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The Woodshed

Fostering a culture of learning: How & Why?

Companies with a strong culture place learning front and centre in their consideration of values, mission, and overall strategy. Learning increases an organisation’s resilience by building a workforce that is confident in living through change and growing own skills and competencies. Companies with this culture are sensitive to changes in their environment, while being able to transform insights from external sources and to internal benefits.

Why is it important?

For an organisation to grow, its people need to grow. Companies that recognise and address this are proven to be more successful – research conducted by IBM shows that 84% of employees working for the best-performing organisations are getting the training they need, whereas for the worst performing this figure is only 16%.

For employees, the benefits are numerous. Research from LinkedIn shows employees that are actively learning have increased job satisfaction and have lower levels of stress. They feel more productive, more successful and are more likely to take on additional responsibility. They also feel more confident and are happier.

Team Topologies identifies the team as the primary source of delivering value within a company. Effective teams enable “fast flow” which means faster delivery of value to end customers. It is important that teams have everything they need to deliver a product or service from end-to-end, which means building autonomous and cross-functional teams. A learning culture is vital to facilitate this, as teams need to be able to adapt to changes and new ways of working. Teams are more effective when they have built trust. This takes time and effort, which means it is often preferable to upskill existing members of teams rather than look outside the organization. The current job market means that finding these skills elsewhere frequently isn’t even an option.

A learning culture helps maintain a competitive edge by leveraging and mastering emerging technologies while creating fresh, innovative solutions. There have been fundamental changes to the way people work such as remote working which are opening many more career opportunities for people. The opportunity to learn and grow is a significant factor for people when making decisions about their career.

Facing challenges

People understand the benefits of learning, but there are challenges in implementation. Time is a major factor. Other tasks, those with high priority, can get in the way. More established employees can become comfortable in their roles. In the absence of any other encouraging factors to learn, have very little incentive to pick up new skills. Maintaining a culture takes time and effort to implement and adoption the right mindset.

There are many ways for a company to address this challenge. For example, learning can be made a core expectation of all employees and become part of performance reviews and one-to-one talks. These can be used to understand employees’ career ambitions and develop personalised learning schemes.

Learning can be a day-one priority for new employees through a structured and effective onboarding process, focused on the acquisition of new skills. Leaders can set an example and invest their own development. They could be encouraged to become coaches or mentors, even creating learning content for others.

Research shows that 83% of online learning happens during office hours. Individuals should set aside regular time for learning, blocking out slots in their calendar. Employees can be given access to learning resources designed to fit into the normal flow of work. There’s also micro-learning which provides learning as part of a daily flow of work with short and focused bursts of focused training relevant to individual’s needs. This can be combined with larger, macro-learning, of longer courses taken at important career junctures.

Learning should be recognised and rewarded. Learning champions can be identified and encouraged to share how they are using new knowledge and skills to become better at their job.Teams can be empowered to take ownership of learning and development of their own members, encouraging them to experiment with different learning methods. Learning games, apprenticeships, job rotation, shadowing, conferences, and creation of individual development plans are but a few possibilities teams could pursue.

The culture of learning needs to become second nature for organisations. Companies will benefit even from challenging experiences. Problems can trigger reflection and growth, which helps avoid conflict and prevent future occurrences.

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