We live in an age of accelerated change. Technology is disrupting every area of life. Consumer expectations are shifting. In a constantly adapting landscape, hiring new people with the latest skills is not a sustainable solution. So, how can you meet your organization’s changing needs in the long-term? It’s time to start building a learning culture that will see every employee thrive and your business succeed.
What is a learning culture?
If your people are going to have the skills required for success, learning needs to be a strategic imperative. A learning culture puts continuous development of knowledge and competence at the heart of everything your organization does. Enabling every employee to continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills.
Of course, learning environments come in all shapes and sizes. There isn’t one right way to achieve a learning culture, but there are some common characteristics:
- Supporting independent learning and development
- Encouraging team members to reflect on their work and share their learning
- Fostering a growth mindset and desire to learn throughout the organization
- Enabling learning to shape strategy and process change
Different levels of an effective learning culture
In successful organizations, everyone works together to achieve a shared mission. An organization-wide learning culture enables people to connect with this mission.
Structures and systems are in place to support learning that’s linked to organizational objectives. Open dialogue, challenge and reflection are embedded in values and processes.
From sharing experiences to providing feedback, lots of learning happens in teams. Managers play a key part in setting the tone, providing support and leading by example. In an effective team learning culture, time and resources are prioritized for formal and informal learning. So, whether it’s a project evaluation or regular team meeting, everyone can reflect on their work and share their learning.
Effective learning can only take place in an environment where individuals feel supported. In a successful learning culture, people know that their development is valued and time is allocated to it. Learning opportunities are clearly communicated. Employees have a growth mindset and take responsibility for their own development. They have access to a variety of training programs, resources and methods. This means they can personalize the approach they take to learning.
The benefits of a learning culture
When a learning culture is cultivated at every level of an organization, the benefits are wide ranging.
- Quickly adapting to changing needs: Encouraging a desire and ability to learn leads to an enhanced capacity to adapt and acquire new skills.
- Solving problems effectively: If your people are comfortable sharing new learning, skills and ideas, they’ll identify and solve problems more effectively.
- Reducing the L&D bottleneck: Empowering people to take control of their day-to-day development means you can focus on the bigger L&D picture.
- Decreasing staff turnover: Developing a sense of ownership and accountability increases employee satisfaction so they’ll stay with your organization longer.
- Increased efficiency, productivity and profit: All the benefits of a learning culture add up to one big gain: the success of your business!
5 ways to create a learning culture in your organization
CIPD found that “98% of learning and development practitioners wish to develop a positive culture for learning but only 36% feel like they’ve developed one.” If you’re one of the 36%, what can you do to change this?
Here are some top tips from L&D professionals who are cultivating a learning culture in their organization.
1. Encourage active learning
Putting people in control leads to long-lasting, meaningful learning. Make sure your formal learning is readily available. Provide a range of learning programs and different routes through them. Empower employees to personalize their own learning pathways and apply their learning at work. Embracing an active approach to learning will have many benefits: for the individual and your organization.
“As learning teams, we’re not mass hiring trainers to deliver this information… We really have to think of how to scale your learning teams to a larger number of learners. And technology plays into that. But I also think it’s self-paced and curated. A world that lets people drive their own learning on many topics is so important for us to be able to scale and do our jobs.”
2. Promote continuous learning
In a fast-paced business with competing priorities, sometimes learning can take a back seat. Don’t let training become a standalone process. Actively promote and reward continuous learning. That doesn’t mean simply praising or promoting people who find the time to learn. It’s about enabling people to be curious – even if it doesn’t directly relate to the work at hand.
“You never know, that piece of learning might inspire someone to do something great. What if the person learning about Beethoven comes up with the next jingle? …What if that person who studied feudal Chinese culture went out and made a $500 million deal in some province in China?”
3. Fill your skill gaps
Having employees ready to adapt and grow to meet your changing needs is your first step. If you’re going to create a sustainable culture, your employees’ learning needs to be supported. As the organization identifies emerging skills gaps, you need to be ready to react with the learning resources your people need.
“It’s about identifying the knowledge gap and identifying a small sort of shift in behavior, and being able to meaningfully put some assets together and an experience together—that will shift that.”
4. Make it fun and social
When learning feel like a chore, information is less likely to be retained. Make sure your learning culture doesn’t take itself too seriously. Don’t fall into the trap of check box learning. Creating a sense of fun in training and development is great for employee engagement. From manager support to social chats, on-the-job interactions can keep the learning alive.
“That partnership with your manager, or whoever’s going to be coaching that person afterwards is so important. … A lot of what these learners are going to develop from a learning perspective is going to come from on-the-job or interactions with their peers. ‘I stumbled across something, and I shared my problem with somebody else on how I solved it’. That’s so important. … Social platforms, whether it was Yammer or Slack, or even some of the chats within Microsoft Teams or the other tools, it’s such a great place to put people together.”
5. Experiment, measure and adapt
Every organization is different. Try out new approaches and see how they work with your people. Don’t just focus on elearning completion and virtual classroom attendance rates as a measure of your learning culture’s success. Measure early on and throughout all kinds of learning experiences. If something isn’t having the intended impact, adapt your approach.
“Don’t try and solve the problem 100 percent. Try and understand enough of the problem to make one step forward, and then measure where you are, and then re-evaluate, and then take the next step.”
An effective learning culture is the key to business success in this age of accelerated change. Creating a learning culture involves a shift at all levels of your organization. This won’t happen over night. There are five key ways you can start to encourage the right culture in your business. Empower everyone to take an active role in their own development. Promote and reward continuous learning. Make sure the time, tools and resources are available for all employees to fill their skill gaps. Embrace social learning to make sure your culture is sustainable. And don’t forget to try things out, measure your success and adapt your approach to ensure your culture is truly effective.