Today’s business landscape changes at lightning speed and companies need to keep up to stay relevant and profitable. That means continually learning and adopting new technologies, ideas, and strategies. With the ever-faster-changing world that we live in, this need has inspired a movement towards cultures of learning—specifically addressing within a company’s culture the ability and desire to learn and remain adaptable.
“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”Bersin (1)
It’s no longer enough to identify a skill, learn it, and then get a job where you can apply it. As written by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy, “Technology is changing so rapidly that we can’t actually anticipate which skills we’ll need next” (2). And don’t get sucked into the idea that changing technology only applies to technology-related fields—it’s everywhere. Every industry is changing faster than it has previously.
So how do you get there?
First, change your attitude. You must embrace the fact that learning is part of the job, any job. As Kevin Griffin, CIO of GE Capital, says, “Learning cannot be an afterthought—it must be a core focus of any strong organization” (3). It should be part of every job description. It’s the difference between sporadic workshops or learning events and expecting employees to learn by doing on every project by diving in and asking questions.
Second, redirect your investment. Most companies of any considerable size seem to know that they need to spend money on training and continual learning. The question then becomes how much to spend and on what specifically. The question of “how much” should be guided by the attitude shift mentioned above. But what kind of training?
According to David Grebow, Founder of IBM Institute for Advanced Learning, companies spend most of their training budgets on formal training, but 75% or more of what we use on our jobs is not learned through formal training—so we’re putting our money in the wrong place (1). People prefer to learn at their own direction rather than being told what to learn, and they learn more from self-directed learning, too. So the financial investment should support an employee’s chosen learning strategies, not create opportunities that someone else thinks the employees want or need.
If you’re thinking, “But then how do I know people will learn what will benefit the company?,” consider this: In fostering a learning culture, it doesn’t matter what people learn, just that they learn something. The learning culture itself then becomes beneficial to the company as a whole—so you don’t need to spend time worrying about what people are learning. That’s the whole idea behind autonomy, right?
Third, make it happen. Your mission, strategy, and objectives all need to take this goal of a learning culture into consideration. It must be a core value of your organization.
Learning by doing works best when failure is okay and mistakes are understood to be part of the process. In other words, the best continual learners are risk-takers. Embrace mistakes for the courage and curiosity that led to them. That means having a specific process for acknowledging them in a positive way. An excerpt from the previously linked blog post:
“When a new idea goes south, conduct a blameless post-mortem on what happened. Dissect the steps that were taken, why they didn’t work out as expected, and be sure to disseminate the findings.”
Incorporate your learning culture into hiring practices as well. While interviewing prospective employees, ask them to describe something they learned on a previous job outside of formal training. The answers will quickly highlight the prospects that like to learn and are ready to jump in with an open mind. Hire them.
Lastly, you have to make time for learning. Unreasonable deadlines or a cutthroat approach to performance evaluation will kill a learning culture. Replace them with collaborative scheduling and trust.. Establish an environment where your team members feel they can easily explain what they’ve learned, whether from a failure or a success. When an employee feels trusted and safe, that’s when the learning is most likely to kick in.
The best part about learning cultures is that once you’ve established one, it perpetuates itself. You’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily your teams will adapt to new technologies, new strategies, and new ideas—and how the commitment to learning will spread through your teams.
Have you started to specifically work towards a learning culture within your company? Or have you noticed others taking steps to do so? What are your thoughts on how best to get there? Please share them below in the comments.
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