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Is it possible to create a learning culture?

In 2019 it’s not so much about what you know, but what you can learn. This new mentality is becoming embedded in the mindsets of candidates and employees and is ...

Is it possible to create a learning culture?

In 2019 it’s not so much about what you know, but what you can learn. This new mentality is becoming embedded in the mindsets of candidates and employees and is only begrudgingly being accepted as the smartest way to recruit and manage talent.

It makes perfect sense: in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, previous subject matter expertise will dissolve into irrelevance without a dedicated effort to keep skills fresh. And increasingly, the expectation is that employers will help employees stay two steps ahead.

You’ve probably heard about the value of creating a culture with learning at its core (our own 5 must-have elements for an organisational learning culture infographic touched on it), but what’s meant by a learning culture? CEB (now Gartner) suggests a genuine learning culture “supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organisation”.

It sounds enticing. However, such a culture remains the exception rather than the norm. CEB suggests that only 10% of organisations manage to create such a culture and only 20% of employees demonstrate effective learning behaviours at work. There’s a good reason why HR thought leader Josh Bersin describes culture change as “moving the mountain”: it’s bloody difficult!

So, why bother? Research points to the benefits of creating a learning culture. Bersin by Deloitte[1] suggests organisations that effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period of time. They also experience 37% higher productivity and are 92% more likely to innovate. In fact, a learning culture is what enables BP, Toyota, Google and Apple to out-innovate their competitors.

How can you create a learning culture? Remember, a culture is hard, not soft. It’s not a “touchy-feely” thing but rather an important set of behaviours and processes which impact your organisation’s success. It’s also something that can be monitored, measured and adjusted.

Here are three steps to move the culture dial.

  1. Reward the keen beans

If your organisation is serious about creating a learning culture, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and actually reward people for learning. We don’t mean bribery; instead utilise virtual gifts, trophies and points as recognition for achieving milestones (completion of a course or blitzing a course quiz), which can add up to tangible rewards. There’s no need for a huge financial outlay – a $100 gift voucher for successful application of new skills can show employees that you value those who lean and grow in their jobs.

Even better, make learning the reward. For those who go above and beyond in their role, offer free training in an area that will both help their career and benefit the organisation. Consider rewarding the whole team in this way if they deliver a project to budget and ahead of schedule, for example.

Formal reward and recognition systems can help to instil cultural changes into a team, such as the curiosity to learn. The disclaimer here is that it’s not just about praising and promoting those who make an effort to learn and develop; it’s also about creating a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging accepted norms and ways of doing things is encouraged. Remember that innovation is fostered by encouraging sometimes-conflicting ideas and thinking outside the square.

  1. Make it easy to learn

What’s holding employees back from learning? Often, it’s time. Bersin by Deloitte has found that the average employee only has 24 minutes per week for formal learning. However, that’s a traditional way of viewing learning – it occurs in a set time at a set place. Fortunately, rigid, structured programs are giving way to on-demand learning.

Research[2] shows that 68% of employees prefer to learn at work; 58% prefer to learn at their own pace; 49% prefer to learn at the point of need. The key to on-demand learning is flexibility. It’s self-directed, social and informal. It’s continuous, consumable, highly relevant and, of course, available on-demand. By its very nature it’s “bottom-up”, driven by employees themselves. Just as critically, it shares with just-in-time learning the ability to provide bite-sized chunks of knowledge at just the right time, when it’s most needed. That means there’s no more waiting for the relevant piece of information to be imparted in a longer, more general course.

Effective on-demand learning is not just about content but delivery, so if your learning is hard to access, in multiple systems and delivered inconsistently, consider how technology can help. eLearning, coordinated via a Learning Management System (LMS), is the easiest way to facilitate company-wide on-demand learning.

  1. Practice what you preach

Culture is created by, reinforced by, and often destroyed by leaders. So, if you’re aiming for a learning culture, you know where to start. When was the last time you took time out of your everyday role to learn something new? Your team will take the lead from your behaviours and actions, so if you want to encourage curiosity and unleash learning, start by unlocking your own curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Curiosity, discipline, time management – these are the traits you should be displaying. A keen reader? Share your favourite books or most recent learnings with your team. Keen to see your team step outside their normal duties and tackle challenging projects? Then undertake some yourself. For example, master a new skill, volunteer to work on something unrelated to your current job, or stretch yourself out of your comfort zone by doing something you’re not good at (like public speaking!).

Far-reaching benefits

While culture change is a tough task, positioning learning at the heart of your organisation can be a game-changer. It can act as a workforce accelerator, retention tool and unique selling point for recruitment efforts. It can also help prepare your workplace for the uncertainties of the future – that alone makes the effort worthwhile.

As a vendor with one dashboard and one user-experience, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll offers end-to-end solutions to help organisations manage talent from “hire to retire”. For further information, contact us.

[1] “Leading in Learning: Building Capabilities to Deliver on your Business Strategy”, infographic by Bersin by Deloitte

[2] 2018 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn