It’s officially Summertime here at GAAP Dynamics. While the kiddos may be taking a break from the classroom, our trainers are doubling down on in-person training events around the world. It’s a crazy time of the year, but an incredibly rewarding time. All of these eager learners remind us of the reasons why we do what we do. We truly believe that better training = better employees. And this is the foundation for tremendous opportunity.
You have probably come across an article or two (or fifty) on the topic of “learning cultures”. Research leaders such as Bersin by Deloitte and Gallup have produced extensive reports about the connection between cultures of learning and engagement. Companies such as Google, IBM, and General Electric have run with making learning a critical part of their strategic plan. The results are incredible – higher engagement, more innovation, greater productivity, and better responses to customer needs. In this post, we’ll discuss 5 ways that you can nurture a culture of learning in your organization.
Learning Culture Defined
To begin, let’s define the “learning culture”. Oracle defines a learning culture as:
"...a set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that encourage individuals-- and the organization as a whole-- to increase knowledge, competence, and performance."
To me, this definition shouts that this is an entire mindset shift. In essence, it’s taking the traditional top-down hierarchical organization structure and injecting a hearty dose of agility and bottom-up learning. It means that we have to continually seize opportunities to learn and grow, rather than wait for a formal invitation. Let’s get started with those ideas.
Five Ways to Nurture a Learning Culture
1. Start at the top
I know I just said that learning cultures require ideas from the “bottom-up”, but in order for any change management initiative to be successful, the top has to lead by example. Leaders have to make learning a priority in their own agenda. It’s not enough to tell people that learning is important. One must walk the walk. If a leader does this right, the rest of these efforts become so much easier. Organically, employees will observe these behaviors and pick up on cues that will make them want to simulate this in their life. Leadership and learning will become a congruous statement. And who doesn’t want employees on their team that are continually learning and improving?
2. Clearly communicate the "why"
Imagine that you’ve told employees that you expect for them to make learning a priority in their day-to-day life and that they have your full support in this initiative. The next question in their mind is going to be “What’s in it for me?” In other words, “Why is this something that I should (potentially) change my behavior to do?” There’s a micro- and macro-level answer to that question. On a micro-level, this will depend on the individual’s internal motivators. Whether it’s growth within their role or being seen as an asset to others, each individual should reflect on these drivers to guide them in their learning journey. On a macro-level, the ultimate “why” is because collective growth directly relates to the betterment of the company’s service to its clients. As we all know, an organization’s greatest asset is its people and with individual growth comes a fantastic ripple effect of success.
3. Make learning easily accessible
The next step is to create an environment where learning is easily accessible. While it’s reasonable to expect that employees will be in the driver’s seat of their learning journey, every person learns differently so it would be optimal to offer training in a variety of modalities. Options should be varied -- in-person and online, brief and in-depth, etc. Consider an e-mail or intranet communication making employees aware of different ways to advance their learning this week/month/quarter. In addition, bring the learning to them. Have a weekly team meeting? Consider starting with a 5-minute story on an important lesson learned that week. How about an annual meeting? Bring in an external speaker for an energetic presentation. An easy way to bring groups together across the company is to offer BYOL(unches) where employees watch a TED talk together, then discuss their learning. These small actions will begin to build productive habits over time.
4. Implement regular feedback loops
The only way that someone is going to develop an unknown area of weakness is if someone makes them aware of the impact their behavior is having. The best piece of advice I ever received about delivering/receiving feedback is to recognize that it is a gift. For most people, giving developmental feedback to another person is not easy. It can be stressful and nerve-wracking. So, if someone actually takes the time to make you aware of said behavior, they are doing it because they care about you. If you want to encourage employees to provide feedback to each other more regularly, consider training them on how to provide feedback and also, how to receive feedback. This is definitely one of the hardest soft skills to train and it takes time, but when done well it produces a trusting team that is continually learning. A practical way to introduce this is to build an allotted time in meetings for feedback. This is a brief period of time where employees are encouraged to raise questions and voice reactions. In order for it to be successful, the meeting leader must be prepared to listen and thank each individual for their input. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree, but it sends a clear message that voices have been heard and will be considered.
5. Tap into your internal expertise
An easy way to expand learning opportunities for employees is to utilize your own internal expertise. Do you have an employee that excels at a particular behavior or skill? Ask if they’d be willing to share a few tips over coffee and pastries on how they’ve honed their skills. It’s low cost and offers a growth opportunity for everyone involved. Or perhaps you have someone that loves to read professional books. Ask if they’d be willing to organize an informal business book club. This post shares how to make it happen!
Building a learning culture takes time and effort. Fortunately, there’s a ton to be gained in even just the smallest efforts. At GAAP Dynamics, we take each opportunity to train others with sincere care. We realize that the time we have with learners is precious and we do our best to make the training memorable. Whether you’re looking for classroom training, webinars, or self-study eLearning modules, we’d love to help! We also welcome your ideas in the comments section on additional ways to cultivate a learning culture!
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