Eight Steps to Build a Learning Culture in Your Organization

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How Millennials Work and Live, Gallup’s report, shows that 59% of Millennials say learning and development (L&D) opportunities are extremely important to them when considering a job. Comparatively, 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of Baby Boomers say the same about L&D. Gallup also reports that “An impressive 87% of Millennials rate ‘professional or career growth and development opportunities’ as important to them in a job — far more than the 69% of Non-Millennials who say the same.”

Since the Millennial generation has now surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, paying attention to what they value in a workplace is vital to attracting (and keeping) the best talent.

Yet L&D also has an impact on the bottom line. Top-performing organizations are five times more likely to have learning cultures, according to the U.S. L&D Report: 2018. That implies that Learning and Development (L&D) opportunities are a key component to an organization’s success.

It’s clear that Learning and Development is more important now than ever before. So important, that integrating it into your organizational culture is a must. But how do you promote a learning culture in your organization? Let’s take a look at eight steps to get you on the right track, based on the findings of the U.S. L&D Report.

  1. Know that there is no singular model of a learning culture

Unfortunately, there is no clear blueprint for creating a learning culture. Every organization is different—the size, culture, leadership, environment, and industry—all have an impact on what will or will not work. So while you can have strong principles in mind, truly integrating L&D into your culture will be a process of discovery and adjustment. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not seeing progress—make an informed pivot to try something else.

  1. Keep employee impact at the core of all programs

Always communicate the big picture to employees when it comes to L&D programs. Learners should understand how their individual learning makes a direct impact on the organization’s success. Being able to see their personal development as a key component driving the business encourages employee engagement, and gives employees a sense of meaning. Research shows that employees who attain meaning and significance from their work are far less likely to leave their jobs. In fact, companies without staff engaged in learning are twice as likely to lose staff before three years.

Learning Culture

  1. Get executive-level support

Transforming company culture is not possible without leadership involvement. 90% of companies with strong learning cultures said that senior executives were actively engaged in L&D initiatives. In Finding Courses’ survey of U.S. L&D departments, they found that “the number one comment from professionals about how they encourage a culture of learning is through meaningful and overt support from senior leaders.”

Learning Culture

What does this support look like? It could be leaders personally engaging in learning, allotting the budget to fund research, creation and implementation of programs, or offering promotions directly linked to L&D.

  1. Work with your in-house cultural influencers

While leadership is imperative for culture change, working with company influencers is also a powerful tool. One place to start is with the internal communications team. They have direct lines of communication with both leadership and employees, and can help promote programs in ways your staff will respond to.

You might also dig a little deeper into the staff itself, seeking out employees that embody the learning culture you are trying to create. Allow them to work as catalysts for change by getting them involved in L&D initiatives.

  1. Use technology to assist, not lead, cultural transformation

You can’t expect technology to inspire and manage a strong L&D culture. Instead, use it as a tool to engage, motivate, and distribute information. For example, creating learner groups on video or app platforms will increase engagement and promote learning.

Not sure what the best technology is for your L&D programs? It might help to take a look at what other organizations use. When surveyed about what types of technology L&D departments would use, the top runner was e-learning at 32%. Up next was virtual classrooms (22%), micro-learning videos (17%), game based-learning (12%), mobile learning (11%) and virtual reality (6%).

Learning Culture

At the end of the day, you’ve got to use what works best for your organization, which could include some trial and error. But that’s all part of the learning process!

  1. Champion accountability

Accountability is absolutely necessary for the success of any L&D initiative. This means holding employees accountable with feedback and recognition. This also means holding leadership accountable. If a leader isn’t able to commit to learning, the learning culture will not succeed. Read here for tips about creating accountability.

  1. Measure specific impact

Before you can measure the progress of your learning culture, you have to decide what type of impact you are seeking. Are you looking to increase employee engagement? Lower attrition? Increase promotions to roles being vacated by retiring Baby Boomers?

Once you have a clear understanding of the impact you seek, it’s time to measure progress. You can measure employee engagement with anonymous surveys, analyze attrition data based on previous data points, measure employee promotion and movement compared to years prior, and more. Using data is the best way to know whether or not your programs are succeeding. Otherwise you are relying on intuition, which isn’t accurate often enough to guide the direction of large-scale decisions and investments. HR analytics are powerful—check out the possibilities at the Center for Human Capital Innovation.

  1. Make L&D part of a larger cultural transformation

Building a learning culture can positively impact the organization for years to come. This is an investment in the organizational culture as a whole, as the two are intertwined. It’s not possible to have a powerful learning culture without a strong organizational culture, so both need effort. What might that simultaneous effort look like?

Finding Courses writes, “In order to inspire a learning culture, organizations that we spoke with recommended promoting learning from failure as well as success, advocating for employee freedom to challenge the status quo with new ideas, supporting and publicizing innovation that springs from learning, and if possible, giving learners encouragement and a platform to collaborate with each other after training events have taken place.”

I’d love to hear from people who have strong learning cultures in their organizations. What makes them work? What results have you seen on the culture as a whole? Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me on Twitter.

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