Strategy cannot always ensure success.

The learning culture of an organisation can be easily overthrown by even the most formidable learning and development departments.  Creating sustainable organisational change means having a strong and effective culture around learning and development.   But when bureaucracy is expanding, and change is slow – particularly within large organisations – how can we create highly effective learning cultures in today’s modern business world?

In this article organisational education strategist Sarah Cordiner presents 17 ways of cultivating a highly successful learning culture for any organisation.

1.     Take professional development seriously.

Create formal professional development plans for every employee – including managers, senior executives, CEOs, and board members.  Document the professional development pathways, skills, and knowledge gaps of each individual. In doing so, place importance on closing those gaps and advancing employees.

Employees will see how much the development of their professional skills are valued by the organisation. It shows them that their learning is important. Ensure that the professional development plans are updated at least quarterly by the employee, reviewed by their direct supervisor on all occasions, and recorded in the employee’s HR file.

2.     Give them control

Allow employees to take control over their own professional development – even to the extent of allowing them a degree of control over the training budget allocated to them.   When employees have this level of control over their learning, they will be sure to spend their budget allocation on training and topics that they are truly interested in – instead of being sent on training programs that are of little use, benefit, and interest to them.

One of the key principles of adult learning is allowing learners to self-direct their learning journey. This adds a sense of responsibility, ownership, and increases the value of organisational learning and development.

3.     Set KPIs for learning and development – and measure them.

By making learning and development a performance indicator and criteria that must be met, the organisation is showing just how important the development of each individual is. It makes the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and competencies as important as the job roles and responsibilities themselves.  This creates a powerful and positive L&D culture shift.

4.     Match learning and development activities to the roles and responsibilities on every job description.

For every function that an employee must perform, have a list of training, education and development activities that could be implemented.

Some elements to consider include:

  • Role compliance (what training must be done to be ‘compliant’ in their roles)

  • Recommended training for the current state of the industry (training that helps them meet a standard industry benchmark or general norm outside of compliance needs)

  • Desirable training (non-essential but ‘good to have’)

  • Above and beyond (training that will enhance the professional in their wider career)

Documenting suggestions for training and development – from a compliance level right through to ‘above and beyond’ training – will show employees how much importance the organisation places upon individual development. It will also make it easier for managers and individual employees to select appropriate learning and development options. These options, in turn, will directly contribute to the responsibilities of each role within the business.

5.     Recognise informal learning as a valuable contribution to formal employee development

Recognising only formal and accredited training can leave out the significant development that can be acquired through informal means of education.  Some examples include new knowledge and skills acquired via online learning programs, attending conferences and networking events, reading books and industry magazines, attending webinars, engaging in social learning and participation in online forums.

Ensure that all employee professional development plans contain an area for the documentation and recognition of all informal learning.  Use this information to find out what skills and knowledge were obtained from informal learning activities. Then analyse how this knowledge has contributed to the development of the employee’s role within the business.  Not only does this show the employee and the company how much developmental progress the employee has made, but can give clues to existing training gaps within the business – not to mention encouraging ongoing lifelong learning.

6.     Create a shared learning and development library

Provide a learning library that can be accessed by all staff where the sharing of learning is easy for everyone. Enable employees to share videos links, articles, blogs, study notes, books, workshops, webinars, conferences, events, and more with each other within the learning portal.  When people see that it is encouraged to share they may be far more likely to.

You could take this one step further by making knowledge sharing a key performance indicator.  Set ‘knowledge sharing’ goals which can be achieved in person, face to face, via e-delivery, via contribution to a resource library and so on.

7.     Ensure that the business and all managerial and supervisory staff practice what you preach in terms of your learning and development strategies

Ensure that all initiatives are implemented and followed up on, and that professional development plans are always reviewed during the appraisal period.   The informal messages that you and your managers send can significantly influence the learning culture within the organisation.

8.     Share progress with the team

Sharing the company’s strengths, progress, desired destination, and current position in terms of learning and development, can contribute to the learning culture.   When employees can see that the organisation has a strategy, their attitude can change dramatically as to how much they feel their development is valued.

An additional bonus to sharing this progress is that employees may come up with solutions and strategies that may not have been considered by managerial staff.

9.     Celebrate L&D achievement

Just as the old-fashioned mentality of ‘Employee of the Month’ shows that an organisation values strong a work ethic and dedication, celebrating the academic and developmental achievements of employees can also be extremely motivating in developing a learning culture.  Why not create a ‘Leaner of the Month’ or a similar natured award in your company?

The open sharing of workforce development progress also allows the opportunity for employees to contribute to the overall organisational learning and development strategies for each year.  Provide all employees with knowledge of the company strategic objectives and the gap analysis and open the training plans up for contribution to by the workforce themselves.

10.  Monitor the managerial and executive responses to organisational challenges and failures.

The way senior staff act in their roles shapes the way the rest of the company responds and behaves in similar situations.  If senior staff within the organisation see all challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow, develop and improve on their work, it will foster a culture of learning and development.

11.  Be conscious of the subtler attitudes to learning and development

The underlying attitude to training and development can be highly influenced by how resources are allocated to it in comparison to other activities and departments within the business.   If management appears to have a negative attitude to learning and development, or places a low value upon it, so will the entire team.

12.  Clearly define and communicate how are you track return on investment of training activities.

If people know that their training has a value, and that the value is being quantifiably measured by senior management, then a learning culture will continue to develop. Conversely if they don’t see this, then they start to get the impression that the company doesn’t care, and they in turn shouldn’t care about their own learning and development either.

13.  Encourage internal coaching and mentoring.

Valuing the skills that already exist inside the team make people feel valued and encourages the sharing of knowledge.

14.  Reward the whole company when KPIs are exceeded

Part of cultivating a positive learning culture is reducing the risk of employees competing with one another.  If one person wins then somebody else have to have ‘lost’.  To foster a team working culture set personal KPIs, and require each person to be effectively meeting the objectives of their job –  the expected minimum requirement. Then, have company KPIs that if exceeded offer reward to everyone – recognising the collective contributions of skills and knowledge from everyone.

This will reduce the likelihood of competition – which causes employees to withhold and hide their knowledge from each other.

15.  Encourage peer training sessions

Encourage internal buddy days where the team work with employees and colleagues from other departments and spend a few hours of the day conducting a completely different job within the organisation. This increases cross departmental sharing of best practice and cultivates improvements made by gaining outside perspective. It also generates wider learning and collaboration within the organisation.

16.  Reward behaviours attitudes and outcomes that are most in line with the desired culture of the organisation.

Too often it is bad behaviour that is rewarded with attention and resources, leaving those who work hard and consistently meet their KPIs feeling unnoticed and undervalued.  Ensure that positive behaviour is noticed and given managerial attention far more than negative actions and situations.

17.  The way that you recruit will impact organisational learning culture.

Hire internally before you advertise externally. Provide numerous opportunities of promotion from within.  If employees can see that their development is rewarded by progress in their career, they will be far more likely to engage in developmental activities as they will be confident that their efforts can bring the reward of climbing higher up the career ladder.

Last Thoughts:

Clearly communicate the organisational values and explicitly describe the behaviours and attributes of culture that you desire. If people don’t know exactly what the desired learning culture looks like and how it is measured, they simply cannot model it.

How do you cultivate effective learning cultures in your organisation?