Transforming learning culture

“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation’s learning culture.” So said Josh Bersin, founder of the HR industry insights and research organisation Bersin by Deloitte.

A strong, effective learning culture enables organisations to grow, innovate and succeed, with the reverse also being true – a weak, ineffective learning culture stifles growth, innovation and success. The business impact of a strong learning culture is far reaching. It increases individual and organisational performance and productivity, agility and innovation. It increases employee morale and engagement, making it easier for organisations to recruit and retain the right talent. It also enables skills and knowledge development, enabling individuals and organisations to boost their competitive advantage and stay relevant.

Against a backdrop of constant change and innovation across pretty much every business sector, no organisation can afford to stand still. Every organisation has to keep moving forward, embracing change and innovating. And that can only happen if organisations and the individuals within them have the right skills, tools and mindset to keep learning.

There’s lots of research that supports the view that learning is good for business. The research and analyst organisation Towards Maturity is a prominent advocate of the need for learning cultures in business and its own research demonstrates that those organisations with a high performing culture are eight times more likely to report organisational agility, six times more likely to have an influencing culture and are five times more productive. Those are pretty compelling statistics.

Now all organisations have a learning culture in some form. The very nature of humankind means that we are biologically programmed to learn, but some organisations stifle learning. Organisations that create the right environment, one that encourages and supports learning, enable learning to happen organically and continuously.

Despite the widespread recognition of the importance of a strong learning culture, a lot of companies have a long way to go to achieving it. If yours is an organisation that still has a more traditional learning culture – one where learning happens on courses and is seen as a one off event, for example – then there is a long journey ahead.

Truly transformative learning happens in the organisations that recognise learning happens all the time. It doesn’t just happen in the classroom on a given day – it happens in the flow of work, during conversations with colleagues, through social media interactions with peers and at networking events. An effective learning culture is one where learners can and do learn at the point of need and when learners are willing and able to pursue their own learning.

The recent popularity of the 70:20:10 learning model is an example of the shift towards continuous learning as opposed to pure classroom learning.

One other key thing to remember when trying to foster a learning culture is that it has to be genuine. It has to be a defining aspect of company culture that permeates every part of the organisation. It isn’t the preserve of the L&D or HR department. It isn’t something that happens only in select parts of the organisation. It is something that is tangible and real and that everyone – from the MD or CEO to the most junior employee – is bought into.

However, for it to happen, it has to come from the top. The senior leadership team have to recognise the value of having a learning culture and understand what that means and how to achieve it. Senior leaders have to actively and visibly support and encourage it and not just by talking about it – they too need to learn, unlearn and relearn. When it comes from the top and they are active proponents of continuous learning, then it becomes authentic and will become an integral, defining part of an organisation’s culture.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is a great example of a leader who promotes a learning culture.  He himself is an avid reader and learner and an advocate for learning. He says that “the learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all”.  This approach seems to be working for the technology giant. Since Nadella took over as CEO the share price has trebled in value.

The change-focused leader, conference speaker and author Nigel Paine has a lot to say about learning cultures. His book, Workplace Learning: How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development, is all about this, and in a recent LinkedIn article says it’s high time we all stopped talking about learning cultures and start building them instead.

Find out more about learning culture as we launch our latest Human to Hybrid insight on 29th October. Register here to join us for the launch event at Landing Forty Two, London,

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