Earlier this week I wrote a post on How Your Company Would Benefit If Employees Were Better At Communicating.
I received a number or responses to the interview, and there was one in particular that stood out from a prospective Confident Communicator Course student that I want to share with you today because you might be in a similar situation:
I’m giving my very FIRST tech talk this summer. I really, really want to take (and NEED to take) your confident communicator course. I can’t afford it, and I don’t think I can ask my employer to pay for it because speaking at the conference is my own personal goal and not something they’ve set for me to do.
What should I do?
I get where Kay is coming from.
I was in the exact same position back in 2005.
I was one year out of college, and life in Silicon Valley was expensive even back then.
My paycheck, while it was sizable for a junior engineer, went to paying rent, my student loan, a car loan, and whatever I had leftover covered groceries for the month.
That was it.
No fancy wardrobe, dinners, vacations, or nights out for me.
While I had college degrees in computer science and electrical engineering, I felt like whatever I learned wasn’t enough to get ahead and be taken seriously.
Since this was 2005, there weren’t many online resources or affordable programs.
If I wanted to take a course I’d need to register at the nearest university, which just happened to be Stanford.
At the time, each course was $3,000.
I didn’t have that kind of extra money.
I did some research and discovered that my employer offered tuition assistance. They would cover 100% if I got a B+ or higher, and if I left the company prior to completing a year of employment after taking the course, I’d need to pay them back.
Sounded like a good deal to me.
I made a list of the courses I wanted to take, and came up with a plan to take one course each quarter.
My manager wasn’t the most nurturing person, and would often turn down requests that required budget approval. But I wasn’t going to let my manager hold me back!
I made a plan for how I’d balance my coursework with my day job and how each course would benefit the team.
During a one-on-one, I told my manager I was interested in taking a course, shared my plan, how it would benefit the rest of the team, and then said I needed approval by a certain date to move forward.
I could tell my manager was on the fence, and I didn’t hear back.
I waited until two days before the deadline and reminded my manager about needing approval to take the course.
My manager took a moment and then said yes.
That was a small victory for me.
And I didn’t just stop there.
Once the course finished and my manager saw how much I had improved, I asked to take another, and just kept going.
Why it’s harder to ask for soft skills training
We often ask and get approval for training related to hards skills because it’s easier to show the impact they have like improved productivity and product quality.
Training for soft skills like public speaking and leadership are harder to prove. But those actually make an even bigger impact like motivating the team, attracting and retaining talent, and making decisions regarding how we spend our time.
In addition to asking to attend courses, I asked my manager if I could attend a design automation conference.
I also asked for other things that weren’t focused on learning hard skills like attending a design automation conference.
Again my manager was on the fence because the policy was to send senior people to conferences. But it just so happened that that very year none of the senior people wanted to attend. Knowing this, I asked a few of my senior colleagues to vouch for me, and it worked!
I attended the conference and again I learned a ton.
When you don’t have a company to back you
I got pretty used to having a company pay for me, and when I became a founder, I realized that I no longer had that option.
But I was in a better position financially, having paid off all my debts. I made it a policy to set aside 5–10% of my earnings to invest in training myself.
I think of it as an investment because then I know I need to value it by setting aside the time to follow through, and put into practice what I’ve learned.
Surprisingly each time I invest in training and apply what I learn, I end up making back the money if not immediately then by the end of the year.
ASKing is hard, but missing out on an opportunity is worse!
I get that asking your employer to attend a course or conference is tough, and we worry about what they’ll think or say.
From my experience I’ve learned:
- Always ASK and be sure to frame the ASK not as just personal gain,but how it will benefit the person or organization footing the bill.Too often we don’t ask because we think it will only benefit us, but the reality is that other people such as our employer and colleagues will benefit from us improving our skills, sharing our knowledge, and growing our network of contacts.
- Keep ASKing until you hear a NO, and even if you receive a NO or have a strict policy to contend with, find an alternate way to get a YES. I knew my manager would say NO to me attending a conference, but knowing that my colleagues didn’t want to go and they were willing to vouch for me helped persuade my manager.
- Understand how budgets work in your organization. I was careful to read the fine print when it came to tuition assistance and understand the conditions required to cover me 100%. Ask about your company’s policy for paying for professional development. . And if there isn’t one, then it just might be time to bring it up as something that could attract and retain top performing employees.
Finally, remember it’s better to ask and be turned down than to never have asked and realize you were standing the way of your own success.
I do want to see more people speaking up, and you ASKing your employer to sponsor the course is the first step of many towards gaining the confidence to do that!