Why Building a Strong Learning Culture Can’t Wait Until 2017

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Humans naturally tend towards learning. We will do so almost subconsciously.  Consider a child picking up the accent of their parents, or learning a song without ever looking up the lyrics.

At the workplace, the learning culture consists of the expectations, rhetoric, and support that determine whether and how individuals learn. Whether  your organization is deliberately building a learning culture or not, some sort of culture already exists among your workforce.

Learning Culture Already Exists

Your current learning culture may be beneficial to the organization—employees seeking out opportunities to learn work-related skills and knowledge and sharing this knowledge with newcomers. It can also be detrimental to the organization. Employees may be learning about new memes and sharing kitten gifs instead of work-related topics, or absorbing ways to avoid leaning into organizational change instead of participating. What’s even more frightening? They could be teaching these undesirable habits to new hires and rising employee leadership, further encouraging a poor culture.

Learning culture—good or bad—exists at your organization already, so the decision to “build one later” could be actively contributing to a weak one currently. It is vital to invest in building the right kind of culture starting today. One that supports the goals of the company and promotes a satisfied and engaged workforce.

Research Backs Strong Learning Culture Benefits

Organizations that cultivate a strong learning culture where employees are intrinsically motivated to continuously learn and share their knowledge outperform peer companies in a variety of key factors.

According to a 2010 Bersin by Deloitte study, these organizations have a 37% greater employee productivity, and are 17% more likely to be market share leaders.

Translation: a stronger learning culture leads to better business results.

It can also lead to higher engagement. American Express, an organization that has won awards for their strives in building a strong learning culture, regularly conducts pulse surveys to measure employee learning and engagement. Consistently, they found employees who are constantly learning are happier, and more engaged. With happier employees, a focused investment in a company’s learning culture could save employers substantially in employee turnover costs.

Constructing an Intentional Learning Culture

But how do you do it? A magic snap of the fingers will not get the job done. Building a strong learning culture is a deliberate endeavor that ought to be approached through several strategies working in tandem.

Encourage a Little Employee-first Prioritization

Like many endeavors that are intended to affect broader change, it is powerful to start with the individual. Encouraging employees to reserve time in their schedule to learn new skills or new perspectives is the cornerstone of building learning culture. Empower reflection and discussion on how this affects an employee’s work day and ability to navigate change both personally and professionally. When people are bought into the concept through personal experience, they’ll be more powerful advocates with others in the organization.

Build Leadership Buy-in

Rarely is the mission statement of any organization “to develop and grow its employees”. At least not solely. Leadership across the organization is focused on producing business results, and these priorities inform day to day activities of the employee population. So the reason to care must be built organically. Getting leadership explicitly bought into the importance of learning culture by speaking about it in meetings, tracking related KPIs—such as turnover, engagement, bench strength, and diversity—leading by example, and publicly recognizing those that do invest in it is a huge step towards strengthening learning culture.

Promote at the Grassroots Level

Sometimes, organizational leaders can be hard to reach. As you’re working your way from the top down, you can also plant seeds at the ground level. Find pockets within your organization where a team or department has developed or wants to develop a strong learning culture, and socialize the positive effects this has had or can have on that group. Recognizing people within an organization who can help champion the strategy can create a greater buzz within the workplace.

By investing in building a strong learning culture within an organization, you can harness the power of a workforce operating at its best. Encouraging and rewarding people for prioritizing their own development builds both an engaged workforce that wants to meet today’s organizational goals, and prepares employees to navigate the challenges that await in the future.

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