How to develop a learning culture

Learning is something essential to progress, yet many companies struggle to embed learning as part of their culture. It is not something that can be forced, but it is something that can be developed. Fortunately, we can learn from companies that have managed to get it right. Here are seven elements to developing a learning culture that can help build up your company to be more productive and progressive.

1. Have a clear L&D strategy

Start with an objective in mind, one that is tied into the company values and long-term goals. Once the vision is set, break that down into smaller goals for each department or tier of employees. Keep in mind, though, that most people already have a high workload, so trying to establish a learning culture won’t be effective if you dump a huge pile of additional responsibilities on employees. Keep the strategy simple and have a clear vision of what you want to achieve within a set timeframe.

2. Use change as a catalyst

The current marketplace is a place of change and innovation, and people determined to carry on doing things the way they’ve always been done will be left behind. Change is the primary reason that establishing a learning culture is so vital. When employees understand that in order to future-proof their career prospects they need to keep up with technology and industry developments, it becomes a no-brainer for them to buy into the culture of learning.

3. Allow the freedom to fail

Having said this, most people have an innate fear of failure. They think that if they change and fail it will set them back in their career, so most don’t want to even try. Allowing employees the freedom to experiment with ideas and fail, makes space for innovation and development. When the risk is removed in part from the equation, people are then more likely to step up and out of their comfort zone to try new things. Equally, failure is an important part of learning. When employees have a ‘safe’ forum on which to share their failures, more people can learn how not to do things and make suggestions for improvements or alternative solutions.

4. Make learning easy & fun

Think of the most engaging presentation you’ve been to lately. What made you sit up and listen and remember what was presented? The best presenters share information in a fun and lighthearted way that is easy to understand. When learning is fun, people relax; and in the process, they absorb and retain more information. Online learning and gamification combine these elements to present learning in an engaging way, and employees love it because learning simply doesn’t feel like more work.

5. Leverage digital technology

Technology is an amazing tool for engaging with employees. It provides the platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing, as well as provides a library of resources that employees can tap into. Email provides a quick and easy way to share information and follow-up on learning. If learning apps can be incorporated into mobile technology, even better, as then employees will have the convenience of being able to learn wherever they are.

6. Get top management on board

A learning culture cannot be established unless it’s a vision that comes from the top. The most effective organisations are those where the CEO is the learning champion and encourages innovation and learning as part of daily work activities. Take Apple for example. One of Steve Jobs’ legendary traits was that he encouraged learning and innovation. It played a huge part in making Apple a market leader. A leader who takes time for champion learning sets a strong example that people are more likely to follow.

7. Encourage coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring play an important role in developing a learning culture. They provide the support employees need and encourage learning on all levels. Even those taking on mentoring roles learn from the questions asked and have to make sure their own knowledge is up to date, so that the information they share and advice they give is accurate and relevant. As people progress in their careers, they can have the opportunity to become mentors themselves. Even informal coaching between peers encourages collaboration and learning.

Research supports the fact that companies with a strong culture of learning are more productive, more innovative and more likely to become market leaders. Their staff is better equipped to respond to customer needs, and the company is able to deliver a higher quality of product or service. More importantly, the company will be more agile and more able to respond positively to changes in the marketplace. If nothing else, this alone should make the case for developing a learning culture.