Creating A Learning Culture At Work

Now more than ever, the well-being of an enterprise depends on a constant influx of new knowledge. Product ideas, sales techniques, communications technology, adapting and developing new processes, and keeping pace with industry standards or the requirements of regulatory compliance: all of these rely on the assimilation of new concepts and information.

Formal training only goes so far, as ideas and data must be taken in and applied not only at the desktop but in one-on-one encounters with customers and suppliers, on service runs at remote sites, or in any number of other locations.

So for organisations to cope, learning needs to be a continuous, adaptable, and location-independent process. It also needs to be ingrained within the working practices and mindset of the enterprise.

What Is A Learning Culture?

A learning culture is an environment which promotes the development of skills, knowledge and competence by supporting both the individual’s quest for these ideals, and shared learning which is in line with the objectives and philosophy of the organization. The culture thrives on an attitude known as a “growth mindset”, in which people learn from their mistakes and actively seek out new challenges.

How Learning Helps

It’s no longer sufficient to solely rely on tried and tested methods from years gone by. Advances in technology and communication are fuelling the demand for a new kind of worker: individuals with creativity, adaptability, quick thinking, and high levels of emotional and social intelligence.

Those with a capacity to independently, proactively, and continuously learn will succeed – and be able to react more positively to dramatic or disruptive changes in their work environments, shifting demands, and the need to shape new ideas and information into innovative products, processes, and services.

And the success speaks for itself. Organisations with healthy learning cultures enjoy a host of benefits, including:

  • Greater efficiency, productivity, and profits
  • A more satisfied and motivated workforce, more willing to remain with the organisation and pursue a career path within it
  • A sense of ownership and loyalty to the enterprise
  • Greater levels of accountability, responsibility, and transparency
  • The ability to work effectively in teams, and to share knowledge with co-workers
  • Flexibility, and the capacity to adapt to change
  • An environment driven by knowledge, inquiry, and sharing

How Training Sometimes Doesn’t

Around 70% of corporate learning is still done through formal channels of traditional instruction. Thomas Handcock, a senior director at the Corporate Executive Board Co. (CEB) in London, estimates that enterprises world-wide spend at least 11% more per person each year than is cost-effective.

And this training isn’t always relevant – or valued. Recent studies indicate that only 13% of workers are highly engaged in their jobs, while a disturbing 26% are completely disengaged – largely due to poor training and opportunities for personal development.

In a learning culture, workers will tend to learn because they want to. So how can such an environment be created?

Learning From Performance

Organisations that monitor the performance of their members will have a wealth of information on hand as to which individuals are doing well, and which aren’t. The factors that distinguish stand-out performances may be used as a model for helping to improve performance all round, while those indicators of under-achievement can be red flagged as errors to avoid.

These elements may then be combined into training guidelines and interventions, to help keep everyone on track.

Breaking Down Resistance

Organisations need to recognise and counter the factors holding people back from attaining their full potential – such as the fear of appearing ignorant of things they genuinely don’t know, a tendency to stick rigidly to the things they do know, or risking embarrassment due to mistakes or failure.

Promoting Independence

People tend to prefer learning at their own pace – a preference which cuts across all age groups. So opportunities for independent learning, such as access to podcasts, webinars, online courses, and social networks should be provided. To ensure that what’s being learned is of relevance and value to the individual and the organisation, some degree of vetting should be applied – with recommendations given to suit the needs and skills of the individuals, groups, or departments concerned.

Involvement From The Top Down

Learning should be a commitment not only for workers on the shop floor, but for stakeholders at all levels of an organisation. And those in high office should first learn the practice of being approachable, good listeners, and a motivating force for the learning of those that they lead.

Promote A Progressive Mindset

Motivation is key to the “growth mindset”. And facilities and resources should be in place to allow each worker to explore their natural tendency to improve themselves, expand their knowledge, learn from their peers, and contribute to the development of the enterprise.

Recruit And Hire Learners

Human Resources managers and recruiters should be trained to be on the lookout for candidates who exhibit the signs of being good learners. Interviews and assessments should be structured to pinpoint individuals who are highly motivated, willing to take risks, and keen to accept daunting tasks and challenges.

Encourage Questioning And Dissent

Great ideas and innovations have come from spirited debate, questioning, and a willingness to challenge previously accepted ways of doing things. In a learning culture, this attitude should be actively encouraged.

Take A Progressive Attitude To Failure

Mistakes and failures shouldn’t be considered an “all or nothing” affair. Rather, they should be embraced as opportunities to learn more appropriate ways of handling tasks and problems – and as a chance to do something better, next time.

Focus On Teamwork

As people tend to learn more when stimulated by interaction and the knowledge of others, the focus in a learning culture should be on group rather than individual performance. Workers should be assigned to small teams (which fosters interaction and intimacy), which should be set challenging tasks that stimulate creative tension within the group.

Encourage Rigour And Being Organised

Workers should be encouraged to set up timetables for themselves, with “To Do” and check-lists associated with their daily tasks and ongoing projects. They should also be given the opportunity to record and explore their thoughts and feelings (emotional intelligence), and how these impact on their ability to learn and do their jobs.

Provide Tools And Technology

Organisations should give access to the tools and resources necessary for learning on demand – be they connected devices (Bring Your Own Device, or provided by the enterprise), software, or the URLs of web-based tools and platforms.

Appreciate The Way Things Get Done

‘It Ain’t What You Do – It’s The Way That You Do It’ could be the theme tune for learning cultures, generally. In a continuous learning environment, the steps taken along a journey may be as important as the destination itself. So organisations are encouraged to reward performance with an emphasis on how work has been done.

Monitor And Measure

Assessment and performance statistics should be supplemented with data from formal and informal training (online courses taken, completion rates, etc.) – together with feedback gleaned from participants as to how these activities affected their learning goals and job-related objectives.