Learning Culture Assessment at Your Company

In my last couple articles, I’ve established the importance of paying attention to workplace culture, and more specifically the benefits of fostering a learning culture in the workplace. If the general reaction among your employees when it comes to training and learning consists of yawns and eye-rolling, you’ve got some work to do to foster a learning culture at your company. But before adopting any specific strategies or tactics, you need to get a more thorough picture of what lays ahead by doing a thorough learning culture assessment at your company.

Understand from the outset that trying to do a learning culture assessment from the inside of your company is a tricky proposition. After all, you’re in the thick of it. But if you make yourself aware of that fact and consciously look at the organization with fresh eyes, you should be okay. If it helps, pretend you’re an outsider coming in to do a kind of anthropological study of this particular culture.

The good news is that you don’t have to invent your own unique learning culture assessment tool. Here are a few different instruments that have been developed to help organizations assess their learning culture. If one of them feels like a good fit to you, feel free to use it (or try them all):

Learning Culture Assessment. Developed by consulting group Learning to be Great, this is a simple online survey consisting of 20 statements that describe the kinds of behaviors you should see if you have a strong, positive learning culture. You just have to choose which of five responses best captures the extent to which the state is true for your organization. You’ll get a report emailed to you with the results, as well as a comparison to everyone else who has taken the survey.

Learning Culture Audit. Marcia Conner is an organizational learning culture guru and consultant who developed her own instrument that consists of two columns of 13 variables. In the left-hand column are those indicative of a pro-learning culture and in the right-hand column are those indicative of an anti-learning culture. The interesting thing is that you have to give a scores for both columns, and then your column totals tell you which way your company leans overall.

Learning Organization Survey. This one was developed by three Harvard Business School professors: David Garvin, Amy Edmondson, and Francesca Gino. It was made widely available through a 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review: Is Yours a Learning Organization? They built their survey tool around what they saw as the three main building blocks of a learning organization: 1) A supportive learning environment (including psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas, and time for reflection); 2) Concrete learning processes and practices (as opposed to a haphazard, reactive approach); and 3) Leadership that reinforces learning (commitment and modeling from the c-suite).

Top 10 Questions to Evaluate a Learning Culture. In this article from Stephen Gill’s The Performance Improvement Blog, the author presents 10 open-ended questions you should consider if you want to reveal how well your company is doing when it comes to having a learning culture. The questions are complex and require a good deal of thought and reflection to answer them – just the kind of process that is valued in a strong learning culture. Another window into Gill’s thinking on this topic can be found in his article on the Association for Talent Development website, Is Your Organization Ready for a Culture of Learning?

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to conducting a learning culture assessment at your company is to do something with what you find. While an overall organizational culture can and does emerge all on its own, if you want a strong, positive learning culture, you have to take specific and deliberate actions to make it happen. My next and final article in this series about workplace learning culture will offer a number of concrete strategies for fostering a learning culture at your company.

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