Keeping Up-To-Date on Your Industry
Bob has just had to shut down one of his department's production lines, while he re-engineers a key process to comply with new safety legislation.
This change in legislation has been expected for well over a year, and, while it's only now coming into force, other people in Bob's industry have been prepared for the change for months.
Needless to say, Bob's boss isn't happy, particularly when she hears how this is going to affect profits and delivery times.
Many of us work in changing competitive environments. If we don't keep up with news and trends, we can miss key opportunities and can be caught unawares. That's why, for some of us, it's important to keep-in-touch with news and trends in our industries.
Benefits of Keeping Up-To-Date
Although keeping up with industry news may seem to be just one more thing to add to your To-Do List, there are several important benefits.
First, you'll make better decisions, and you'll spot threats and opportunities early on, which can give you a competitive edge. This is especially important if you contribute to shaping your organization's strategy. It's also important if you're involved in sales and marketing, where it helps you identify and take advantage of the sales opportunities that come your way.
Secondly, keeping up-to-date with your industry is key for building expert power. By developing expertise in your job and your industry, you'll earn the trust and respect of the people around you. From a leadership perspective, this is invaluable!
Finally, it will alert you to changes that you need to think about. This is the sort of information that would have saved Bob his embarrassment.
Clearly, in some roles (for example, in junior roles, or where you're providing a service within your organization) there may be no need to keep up-to-date with your industry. Use your best judgment when applying the strategies in this article – if you don't need this information, don't waste your time sourcing it!
Sources of Information
To keep up with news and developments in your industry, the first thing you need to do is identify the best sources to use.
We've listed traditional and online sources below: choose the most appropriate sources depending on your industry and the type of work that you do.
Find a Mentor
A great starting point is to find a mentor within your organization. Not only can mentors help you solve career issues and develop your career, they can provide you with a wealth of insider knowledge, as well as with the insight needed to understand it.
Your industry may have one or more trade organizations that you can join. These are useful, because they can help to keep you informed with their newsletters and publications, and they provide networking opportunities with meetings and conferences.
Trade Shows and Conferences
Trade shows and conferences are great for learning about competitors, new products, and industry trends; and they can provide ample networking opportunities.
Face-to-face networking can be one of the most rewarding ways to stay on top of industry news and trends. Often, professional relationships can develop into deep friendships, especially when you meet on a regular basis.
Keep in mind that you have a wide pool of people you can network with. People directly related to your industry are an obvious choice, but so are industry suppliers, customers, and people working in related fields.
Blogs aren't just for personal journaling anymore. Many bloggers are respected for their high-quality work and honest opinion.
Do a web search for keywords that are commonly used in your industry – it might take a bit of time, but you may find some high quality blogs relevant to your job and your industry. Once you've found several you like, you can sign up to receive posts through RSS, or subscribe to the bloggers' Twitter profiles for regular updates (see below).
You can also find top blogs by using Technorati, a well-respected blog ranking service. With it, blogs are ranked by their authority, which is determined by how many other sites link to them. Rankings go from 1-100: the higher the blog is ranked, the more reputable it is.
Twitter can be a great place to find industry leaders and organizations, and to stay on top of relevant news and trends.
Use it to find people in your industry who are in-the-know, by searching Twitter for relevant keywords. (You may get more out of Twitter if you start a dialogue with those who you're following.)
Using LinkedIn is a wonderful way to connect with colleagues, trade groups, and industry leaders. You can join industry-specific groups, and get the latest updates from individuals and organizations.
The Google Alerts service notifies you when resources featuring certain words are indexed by Google's search engine.
For instance, if you're a pharmaceutical rep, you might want to get notified about articles containing the words "pharmaceutical industry," or the names of your clients, your organization and your competitors. You can be notified once a day or once a week. Links can be contained in one email, or you can get updates via an RSS feed.
The advantage to using Google Alerts is that you no longer have to surf the web looking for industry news. However, you might find that you simply get too much information this way – if this happens, tweak your settings or use a longer keyword-string. Also, be aware that not every new resource will be indexed by Google – this is especially true for subscription-only content.
Membership sites and discussion forums can be full of insider-information tailored around specific topics or industries; and talking with other professionals in your industry can help you network and grow your skills, especially if you're in a technology field such as IT.
If you're unsure of which forums to use, ask colleagues, have a browse online, or ask your Twitter or LinkedIn connections for recommendations.
You may find that the most useful forums are on community websites, and you may need to pay a subscription to access these.
Once you've identified the best sources to use, you need to schedule time to get the most from them. This can be challenging, especially if your day is already filled to the brim with regular commitments. But it's important to create time in your day to devote to staying current, where you need to do this for your job.
First, schedule time daily or weekly to devote to reading and networking. Staying up-to-date requires a regular commitment if it's to pay off, so work time into your schedule whenever you can. Some good times might be over your lunch break, or during a "low-energy" period of the day.
You can also stay up-to-date using "open time" outside of work. For instance, if you commute to work, you could listen to podcasts or audiobooks while you're driving. If you take a train or bus, you could read blog posts or industry magazines during your ride. You could even listen to podcasts or audiobooks while you're at the gym.
Once you've identified several sources that you read or listen to regularly, you need to decide if they're worth your time. If a publication or source doesn't provide real value to you, then don't be afraid to cull it from your reading list.
If you're doing a lot of reading, then make sure that you learn to use appropriate reading strategies, which help you make best use of your time. Learning to speed read, for instance, enables you to read and digest more information in a shorter period of time.
Keep in mind that you probably don't need to know everything, from every source, about your industry. Your largest time investment will be up front, but once you've found a few reputable sources, you'll learn the most important information without having to spend much time searching for it.
As we've already mentioned, you may not need to keep up-to-date with your industry in some roles. Bear this in mind when scheduling your time, and don't be afraid to minimize the amount of time that you spend gathering information.
Sharing and Using
In some situations, sharing industry news and trends with your team can create a positive learning environment, and can help everyone to grow professionally.
To share information in this way, you could devote the first few minutes of your weekly team meeting to sharing relevant news and information. You could also post articles on your organization's bulletin board or blog, or in the company newsletter.
Sharing news with your team won't be appropriate in all situations, as its usefulness will depend on people's roles, whether they're interested, and whether they can use the knowledge that you pass on. Again, use your best judgment – otherwise, you'll waste valuable time and resources.
Overall, keeping-up-to-date on your industry is only useful if you use the information that you learn. So, don't just "store" the knowledge you gain: use it to take advantage of opportunities, minimize threats, and make better decisions.
In some roles, it's important to stay on top of industry news and trends – you'll build your expertise, you'll command the respect of your team, and you'll be better placed to identify and exploit opportunities.
In these roles, scour the internet for industry magazines and reputable blogs. Use social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn to find industry leaders, and attend conferences and trade shows to make contacts and find out what's happening.
It's easy to get information overload, so schedule daily or weekly time to devote to catching up, and be ruthless when it comes to pruning low quality sources of information. Also, remember that, in some roles, it won't be necessary to keep up-to-date with industry news, so use your best judgment about what you need to know, depending on your role, and your career aspirations.