We live in a fast-moving world where change is constant. The business landscape which at one point had a standard foundational playbook is now giving in to digitization, constantly adapting to new trends and technology. Given this accelerated pace at which we move, it is not always easy, practical or affordable to hire talent with the latest skills. The alternative then lies in driving a learning culture where employees are encouraged and given the tools to upskill in order to thrive.
Even employees today expect a workplace that will continuously challenge them and build their skills. In fact, in a Learning report in 2018, it was found 94% of employees said investment in training and development is one of the major reasons they would decide to stay in a role for longer.
Creating and continuously driving a learning culture requires regular measurement, a strategy and impactful processes. It is imperative for leaders to prioritize a learning culture. This culture is one where your team has continuous access to knowledge development, new skills and are encouraged to seek, share and apply this knowledge and skills. Furthermore, there is no one size fits all when creating a learning environment. It’s a blank sheet of paper where leaders and HR can get creative in their approach to this important strategy.
A few common characteristics, however, include, being supportive of an employee’s interest and learning efforts, encouraging team members to reflect on their skills and how they would like to grow, and continuously fostering a growth mindset so employees do not feel like they are stagnating.
Learning cultures can be effective at different levels – organizational, team and individual.
Organizational learning: this applies throughout the organization. For leaders, across departments and for every team. This is where leaders take the initiative, with support from HR, to drive a culture that enables team members to align with the organization’s vision and mission. A process can be put in place that supports everyone in a way that they are aligned with organizational goals. This could be through workshops, open discussions, team outings, etc.
Team learning: leaders must encourage team members to share experiences and feedback. Team members can learn from each other. By speaking up and encouraging openness, very often many teammates who were holding back will also open up. Leaders play an integral here in letting employees know it’s okay to speak up. Lead by example by sharing experiences yourself at first. To make the most of time and resources, this culture can be encouraged in a formal and informal setting so that learning can happen at all times, and not during a specific meeting or discussion only.
Individual learning: at the individual level, it comes down to promoting an environment where every single individual is supported in their own interests, growth and development. In a successful learning culture, it is important to communicate learning opportunities clearly and provide actionable ways for individuals to take responsibility for their development. Leaders should actively look at a strategy where workshops, training programs and resources are accessible.
It is also important to keep in mind teaching skills like using an application or tool like Microsoft Excel is easy enough. It’s the soft skills, like problem solving and growth that take more time, effort and encouragement.
The benefits of a learning culture as the building blocks of an organization
Apart from some of the more obvious benefits such as low attrition rates, better productivity and business success, the benefits of a learning culture are far-reaching at all levels discussed above.
For starters, it makes it easier for leaders to ensure their organization is quickly adapting to the fast-changing business landscape. This includes equipping employees with skills like new technologies that could help a business grow at a faster rate. Another benefit is productive discussions and a problem-solving attitude. When employees are constantly encouraged to share, ideate and learn, their mindset will also change towards a more problem-solving, effective one. As leaders, this is also an area where you can start the trend and lead by example.
Promoting growth is a natural by-product of a learning culture. When employees see that they are constantly learning and growing, they will be more motivated to work effectively and stay with an organization for longer. They will also work more productively, avoid the risk of stagnation and put in better efforts to lead your business to success.
How can you create a learning culture in your organization?
- Encourage learning: Create a meaningful and actionable learning platform. Have a formal learning platform that is accessible through workshops, training courses and resources. Constantly create new learning material and provide this through different routes. Leaders and HR should actively speak to teammates to encourage them to focus on learning and development, as well as empower them to focus on their personal learning journey.
- Continuous learning and development: In the chase to complete one’s KPIs and achieve targets, learning tends to take a backseat. As leaders, it is crucial to create a process where there is synergy at all levels of the organization to ensure learning is not a standalone process, but rather a part of the everyday. Individuals and teammates should be encouraged to work in such a manner. Leaders can actively promote and motivate their employees to stay curious, continuously learn and even reward said learning and development.
- Fill in the gaps: As leaders, knowing and understanding where the gaps lie is important. Once you know this you can encourage your team to learn the skills and knowledge required to fill those gaps. This way you’re not only nudging your team toward continuous development for themselves, but also fill in business gaps. Of course, be prepared to provide the learning material and resources required by your team. This will go a long way in creating a sustainable learning culture.
- Make it fun, interesting and interactive: Learning should not feel like another item on the to-do list. Ensure formal sessions are engaging and interactive. Employees should be comfortable speaking up, discussing and learning from one another as well as from the formal material. Encourage people to interact and share experiences even through chat bots and social platforms that your company might be using such as Slack or even Microsoft Teams. “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.” – Patrick Bowl, Learning and Development Director at Worldpay
- Observe and adapt: Be open to making changes and trying new approaches. Teammates might respond differently to different approaches. Measure early on and throughout all kinds of learning experiences, formal and informal. The mantra should be experiment, observe and measure results, and make changes as needed.
An effective learning strategy is important in today’s fast-paced world. Creating such a culture might take time and effort, but the growth will be monumental. Start with encouraging the company culture. Be approachable and dependable. Empower employees to be open, motivate and reward, share your own experiences and equip them with the right tools and resources to develop their skills. Take the time to analyze your results and adapt accordingly.