Albert Einstein once said: “The day you stop learning is the day you die.” A bit morbid, perhaps, but these are certainly words to live by. It’s true, too, that the learning process never ends, and this has never been more relevant to working life than it is in today’s rapidly-changing business environment. Advances in technology, along with the changing demographic of working Americans, are just two of the factors that are having a profound impact on American businesses.
Let’s start with “why?” Why a learning culture? What’s the benefit? Here are a few:
- Increases efficiency
- Increases employee satisfaction
- Decreases turnover
- Instills a sense of ownership
- Facilitates succession/transition
So, what should you do first?
Define the learning behaviors you want, as well as the behaviors you don’t, then design your culture to produce the desired results. For instance, if it’s important to you that your people feel free to challenge the status quo and be candid with their colleagues at all levels, you must teach them how to do that. Associates must be trained to believe that their opinions are valid, valuable, and always welcome. A good place to start is with yourself, encouraging your employees to challenge you without fear of a defensive or dismissive response.
Model and promote the belief that every employee is encouraged to better themselves by improving their knowledge, skills and abilities. They need to understand that learning and experimenting are not just expected but celebrated, and that learning opportunities go beyond formalized training. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is a proverb to be embraced by all team members. The knowledge and skills learned and applied by one employee improves the workplace or community for all.
Get buy-in throughout the organization, from the top down. While learning cultures start at the top, every associate must embrace the initiative. Managers, in particular, can be reluctant, as learning can be viewed as taking time away from “doing real work.” Make sure your managers see skills development as a benefit – although perhaps not an immediate one – by making their team members stronger contributors. An executive might ask, “What if we invest in an employee’s education and they leave?” The more sobering question is, “What if you don’t and they stay?”
Continuously reinforce the importance of these new skills and abilities, as well as integrate their learned lessons so that associates see: 1) the value that learning offers to him/herself as well as the organization and 2) the connection between each of the skills being applied. Only then can they become behaviors.
It’s not enough to announce your program in an e-newsletter or tweet and then rely on employees to embrace. Leaders must actively merchandise/evangelize their learning culture, promote educational opportunities, share their philosophy around learning, and encourage managers to talk up training and development opportunities.
Get feedback through employee engagement surveys. Over time, you should begin to see improvement in answers about employee development and learning. In addition, by conducting ongoing curriculum-specific surveys you’ll better understand, and address, the needs of your changing organization. Also, don’t forget to assess how employees are responding to your approach, and not just the results of your learning initiatives. Are they taking advantage of the learning opportunities you’re offering? You’ll quickly know what’s working… and what isn’t.
Transform knowledge and information sharing into a formal process. Your employees will be more open to sharing knowledge if it’s required that they do so. Required monthly meetings to debrief on recent training, for instance, may be painful at first, but over time become second nature and then, a learned behavior.
Developing a learning culture doesn’t have to be wishful thinking. It’s a process that can gain momentum and increase employee engagement, as well as company effectiveness. Is your company ready to give up compartmentalized attitudes for an open culture of trust and inquiry? Are you ready to unlearn competition among groups and individuals, and replace it with cooperation, openness, trust, and dialogue? If so, your organization may be ready for a learning culture.