How can you become a learning organisation?

It’s no secret that knowledge is one of many organisation’s greatest assets and the risk is that when employees leave they take their knowledge with them. And what’s more, people leave when their organisation doesn’t provide opportunities to increase knowledge and develop new skills. Prioritising learning offers great rewards both to individual employees but also to the organisation and its shareholders but it takes consistent time and effort to change mindsets and fully embed a culture of learning.

What do we mean by a learning culture?

Training is important but becoming a learning organisation involves more than providing a calendar of training events for employees. Organisations with a strong learning culture ensure that learning is embedded in its values, practices and processes from the top down. Employees are encouraged to develop and share their knowledge and competence and it is recognised that continuous learning improves performance and make the difference when it comes to delivering on strategy.

How will a learning culture improve your organisation?

Creating a learning culture offers multiple benefits including:

  • You will be better equipped to attract, retain and promote the right talent
  • Employee engagement and motivation will increase as people feel valued and there is investment in their long-term career with the organisation
  • A culture of continuous improvement comes hand in hand with a culture of learning
  • Employees develop the knowledge and skills to adapt to change and uncertainty
  • Efficiency and performance improve

The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable source of competitive advantage.

Peter Senge

Practical steps for creating a learning culture in your organisation

Recruitment

Opportunities for learning and development are a key factor for many professionals when making their next move. Make sure that learning opportunities are clearly explained in your recruitment materials and at the interview stage, and that learning forms an important strand in your on boarding process. Look for candidates who value continuous learning and demonstrate a curiosity for learning.

Right content, right time

For learning to be effective, content needs to be available at the right time and in the right format.  Find out not only what your teams need to learn but also how they prefer to learn in order to help you to provide the right blend of face-to-face workshops, webinars, video content and online resources. On-demand learning can empower employees to grow by directing their own learning.

Reinforce formal learning

If someone in your team attends an external training event, ask them to send a short email to the rest of the team sharing their key takeaways and how it will benefit the team or better still ask them to present the key messages during the next team meeting. If the team attends training together, make follow up check-ins part of your team meetings or one-to-ones. Are team members following up on commitments they made or action plan steps? Are they using what they learnt? What knowledge gaps do they still have?

Promote informal learning

Encourage employees to share their expertise with each other and create an environment where supporting and learning from each other is the norm. This starts by making sure that they know about each other’s strengths beyond the limits of their job descriptions. For example, keep a log of who speaks other languages, has great editing skills or is an Excel wizard. Share interesting online resources and encourage others to do the same and create forums for employees to learn from each other.

Recognise and reward learning

Celebrate learning and share success when employees have developed new skills or acquired formal qualifications. And encourage employees to deliver team training sessions themselves.  Where possible, allow employees time out of their working day for learning and create a climate where training sessions are not interrupted, and employees can focus on their learning without the distractions of their business. Learning should be a formal part of the performance review so that employees can reflect on new skills acquired, how they’ve challenged themselves and overall lessons learnt.

Learn from mistakes

At the heart of a learning culture is the willingness to learn and grow from mistakes. Creating an environment where it is safe to take risks and failure is seen as an opportunity to learn is crucial.  Where possible, give people the freedom to experiment and  learn through trial and error. Make after-action-reviews an integral part of your process and whether it’s a large scale project, a client pitch or a new process implementation give teams the opportunity to sit down together and review what went well and lessons learnt.

Commitment from the top

Finally, for any cultural change to be effective it needs to be reinforced and supported from the top.  Demonstrate clear links between learning and development and the vision and strategy of the company.  Encourage senior leadership to support and participate in new learning initiatives and to recognise employees who have committed time and energy to their professional development.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

John F Kennedy
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