For successful organisations, developing people is not just an employee benefit. It is an integral part of business strategy. In the wake of the Great Resignation, or as I prefer the Great Reconfiguration, many companies have come to recognise that individuals are looking for opportunities to grow. Helping your staff build new skills contributes to employee engagement and retention as well as day-to-day improvements.
As I shared in my last blog post, though, learning cannot be forced. It needs to be part of a company’s ethos, so employees feel encouraged and supported to develop in ways that benefit themselves, their teams and their organisation. So, how can you make learning a fundamental part of your corporate culture?
By creating a partnership between your people leaders, employees and Human Resources (HR) and Learning & Development (L&D) teams, you can cultivate an environment where growth is second nature.
8 Steps to Design a Learning Culture
#1 – Define Learning’s Place in Your Big Picture Strategy
Start by bringing your executive team, HR and L&D leaders together for a conversation about where your company is going and its strategic priorities. Encourage each person to share their honest opinion about how they feel employee development does or does not contribute to the organisation’s objectives. To guide the discussion, encourage the team to share their reflections on the following questions:
- How can a learning culture help us achieve our long-term vision?
- How can development contribute to our business goals (e.g., succession planning, retention, growing certain departments, etc.)?
- What will it look like, feel like and sound like when growth is an integral part of our climate?
A successful outcome of a conversation of this nature would be to come to a consensus on the role of learning in your organisation, its connection to company performance and the key indicators that demonstrate success.
#2 – Evaluate What Development Looks Like Today
When considering this question, you may be inclined to list specific L&D programmes you provide, performance appraisal mechanisms or career pathing and promotion strategies. While understanding those offerings is valuable, I invite you to approach this evaluation more broadly by looking outside of traditional HR and L&D functions, including:
- How does feedback flow across levels of your company?
- Does on-the-job knowledge sharing occur?
- What do managers contribute to day-to-day skill building?
- Do innovations or improvements regularly come from within teams?
By assessing your organisation comprehensively, you can get a better sense of how close or how far away you are from realising a culture of improvement.
#3 – Engage the Voice of Your Employees
Next, I recommend hearing from staff to find out what education needs and wants they have. While your company will certainly have its own goals when it comes to development, your employees must also be engaged in the experience to nurture a growth environment. Ask them about:
- Current gaps in their knowledge
- Capabilities they feel they need to succeed in their current role or next position
- Interests they have outside of current skill requirements
- How they like to learn
#4 – Identify Areas of Focus
Informed by the strategic direction of leadership as well as the interests of your staff, you can identify topic clusters to support your people’s development. I encourage you to evaluate a broad spectrum of topics, including:
- Hard and soft skills
- Business-focused and personal-focused growth
- Serious and fun subject matter
While you are working in a business, it is important that not every course or topic you offer is solely focused on your organisation’s bottom-line. You will have greater success when you consider employees as whole people with diverse interests and needs, who bring their full selves to work each day. By having a varied range of learning topics, you can help staff flourish as individuals and professionals, which will advance an improvement-oriented culture.
#5 – Make It Easy
Reflect on both the structures of the programmes you offer as well as the environment you create. In addition to providing classroom training, utilise short videos, digital courses or readily available resources that allow employees to absorb knowledge in small doses. Administer those small doses via existing employee touchpoints such as weekly meetings, monthly/quarterly reviews or townhall sessions. By enhancing these interactions rather than creating new ones, you can easily integrate learning into day-to-day work without overloading already packed weekly schedules.
Also, encourage your leaders to actively facilitate development by leading or attending sessions and integrating knowledge sharing in their daily practices. When leaders learn to facilitate, which aptly means “to make easy”, they quickly realise that it is so much easier to gain buy-in, raise accountability and create a sense of shared responsibility as staff are given more autonomy and hence take more initiative in driving their workplace experience and learning.
#6 – Consider the 10/20/70 Model
Only 10% of learning takes place in the classroom. Another 20% occurs in social settings while 70% takes place on the job. To build on your traditional programmes, I recommend integrating coaching or mentoring into your initiatives as well as setting up forums for feedback to encourage daily improvements. Contemplate how you can:
- Provide strategies to help staff give effective feedback
- Integrate two-way feedback into performance appraisals
- Help staff discover tips to communicate messages effectively
- Create an environment of psychological safety
For social and on-the-job education to take place, this last point around psychological safety is essential. In order to learn from and with others, employees must be comfortable making mistakes because that is how we grow. If you would like tips to help your leadership promote psychological safety, read this helpful post.
#7 – Prioritise Quick Wins
Now that you have a list of topics, ideas on how to make them accessible and opportunities for traditional, social and on-the-job learning, it’s time to begin, right? Well, maybe take one more moment to pause. Likely, you have a very long list of options, and it will not be possible to address everything at once. In this instance, find some quick wins by considering:
- What programmes do you have today that only need a few tweaks to be decidedly improved?
- What offerings can be introduced quickly that would impact a large segment of your workforce?
- In what areas of focus do you have in-house experts who may be able to partner with you as you get started?
By prioritising what is feasible in the short-term, you can find some early successes to build on over the long term.
#8 – Keep Employees Involved
The best way to assess how your corporate ethos is evolving or what needs further improvement is by keeping an ear to the ground. Be mindful to report out on achievements and how you plan to alter your work to make it even more effective – you are trying to promote learning after all!
Also, encourage employees to get involved. They have brilliances to share, so be sure to utilise them as you expand and adapt your programmes. Their voices and support will be essential to create an environment where everyone feels encouraged to grow.
Fundamentally, a learning culture is all about your people because it is focused on giving them the tools and ability to be their best selves and improve every day. By creating a true partnership with employees and leaders, you will find that you have played a significant role in creating a learning culture.
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