Does Your Company Really Have a Learning Culture?

What is a learning culture and how do you leverage the opportunities it presents to maximize competitiveness and productivity? All companies have a learning culture, whether they acknowledge it or not, and the question becomes what kind of learning culture do you want?

In the small to mid-market enterprise sector, we believe that learning culture, and the Learning Management that supports it, is where innovation and creativity lives, regardless of the size of the organization. It’s how the organization expands its capabilities as a result of the accumulated know-how and know-what of its people and how that gets shared for the benefit of the organization, its customers, and the stakeholders it serves.

Why is this important? Without active and intentional learning your people and organization will stagnate pretty quickly, resulting in lost productivity, and ultimately lead to significant negative impacts to the bottom line. The more learning is alive and well in your business, the stronger your learning culture will be. Let’s look at its components, and how they can work together to advance with the growth of your business.

Most organizations offer their employees and managers some sort of compliance training, which can be considered ground zero for learning. It’s compliance after all, and making sure this training takes place ensures the organization is covering the regulations and requirements it needs to be in the business it is in. For example, accountants and lawyers and other professionals who work in a regulated environment are required to take a determined amount of professional training every year to maintain their license or designation. Most organizations deliver on this minimum, and its informational learning more than anything.

An extension of compliance training is what we call training essentials – the internal training that’s delivered to teach new hires and staff about the tools, processes and systems that are job or company specific. Typically companies invest in some of this during the onboarding of new hires, and too often leave it at that. Companies who realize the value of ongoing training ensure everyone gets periodic refreshers, or participates in full training any time a new process is launched or a new system is rolled out.

Companies who invest time and money at the next level, that of facilitated learning, take learning to higher levels in order to build on employees’ skills through targeted programs and initiatives. These are often tied to leader and manager development, or for other specific soft skills learning such as negotiating, conflict management, or business skills like strategic planning or financial management. Senior leaders recognize that this skill development is required for business success. Learning investments are valued and people are encouraged to take the time they need to get this development. What differentiates this learning is that it’s event-driven, so people take time away from their normal routines to participate. Often they are required to share key learnings with their team by way of follow-up. Facilitated learning will always have a place because it offers individuals a chance to focus solely on the topic or skill being explored and gives them the space to integrate new concepts and understanding. Importantly, it provides a setting where interacting with others helps reinforce new ideas and provides the forum for talking through the challenge of expanding one’s expertise.

A continuous learning culture is really the zenith, because it occurs in the real-time experiences people have at work every day. In a culture of continuous learning, learning comes from experience, and when individuals are put into situations that are first time for them, or actively seek out new challenges and opportunities, continuous learning takes hold. It’s estimated that 70% of workplace learning comes from experience. The most vibrant learning cultures ensure that this learning is conscious – that learning moments are captured and acknowledged by managers as they occur, that individuals are given the opportunity and are expected to talk through what they are learning from successes, setbacks, and failures. It’s also estimated that 20% of workplace learning comes from what we learn from others – peers, subject matter experts, mentors, even customers and vendors and what we teach them. Learning from experience and learning from others can be further enhanced through educational videos, reading articles and books, listening to podcasts, Ted Talks and the like.

What kind of learning culture does your organization have?  If innovation and the successful launch of new products and services are driving your business forward, your organization has many opportunities to make Learning Management a strategic activity. In that environment, people can be “learning conscious”, actively learning and sharing with others, and supporting their experience with many forms of facilitated learning. Given that many technical skills one acquires today are obsolete within two years, every organization must become a learning organization. Besides, your new hires – and younger workers in particular – expect to continue learning in real-time throughout their careers, and will leave if they don’t find that kind of robust culture in your workplace.