Eric Duffy

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3 min read

The Real Recipe for Building a Culture of Learning

Articles L&D Talent Management

There is a theme in the HR industry that has received a lot of attention in recent years – building a “culture of learning.” Josh Bersin defines this idea as the “set of values, conventions, processes, and practices that influence and encourage continuous learning.”

Research from the same firm notes that organizations with strong learning cultures are 17% more likely than their peers to be market leaders because employees are continuously developing new skills. It seems self-evident that organizations would want to build cultures of learning, but what is more a mystery is another question – “how do you achieve this?”

In my experience working closely with top L&D departments from around the country and across industries, I’ve observed three key drivers of this culture – true, honest buy-in at all levels of the organization, the right resources, and the ability to share your expertise. Indeed, the marriage of these three things can dramatically shift the paradigm for organizational learning cultures. You might be tempted to ask, “So if it’s this simple, why doesn’t everyone have a culture of learning already?” Well, it’s because achieving this takes thoughtful consideration and the right strategy to support. Let’s dive in.

True, honest buy-in

First and foremost, to build a culture of learning, you need sincere buy-in at every level of the organization. It’s wonderful that your CEO made a mention of learning on the last quarterly call, but unless this philosophy trickles down and is supported by managers across all functions, you’re not really there yet.

So what does this mean in practice? It means that if one of your engineering managers sees a direct report taking a Pluralsight course on the latest programming language during normal business hours, that behavior is supported and not discouraged. In fact, that behavior is considered just as valuable as, say, meeting the next project sprint deadline. It means that the head of your sales department requires all salespeople to take one afternoon a month to drop everything and learn, and leads by example.

I often hear that companies try to push learning but are unsuccessful. In my opinion, unless learning is seen as a truly valuable and legitimate business activity by senior leaders and managers of people – one that stands to make teams and entire organizations more productive and effective – you simply can’t build a true culture of learning.

The right resources

So once you’ve got the buy-in, now what? It seems obvious, but it’s critically important to focus on providing and curating the best and most relevant learning content. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to take here.

For example, let’s say your retail company is mostly made up of marketing professionals. Most of the marketing personnel have years of experience in print advertising. However, your retail company plans to move 90% of the business to e-commerce by 2018. In this case, it’s hugely important for the longevity of the business that your marketing professionals have access to a wealth of resources on digital marketing.

Consider another scenario in which providing content actually has a negative impact on the learning culture. Let’s say the sales department just made a big push to acquire licenses to a content vendor for every single salesperson, but feedback from the ground level quickly reveals that the content is outdated and the UI is too frustrating to bear. In just a short amount of time, you’ve actually discouraged your workforce from voluntarily pursuing learning by connecting them with the wrong materials.

The ability to share your expertise

Of course, it’s important to consider the world in which we live today. Digital drives everything and real-time relevance is important. That’s why once you have the right resources and the culture to support taking advantage of them, it’s vital to give your employees a mechanism to share their expertise via learning resources. This can help ensure your culture of learning actually scales across the organization, which is particularly important at large multinational enterprises. Your culture of learning can go viral.

Categories: Articles L&D Talent Management

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