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All About The Learning Culture: What is the true Culture of Learning, why is it important for organisations, and most importantly: how to create it?

Recent studies have shown the importance of promoting learning culture in the workplace. In fact, 80% of CEOs interviewed for the study have identified the development of new skills as their biggest business challenge at the moment. In this article, we will explore what a learning culture really is, why it is crucial for long-term success, how it benefits both employees and organisations, and how it fosters innovation. Let’s get started!

Written with love by: Suzanne Pilch, ICF Certified Coach & MPEC Partner

What is a Learning Culture?

In a professional learning culture, team members have time and space to continue expanding their knowledge and developing new skills. Learning is focused on improving employee performance and supporting personal and professional growth.

The study “Building a Learning Culture,” published by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), provides an interesting insight into the essential elements that make up a culture of learning.

According to the authors, one of the key characteristics of a learning culture is the alignment between business strategies and professional development through training. Of course, it is necessary to have qualified staff to manage the training, a dedicated budget that adequately meets the learning needs of the organisation, and a clear focus on talent development, not just talent acquisition.

The evidence confirms what we already suspected. A company with a strong learning culture must also have a mission, a vision, and shared values that align and support the development needs of the employees. Leaders play a vital role in creating a learning culture, but providing them and their teams with training opportunities is simply not enough. We must inspire team members to make learning a priority in their personal development strategy.

In setting the foundations for a learning culture, Matthew Smith, Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey & Company, states: “Like many things, it starts at the top and it starts with a CEO or senior leader who genuinely values learning and talks about it very actively.” So let’s see what are the necessary ingredients for setting up the learning culture in our team?

What Are the Key Factors When Building a Real Learning Culture?

Integral Feedback. It is crucial for employees to receive regular feedback on their performance and have a clear understanding of how they can advance in their roles. Rather than relying on a rigid performance cycle, feedback should be incorporated into everyday conversations among colleagues. The concept of feedforward can be a useful tool in soliciting ideas and insights from others to support personal growth and development. It is essential to create a culture where providing and receiving feedback is a daily ritual, including peer-to-peer and upward feedback via techniques such as reverse mentoring, which allows leaders to model a commitment to learning by learning from their teams..

Curiosity Won’t Kill The Cat – not this one, at least!. Encourage Curiosity. Attract individuals who demonstrate a genuine interest in personal growth and development. Setting a high recruitment bar can ensure that new hires bring in valuable skills and knowledge to share with their colleagues. When recruiting, look for individuals who possess humility, a trait that is important for fostering a learning culture. You want employees who do not see knowledge as power but are eager to learn from others and share their own knowledge. Building others’ skills and knowledge benefits the entire organisation. As a leader, challenge yourself to model a learning culture, and promote opportunities for cross-grade training to help build relationships across the company. Research indicates that people learn best from experience and from each other, rather than formal training. Offer coaching, mentoring, and buddying to support continuous learning.

Reward Learning. Recognise and reward employees who invest in their personal growth and development. Provide clear career paths, regular feedback, and ongoing development opportunities. Leaders play a significant role in creating a learning culture, as their behaviour sets the tone for the organisation. It is important to not only talk about the value of learning but to also demonstrate it in interactions with others. By making learning a core part of the employee value proposition, you will attract employees who are eager to learn and grow, and this commitment to learning will become self-perpetuating throughout the organisation.

Learn from Mistakes, I’ll say more: Celebrate The Learning Potential Mistakes Have! Create a culture of openness and transparency that encourages employees to learn from their mistakes. Avoid punishing employees for errors, and instead, help them to learn from the experience and share their insights with others. This helps to prevent others from making similar mistakes, which can be costly to the business. Share examples of successful learning experiences and recognise those who are making a commitment to personal and organizational growth. Simple techniques, such as holding regular meetings where team members share their wins, learns, and changes they would make next time, can help to build a feedback loop mentality and foster continuous improvement.

Make sure the reward for training is a cascade. Reward employees who develop and invest in their training. Provide them with a clear growth path, regular feedback, and ongoing development opportunities. What leaders in the organisation say is important, and even more important is how they act, as it spreads and becomes learned behaviour. Are you demonstrating the value of training in your interactions with others? Do your employees understand what is meant by a learning culture? Demonstrating your investment in training and making it an integral part of your employee value proposition will ensure that you attract those who are eager to learn, and this, in turn, will self-perpetuate throughout the organisation.

Celebrate diversity because “If you think like everyone else, then you’re not thinking.” We should appreciate the need for different styles in training and development, through differentiated offerings. Encourage the development of career plans and make sure that learning opportunities are necessary for progression. What works for one individual will not necessarily work for others, and there are specialised tools and resources to help people understand their preferred ways of working. Give people the opportunity to drive their own learning and develop their own learning path. Diversity can be provided in training programs through various means, including online videos, structured training, qualifications, and interactive out-of-the-box training (such as team building, English workshops, company Olympics, etc.).

We know that there is no immediate solution or ready-made fix when it comes to instilling a culture of learning. It takes time and effort to realize the benefits of both enabling and equipping people to be their best. The value that this creates in terms of goodwill and how it ultimately impacts the bottom line will become more and more of a competitive advantage.

If you don’t know how to start creating a culture of training in your organisation, contact Suzanne Pilch and Ed Tyrrell, ICF-certified coaches and partners at MPEC.

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