or Codecademy. But I’m definitely going to check out Workology’s learning hub. Thanks for what you’re doing to disrupt HR!


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