Anyone else remember the number one question you were asked at the dinner table or when picked up from school while growing up: “What did you learn today?” For me, that question was sometimes easy to answer, and other times it made me realize I might need to pay more attention the next day.

Maybe that daily question all those years is why as an adult I’m so delighted when I do learn one new thing a day – even if it’s just a practical fact like “a ripe avocado lasts longer if you put it in the refrigerator.” (It really does. I’ve been telling everyone this lately.)

While I don’t actually learn something new every day, the concept certainly creates a mindset of staying open to continuous learning – something that is also especially important to the Next Stage team.

So much so, that we have built intentional learning activities and tasks into many of our client and team processes to inform our thought leadership and innovation. We thought we’d share a few of them here in case you are considering how to infuse more learnings into your own processes and procedures.

Make Time for Individual Learning Journeys To Inform Your Work and Team

New to the Next Stage Team this year is a challenge to identify two topics of our choice to further inform our work and personal interests. We then make time during regular team meetings to report on our discoveries and discuss how learnings apply to our clients and thought leadership as a group. For example, one of my topics is “Scaling Organizations While Protecting Culture”, while Susan is looking at successfully “Building Trust Online” and Josh is digging into “Systems Structures.”

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Prospective Client Needs

Next Stage is always working in the background to explore topics important to our clients. In the past, we’ve published an “Executive Compensation Report,” “Our Profit & Purpose Report,” and most recently our “Profit & Purpose: ESG Addendum.” (And coming soon, a feature around the Impact of Including Community Voice in your research). Informing each of these reports are numerous conversations, surveys and focus groups made up of 1:1 and small group discussions where Janet, Josh and Helen ask questions that many of you have been a part of and that we hope you ultimately benefit from when reading the summary reports.

Listen Before You Plan

If you’ve worked with Next Stage on a strategic planning or branding engagement, you know we won’t jump into the planning before we pause to listen to your stakeholders – those who are a part of or closest to your organization whether partnering with you or receiving your services. And often those whom you desire to work with in the future. Helping you uncover what others might not tell you directly informs you of opportunities we can help you leverage.

Include Diverse Voices in Your Discovery

Earlier this year, Next Stage launched a Community Voice service line in response to the rich findings discovered when we paused not just to conduct stakeholder interviews, but also to lift up the voices of those embedded in communities. Next Stage defines Community Voice as a representation of diverse voices that must be heard, understood and validated. It’s an opportunity for people to be seen and known, especially for those who experience unmet needs or circumstances that make them feel invisible. To achieve this, we take a two-way directional approach geared towards listening to community and institutions alike, building trust as an asset, embracing transparent communication, and moving change-worthy initiatives forward together.

Train Your Team to Be Attentive, Active Listeners and Make Time For Team Members to Share and Discuss What They’re Learning

Next Stage has an intentional meeting schedule that allows for professional development, DEI training, and sharing learnings from many of the strategies listed above in place to help us continually learn. We’ve discussed meeting best practices and etiquette post-pandemic Zoom meetings (where we listen intently vs. look at our computers while others are talking) and also hold space to embrace tough topics and work through understanding complex social issues. Thanks to this commitment to learning, I feel sure if you ask any Next Stager at any point what they’ve learned lately, you’ll receive an insightful answer.

Ask Your Clients How You’re Doing

One of the opportunities I enjoy most about my work as the Chief Experience Officer at Next Stage is making time to follow up with our clients post-engagement to ask how we helped move the needle for them, what value we delivered and what we can do better. The confirmation of what we’ve done well, and the continuous improvement opportunities are so valuable to us as we continue to learn and grow as a team.