Creating a Learning Organization: How to Foster a Learning Culture
In our previous article, we established why workplace culture is important, explained how fostering a learning culture benefits your company, and provided several different tools you can use to conduct a learning culture assessment in your organization. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at specific actions you can take to transform your company into a learning organization. If you paid attention to the various descriptors contained in the assessment instruments, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s involved in creating a solid learning organization.
Here are some concrete steps to consider:
Model the Learning Organization at the Top
Leadership plays a key role in establishing a learning organization, so the c-suite needs to not only be on board, but also needs to model what it means to embrace a learning culture wholeheartedly.
Enlist Key People Throughout the Organization
Besides top leadership involvement, you’ll need key people throughout the entire organization to be on board acting as internal champions for what could turn out to be a major organizational change effort. Adopt and implement one of the many change models out there to help you with this, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change.
Define Clear Objectives with End Results
If you used one or more of the learning culture assessment tools, you have a fairly clear picture of what areas need significant attention and effort. Use those results to formulate clear objectives. Use SMART criteria to keep these objectives Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Encourage Employee Empowerment
Keep your focus on giving employees opportunities to develop and grow. Don’t forget the benefits that will come to them and your company – increased productivity and profitability while finding greater meaning and satisfaction in the workplace. Rather than a “forced march” approach to learning and training, ask employees what they think they need and want to learn. You will be pleasantly surprised at the relevant suggestions you get. You may also need to keep an open mind if an idea’s relevancy is not immediately clear to you. Make it clear that new ideas from employees are both welcome and expected. Another aspect of empowerment comes by properly recognizing good learning among employees.
Remove the Barriers to Learning
The learning culture assessment you conducted might have revealed some significant anti-learning elements in your company. This is where a wise adage certainly applies: Old habits die hard. Because we are creatures of habit, any anti-learning elements in your company culture are likely to be deeply ingrained. It may take some time to deliberately unlearn the collection of informal and formal processes, systems, and attitudes that act as barriers to a more positive culture of learning.
Make Time for Reflection
One of the keys to fostering a learning culture and creating a learning organization is making sure everyone has time to reflect about each learning experience, whether it’s a step in the change process, a particular learning program, or significant events in the life of the company. Also keep in mind that it there can be a lag time between learning something and being able to apply it on the job.
Continuous Two-Way Feedback
Employees need to know where they’re at in terms of learning culture expectations, which means managers and supervisors need to be doing check-ins with them on a frequent basis (not just the usual once-or-twice-a-year performance review). By the same token, the employees themselves should have many opportunities to provide their feedback about specific learning experiences as well as the overall change effort towards a learning organization. When they perceive that their input is valued, they will have much greater buy-in and commitment to the process.
Sharing is Caring
The key to spreading an emerging learning culture throughout the company so it “sticks” and leads to the establishment of a learning organization is to encourage knowledge sharing. This is where your top performers and learners need to share their knowledge success with their coworkers. As they do this, they will undoubtedly pick up a few new things themselves from the people with whom they share. This creates a virtuous cycle of everyone supporting each other to develop and grow together. One way to formalize this process is through peer coaching and mentoring. See if your learning management system allows this kind of capability.
Accepting Mistakes and the “F” Word (Failure)
One of the most important elements in fostering a learning culture and creating a learning organization is the attitude you encourage around mistakes and failures. In far too many organizations, failure and mistakes are seen as unacceptable and something to be avoided at all cost, which can create a toxic work environment full of debilitating fear. What you’re aiming for is a culture where people feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and encounter failure. When these occur, they can be seen as learning opportunities – mere bumps on the road to success. Open discussion in a safe environment is the key to learning from mistakes and failures.
Break Down Silos with Cross-Functional Communication
One of the biggest “wet blanket” effects on learning culture is when different teams become isolated and compartmentalized within their department or functional business unit. If things have become fragmented into silos in your company, you have to take very deliberate actions to create opportunities for cross-functional interactions, creating time and space to make it happen.
Promote from Within
As your learning culture strengthens, you should have an increasing number of employees who are developing in ways that prepare them for bigger roles in the company. When employees see that embracing such learning opportunities makes them more eligible for promotion, the pace of change towards a learning organization will undoubtedly pick up steam.
This collection of actionable insights in fostering a learning culture and creating a learning culture is not meant to be exhaustive. It is a starting point to get your company heading in the right direction. As you engage the change process, you will likely uncover several more actions to move your company forward.