When asking L&D professionals about the topics they currently have on their roadmap for the upcoming three to five years, one topic stood out. The topic they all reported as critical is: creating a sustainable learning culture that fosters self-induced learning and drives the transformation from operating as a “knowing organization” to a “learning organization.”
A learning organization is one where information, ideas, and challenges are openly shared and worked on collectively. A learning culture is one where learning is deeply rooted in the organization and embedded right across the entire organization. When you think about creating a learning culture, you will have to focus not only on the learning itself but also on the mindset and framework that is needed to build one. Why should organizations and L&D managers, now more than ever, be thinking about developing a learning culture? Let's find out in this blog post.
In the past, organizations relied on the knowledge of their employees. If organizations did not have the knowledge present in their company, they hired someone with that knowledge. But relying on the knowledge set of specific individuals will no longer be enough to stay successful in the future due to challenges such as the War for Talent, the great resignation, and growing skill gaps and shortages. Organizations, therefore, need to focus on the strategic development of people. Just as importantly, they should develop a learning culture that empowers the organization to build skills strategically, helps retain employees, and improves employee satisfaction.
A learning culture is not something that can be implemented overnight, and it requires changes across the whole organization, not just from the L&D department. It is, therefore, no surprise that the L&D functions face several challenges and barriers as drivers of this change.
Creating a thriving learning culture is easier said than done. A recent CIPD survey completed by L&D professionals found the barriers to a successful learning culture to include:
But to tackle the challenges in the world around us, continuous learning and development become increasingly important. Therefore, creating a sustainable, future-proof learning organization needs to become an inherited part of the company's values and culture.
Creating a learning culture spans beyond the pure responsibility of the L&D professionals and needs to include the entire organization, especially the managers and learners. A learning culture is not something that can be tackled with a siloed approach but rather encompasses more of a general topic or mindset change across the entire organization. The learners and managers in the organization need to be the main drivers in establishing this culture if you want to overcome the barriers to creating a thriving learning culture.
Now is the time to develop a sustainable learning culture
To avoid a siloed approach to creating an organizational learning culture it is vital to include the three dimensions (organization, managers, and learners) of a thriving learning culture.
We gathered some best practices by industry leaders to see what can be done on the different layers to enhance a thriving learning culture.
To create a learning culture, you need a solid foundation created at an organizational level. Here are some suggestions on what you can do to set the right footing for your learning culture. In this base layer the Learning and Development department needs to:
Connect learning to business goals: It is important that the learning is anchored in the goals and objectives of the business to be effective. When it is evident, and everyone agrees that learning contributes to the overall business objectives, it becomes a companywide priority. Otherwise, you run the risk that learning will always be dropped from the agenda.
Give autonomy: Give autonomy by giving a designated learning budget to your employees that include time and financial resources for each individual to invest as they need. Firms like Atlassian have given developers twenty percent of their work time to work on something of their own choice. As a result, they have developed astonishing product improvements and features.
Make learning easily accessible: Enrich your L&D tech stack with engaging learner-centric tools like LXP systems. These tools are designed to offer an excellent learner experience instead of an administration-heavy LMS that is not intuitive to navigate. Most importantly, you need to bring learning to your people's workflow. Integrate learning opportunities with your intranet to Slack or Teams channels. Learning activities need to be an integral part of the workday and not something that people specifically need to find. With integrated learning you can also send gentle reminders to employees about learning opportunities through daily feeds.
Think like a marketeer: When you start designing the next training or learning offering for your employees, you need to also think about ways to personalize it. Just like in marketing, learning offerings also need to be tailored to the individual learner’s needs as much as possible. Especially today, with gen z becoming the majority in the labor market, learning needs to become effortless and tailored to their individual needs.
Pro tip: When you are exploring learning possibilities, have a look at some e-commerce sites, as they are experts at tailoring their offers as much as possible to the needs of individual clients. This level of personalization is what L&D should be striving for as well. Often the starting baseline for new learning initiatives still uses a broad competency framework on an LMS. Enriching the competency framework towards a layer of more granular, adaptable skills might help to design more tailored opportunities.
Spread the word: Continuously speak about your offers. This could entail asking employers who are really engaged learners to act as corporate influencers and provide testimonials. They could tell success stories about their learning experience. You could ask the management team and members of the C-level to participate in training and activities. That creates credibility for the offerings and could spark a bit of FOMO. You could even allow people to see what their peers are learning and their set goals.
Become results-obsessed: This goes across two perspectives. When setting up a new L&D initiative, center your thoughts firstly around the learner perspective: What’s in it for them? How does taking time for the learning initiative help them to achieve their goals? Will the learning initiative allow them faster promotion, to excel in their position, change their perspective, help them step outside the box, or develop new skills that make their job easier? People learn best when they feel like they have to learn. Applying learnings to real-world situations strengthens one’s focus and determination to learn.
The second perspective involves value to the organization. Think about the next management presentation and what results would show the real impact learning has on the company.
Possible KPIs to consider are eNPS, retention rates, fluctuation, and promotion speed. Assessing skills and capabilities at the beginning, at the end, and a time after employees partook in certain learning offerings is a good way to track skill development and show the contribution in transforming the workforce.
Make learning fun: Learning is not generally seen as a fun activity, but there are a few things you can do to increase your learner engagement. Modern adaptive learning experiences allow you to hone in on the needs and preferences of the individual for an ultra-personalized learning path. There are also gamification features such as learning points, leaderboards, confetti bombs, and certificates, which will not only help you create a fun experience but also increase learner engagement.
Pro Tip: One of our customers connected learning points to a sustainability goal. For each completed learning point, the company compensated a specific amount of CO2 emissions. This made collected learning points a companywide challenge and boosted learner engagement.
A learning strategy can only be effective when your managers support your vision and initiatives. Getting your leaders on board is crucial as they will play a vital role in setting the stage for a thriving learning culture. Managers need to:
Give guidance: The individual development of employees is a journey whose destination, paths, and detours are determined by the employees desires. Managers should provide support by pointing out possible development paths and linking them to learning opportunities. Individual development goals are initially defined in a dialog between the manager and the employee. They jointly define, prioritize, and plan suitable measures to move from the status quo to the set goal.
Be proactive and a role model: Managers should prioritize their own learning and act as role models. Authenticity is a key driver and makes people follow their example. Managers should think about their own learning opportunities, pursue them and share what they have learned with the team.
Make learning a habit in the team: As manager you can set learning times for the team to either learn something together as a team or to give team members a defined time frame to follow individual learning interests.
Our team at edyoucated have a bi-weekly “What did I learn” format, where different team members share their learnings over the past two weeks”. Curious Lion has a similar approach by hosting weekly office hours for the team to get together and do nothing else but discuss what we’ve learned in the past week. These are reported to be the most popular and productive team meetings they have now. Other successful team learning formats that are easy implemented because they do not require much resources and preparation are Lunch & Learn or Fuck Up Nights.
Activate peer learning. Connect team members with different skill sets to actively learn from each other and bridge individual skill gaps. Because when employees want to learn a new skill, they typically do not want to Google it or refer to your learning management system (LMS) first. An overwhelming 55% of them ask a colleague as their first port of call.
Once you have set your organizational foundation and your managers are on board, you need to focus on your learners. It is they who, in the end, will be the primary consumers of the learning and will greatly impact the success of your learning culture. It takes collaboration and action across all three layers for ultimate success. We have compiled some tips on how to get your learners on board.
Set Goals: Employees should think about the goals they want to reach, such as their ultimate career goals and development goals at their current employer. Once these goals are clear, the development steps required can be derived. These development steps can then be translated into actual learning goals. This brings focus and motivation to the learning journey. It is important for the learner to share these goals with the manager to get the support and guidance needed to reach their goals.
Move from goal to action: Once the goals and focus are clear, learners should set themselves time to reach these learning goals. Before selecting the time, learners should reflect on their preferences and routines. There are a few basic questions to start with. What type of learner am I? Do I prefer learning for a more extended period of time? Do I want to learn with others? Do I prefer micro-learning steps? There are a lot of free online resources that can help learners to find out about individual learning preferences. Once these preferences are clear, learners can look for learning opportunities inside and outside the organization that meet their preferences and learning goals. When learning opportunities are identified, it is time to book an explicit time for learning in their calendar. Sticking to a learning schedule is a surefire way to make learning a habit.
An effective organizational learning culture is key to success in the modern age. Creating this culture involves a shift across all the layers of the organization, both in behavior and how learning is viewed.
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edyoucated is funded by leading research institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).