This is the first post in a three-part series to celebrate Learning at Work Week taking place May 16-20, 2016. Throughout the series, we'll examine how taking a strategic approach to learning can help accelerate the success of all your talent management strategies. In today's post, we'll look at the benefits and how-to of building a culture of learning.
Is there a true culture of learning in your workplace? Let's be absolutely clear here - I'm not talking about one-off seminars where you forget 90 percent of what you learn the moment you walk out the door or staff retreats that push two days of awkward touchy-feely group activities at you.
I'm talking about continuous and ongoing learning that helps drive greater employee and organizational performance all year long.
Sure, there's a lot of talk among HR and learning and development professionals about building a culture of learning, but how many organizations turn talk into reality?
What is a learning culture?
Simply defined, a culture of learning is one in which an organization's mission, vision and values encourage employees to increase their knowledge, develop their skills and enhance their performance on a continuous basis - not just once or twice a year. It's the kind of culture that:
- Promotes and values improvement
- Celebrates goal achievement
- Better enables organizations to manage change
Developing and growing a culture of learning in any work environment requires a commitment on the part of executives and managers. In addition to reinforcing the importance of learning, senior managers and executives must empower team leaders to foster ongoing learning among their staff.
As HR professionals, we know that organizational values are more likely to be embraced when executives and managers lead by example. Continuous learning is no exception. It must be openly practiced and valued at all levels of an organization with demonstrated support from management.
Communicate the importance of learning far and wide
When it comes to building a culture of learning and supportng continuous development, communication is key.
Employees at all levels need to see that learning is engrained in organizational culture. Executives and managers should take every opportunity to communicate that learning and development is highly valued within the company - and the broader industry. It's also important to reinforce that learning is part of the organization's strategic vision and that each employee is expected to grow and develop an area of expertise.
Communication from the highest levels must be consistent and frequent. In fact, employees can't hear about the value placed on learning enough. The more your employees hear about the importance of developing in their role, the more they'll feel a common sense of purpose, which will help drive talent development and learning efforts companywide. Platforms you can use to to get the messages out include email, your Intranet, team meetings, all-staff gatherings and one-on-one coaching sessions.
Include all employees in learning opportunities
For a culture of learning to take root and grow, learning and development opportunities must be inclusive. You can't expect to build a culture of learning unless learning opportunities reach every employee. This requires managers and team leaders to be inclusive when selecting employees to participate in learning and development activities. Give consideration to employees throughout the entire organization - include staff at all levels, in all departments and across all locations.
Part of being inclusive involves considering and addressing potential barriers to learning. Some of these include:
- Addressing the needs of people who speak different languages
- Ensuring remote workers aren't excluded because of geographic location
- Meeting the learning needs of individuals with physical impairments and cognitive disabilities
The takeaway here is that each person is unique, and people tend to learn in different ways. A one-size-fits-all approach seldom works when it comes to learning and development. It's best to ensure learning opportunities are available to all employees regardless of the special considerations. Flexibility goes a long way when it comes to teaching employees across a large and dynamic workplace.
Learning in the workplace pays dividends
Organizations can realize many benefits from building a culture of learning. Research from Aon Hewitt shows that career development discussions keep employees motivated and engaged. Also, as the millennial generation swells the ranks of employees throughout North America, there is research to show that this signifant part of the workforce has a healthy appetite for continuous development.
Learning also prepares employees for future roles and succession within an organization, which leads to organic growth. Be sure to tie learning activities closely to career development and business results. This will demonstrate clearly that your organization values learning in the workplace, and that personal development is required for advancement.
The bottom line is that learning is about giving employees the tools and resources needed to be successful in their role and career. And developing committed, engaged and motivated employees enhances bottom line results. So make 2016 special in your workplace by building a culture of learning that will drive employee performance and business success.