Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival. ~ W. Edwards Deming
It’s no secret that a company planning to beat competition by focusing on perfecting its current product or service runs the risk of falling behind in the marketplace. Changes taking place in our world, how we live, are occurring at an unprecedented rate, driving constant evolution in customer expectations. Business survival may depend on the ability to deliver a quality product today while identifying and responding creatively and quickly to shifting needs and wants of consumers.
Organizations with a strong learning culture develop an agile workforce capable of meeting this challenge. Their fostering of an open mindset, where thinking about “what’s next” is embedded in the values of the company, creates an atmosphere where workers are eager to share knowledge, and learn and apply their learning toward achieving business goals.
Learning Culture and Technology
Building a learning culture is not just about encouraging employees to learn and share knowledge; it requires understanding how people learn today. While organizational learning was about enrolling participants in scheduled classes and seminars, advances in technology have led to an explosion of learning through social media and the Internet, changing learner expectations for flexibility and choice. This doesn’t mean that all content is best delivered online, or that all learning should be optional. But, give workers more control over their own development through access to online courses, webinars and social networks, and they’ll continue to be motivated and engaged in the learning process.
Do you have a true learning culture? Creating one involves ongoing support for active and independent learning. Here are some suggestions to consider if you want to build or enhance this mindset within the workplace.
Make it ‘safe’ to share ideas. Feeling free to discuss ideas and issues outside of formal reporting lines creates an environment of trust. Reinforce that trust by favoring independent reasoning over conformist groupthink. When employees are not afraid to speak up and share thoughts and dissenting points of view, teams are more likely to arrive at productive, creative solutions.
Give team assignments that stretch current abilities. People tend to learn more when supported by others so recognize and reward teams rather than individual achievement, when appropriate. Small teams are typically better for learning as they retain the interactions and intimacy that can be lost as an organization grows in size and complexity. However, be on the lookout for silos as they will block collaboration and the sharing of knowledge required to sustain the learning culture.
Communicate organizational commitment. Leadership at every level needs to consistently demonstrate that the company values critical thinking, the desire to learn and grow, and the ability to collaborate effectively to meet business objectives. Leaders must model this behavior and hold managers accountable for learning within their work groups.
Hire candidates with an inclination for ongoing learning. Look for people who have the intrinsic motivation to take on a challenge, who like figuring out what needs to be done, finding a way to do it and completing the task on their own. New hires able to seek information and knowledge independently will readily embrace your learning culture and will be able to contribute quickly and effectively to the organization.
Teach how to get the most out of learning opportunities. Employees should see every relationship and interaction as a chance to expand their knowledge or share what they’ve learned. For each skill-development or knowledge course completed, encourage them to reflect on the learning, apply it to their job and pass it along to others.
Reward successful outcomes. Recognize and celebrate changes in job performance resulting from self-directed learning efforts. Whether recognition is done in public or in private, the employee should understand management’s appreciation of their initiative, reinforcing the value of learning within the company.
Tips to help managers grow the learning culture within work groups
- Set the expectation for managers to respond to learning and growth opportunities for employees with enthusiasm and discussion of how to integrate the opportunities into the workflow. Root out perceptions of learning as a disruptive, poor use of time.
- Have managers hold employees responsible for their own just-in-time learning. Managers need to give learners access to resources and provide guidance for when they can participate in learning during work time. Managers also need to clarify that their role is to coach, not teach the employee everything they need to know. Employees don’t need hand-holding but they do need the manager to check in and provide additional support or guidance as needed.
- Encourage managers to lead by example, sharing books, articles, websites or videos they find helpful or thought-provoking, and following up with group discussions at team meetings.
These suggestions can help you begin changing perceptions of learning in your company or energize an existing learning mindset. In either case, building a strong learning culture can only benefit your business. It creates an environment where employees feel they can learn and grow – a key factor in attracting and retaining motivated, results-oriented talent. As a driver of creativity and innovation throughout the workplace, it will give your company the agility it needs to be competitive in today’s markets.