How to Create a Learning Culture abd Why It’s So Important in defining Organisational behavior
Many companies and teams have been affected in some way by what’s been deemed the “Great Resignation.” Whether you’ve personally made a career shift, have scaled back work to care for loved ones during the pandemic, have stepped in to cover your departing colleagues’ responsibilities, or are charged with retaining employees in your organization, we’ve all felt the impact of the staggering statistics of employees resigning.
Many employees are eager to find more meaning or growth in their jobs and are searching for a better place to work, and at the same time, organizations are feeling pressed to find and keep the best talent for the future. To stay competitive in this work environment, organizations must intentionally create cultures that attract, develop, and retain talent so they can successfully execute new strategies for the changing world.
How can your organization create a culture that puts learning at the forefront – in a way that’s practical, behavioral, and scalable – in order to have the greatest impact on employee engagement? It starts with planting seeds for a learning culture to thrive.
A learning culture is an environment that demonstrates and encourages individual and organizational learning, and where both gaining and sharing knowledge is prioritized, valued, and rewarded. It becomes part of the ecosystem of the organization.
While it’s no small feat, there are 4 important components that can help transform your organization’s current culture into a learning culture.
If you’re looking forward to upskilling your workforce or perhaps reskilling yourself, learning agility is one of the most critical skillsets to develop.
Our research team has long shown that the most successful leaders with the longest careers have the key leadership trait of learning agility.
Learning-agile leaders exemplify a growth mindset by learning from experience, challenging perspectives, remaining curious, and seeking new experiences.
Sequel to the fact that employees with learning agility continue to grow their skills and capabilities regardless of their current job, individuals are now in quest for talent. The workplace of yesterday no longer exists, and organizations need agile learners who understand how to transfer their current skillset to solve new problems and build capabilities for tomorrow.
When hiring new talent:
Seek out team members who learn from experience and challenge perspectives.
Look for the critical skill of learning agility by asking interviewees how they’ve approached difficult situations in the past, how they’ve learned from mistakes, and how they prepare themselves for new challenges.
Inquire about how they’ve applied their learnings to their next opportunity.
Encourage people to remain curious and open.
Provide ample opportunities for on-the-job learning and stretch assignments, along with support in the form of tools, mentoring, and coaching.
Provide access to development opportunities for employees across your organization — don’t just limit skill-building to a small subset deemed “high potentials.”
A learning culture that democratizes leadership development and values a growth mindset will help you attract and retain a workforce that truly wants to learn, and help others learn as well.
Create an environment that supports psychological safety. Looking at the teams and groups in your organization, are you fostering the trust and collaboration needed to sustain a strong learning culture? By creating safe spaces to be open and take interpersonal risks, you can build a foundation of psychological safety at work and encourage the learning that contributes to innovation and productivity.
Psychological safety is about promoting risk-taking and candor in a group, to create a secure environment for optimal learning. It’s the belief that candor is welcome, that employees can ask questions often and early, and that people can freely admit mistakes without fear of retribution.
Encourage team members (especially senior leaders) to admit mistakes openly and share stories of “failing forward.” Also, make sure executives know how to encourage innovation, not unintentionally sabotage and undermine it.
Ensuring leaders can create psychological safety for their teams allows team members to learn collectively and leads to a strong learning culture in your organization, where groups are willing to find lessons in setbacks and hardships, listen to one another, and invite differing opinions and candid conversations.
Remember, it’s not about being polite, but rather about being open. The openness to take interpersonal risks and glean lessons from mistakes to achieve something greater signifies a culture where growth is valued, which leads to a stronger organization that puts learning in the forefront.
Promote risk-taking and transparency within your organization.
Encourage team members to ask questions often and early.
Welcome candor and encourage employees, as well as the senior leadership team, to admit mistakes and share lessons learned, without fear of consequence.
Encourage better conversations and feedback throughout the organization.
In a learning culture, effective communication and feedback is woven throughout the organization and is encouraged and expected as a part of the norm. When feedback becomes a part of regular conversations, employees are aware of their personal developmental areas, resulting in continuous gains and fewer surprises at end-of-year reviews.
Giving feedback routinely and well often dramatically improves your talent development – but requires a particular skillset, which can fortunately be developed.
Encourage employees to give, and seek, both positive and developmental feedback – positive feedback can help them leverage what’s working well already, and developmental feedback allows them to see what can be improved upon or done differently to have greater impact.
Because a conversation, by definition, involves two or more people, the collective communication competency of an organization is greatly enhanced when all employees are knowledgeable and skilled at holding high-quality conversations. Put simply, better culture starts with better conversations.
And that’s why our clients who have partnered with us to scale our conversational skills training across their organizations have seen such positive results:
When a critical mass of people shares a common understanding around what constitutes an effective conversation, it allows new skills to be applied to everyday work, and to spread organically through the organization.
Widely applied, improved conversational skills benefit the organization by creating more robust, innovative, stress-tested solutions and a more dynamic and psychologically safe, learning culture.
Improve coaching and conversational skills across your entire organization with research-based, scalable training that helps build a common leadership language.
Participate in meaningful conversations and provide valuable, actionable feedback.
Encourage everyone in your organization to listen to one another and seek constructive feedback.
Make learning an explicit organizational priority.If you want to show that learning is a real priority within your organization, send clear signals to your workforce that you’re all in.
Examine your policies, rewards systems, and opportunities to establish and reinforce a learning culture. Consider making these types of scheduled events a common practice at your organization:
Lunch-and-learns, where senior leaders are storytellers who share their experiences and what they’ve learned recently and throughout their career journeys.
After-action reviews, where teams regularly take a few minutes to share what they learned from a project or experience.
Learning communities, where individuals can share what they’ve learned with similarly situated peers, and they can discuss together how they’re applying these learnings in their everyday work.
Designated development days, where team- or company-wide sharing of lessons learned is expected and honored.
To show that your organization believes that learning is for everyone, make development opportunities inclusive and accessible across the entire organization.
The practice of scaling learning will be unique for every organization, but be sure to provide an array of opportunities for “soft skill development” in a wide array of delivery formats to meet learner needs and abilities, including options that are asynchronous, in-person, self-paced, and virtual.
Also, to ensure a true learning culture, provide organizational support for learning not only in the form of tools and resources, but also by providing the necessary time and space for growth. Encourage leaders to allocate time for themselves and to set aside time for their teams to absorb and practice new skills.
When every employee sees that the organization values both individual and collective growth, you’ll strengthen your learning culture and gain commitment from your team members.
Create a strong learning culture by making it an explicit organizational priority.
Examine company policies, rewards systems, and career development opportunities — what’s missing and what can be improved?
Consider making these types of scheduled events a common practice at your organization: lunch-and-learns, after-action reviews, learning communities, designated development days.
Develop a Learning Culture That’s Tailored to Your Organization
To tailor your learning strategy to your organization, make sure to align your business strategy and leadership development opportunities, as well as your organization’s broader values, language, and brand. Examine the capabilities needed both today and into the future, and ask employees what type of development would be most valuable for them, as well as how they prefer to learn.
It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone is in a place to jump in right away. Keep in mind that behavior change is difficult, and meet people where they are, encouraging small steps, risk-taking, and sharing through peer support. Use metrics to keep a pulse on what’s resonating and having an impact so that you can adapt as needed and evolve your learning culture strategy as you grow.
Every organization is different, and the path to truly creating a culture of learning that will become a part of the ecosystem will be different as well. But with an intentional focus and commitment from the leadership team, you can plant the seeds today that allow a learning culture to flourish at your organization – resulting in a more agile work environment that’s prepared for the challenges
Meet kadiatou, a senior level HR professional who is feeling the pressure to help her organization shift its strategy in response to the changes brought by the global COVID pandemic and its aftermath.
She feels overwhelmed when she think about the expanded role HR and L&D leaders have stepped into – as they function as strategic partners creating new policies around in-person, remote, and hybrid work; developing the skillsets required for leading geographically dispersed teams effectively; advocating for employees with rapidly evolving needs and expectations; and retaining workers with the “Great Resignation”
Kadiatou realizes these changes have created new rules not only for the business but also for the culture in the organization.
She understands that she needs to rethink her approach to training. Leadership is no longer just for individual leaders at the top. To attract, retain, and prepare talent for the future, organizations are expected to provide equitable access to opportunities for development. It’s no longer optional, but rather table stakes for employers to provide these avenues. There is a need for broader and quicker organizational alignment, and Kadiatou knows that traditional leadership development fails to support this kind of agile workplace.
But how to change the old paradigms? How does she find ways to support accelerating leadership development throughout the organization? How can the HR function meet the growing demands placed upon it, even if the department’s bandwidth hasn’t increased? Even more challenging, how can she and her HR team provide access to relevant, timely training for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of leaders who are spread out across multiple locations?
Gentle Reader, how do you accelerate leadership development? Can you empathize with Kadiatou’s reality? If you’re like the clients we interact with regularly, then the answer is probably yes.
In today’s business environment, every employee needs to be able to execute the strategy, placing a priority on scaling and accelerating leadership development and creating a common leadership language and practice.
As our article explains, such scaling is not a singular program, but rather a sweeping initiative that requires a whole-systems view. It requires a significant commitment across the organization. Your internal team may not be resourced to tackle the challenge, especially in a short timeframe.
There are ways to accelerate Leadership potential Here are few steps we recommend to help HR and L&D professionals succeed at scaling and accelerating leadership development.
Organizations should start with their business strategy and then identify the related strategic leadership drivers (choices about how to be positioned to take advantage of strengths). From there, focus on the leadership implications of the strategy. For example, if your business strategy involves geographic expansion, your leaders will need to have learning agility, resilience, and the ability to lead dispersed and virtual teams.
Too often, leadership development scaling initiatives are rolled out without aligning with the business strategy. Avoid this mistake. As you think about scaling and accelerating leadership development, ask what business opportunities and challenges demand a leadership solution. Consider what organizational priorities you want your development efforts to support, and how you could evaluate the success of your investment in leadership development.
Provide access to relevant content for accelerating leadership development across the enterprise.Once the strategy is in place, focus on building a learning architecture that will better support scaling development across your entire population of leaders. It’s important to have clarity about the varying needs and investments that will be required at different levels.
Remember that people learn in different ways, so you should provide a mix of formats and modalities that work for different people at different levels or with different learning styles – from highly personalized development over a longer period of time; to brief, internally led skill-building workshops; to self-directed, self-paced digital delivery. No matter the mode, it’s vital to create a common leadership language around the critical skills needed for successfully achieving your organization’s strategy.
By partnering with a solution provider equipped with robust content that has proven impact, your organization can access high-quality leadership development experiences and scale them quickly across a large audience. When choosing a partner, look for one who is future-focused – capable of conducting cutting-edge research and turning it into programs and products that can be easily deployed, enabling you to create a common leadership language around the critical skills for success linked to your strategy.
Leverage the right internal and external talent.Consider mixing outsourcing with insourcing for accelerating leadership development in your organization.
In today’s complex market, leaders often express concern that their internal resources may not be fully prepared for the challenge of championing an initiative and developing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of leaders in a short timeframe. HR and L&D teams don’t always have the tools to provide meaningful leadership development in a way that’s scalable – to ensure equitable access to all talent – and customizable – to align with organizational KPIs.
You may need to seek the support of an external partner, in which case it’s critical to gain alignment between your internal training talent and the external firm or organization providing support. The role of a leadership development partner should be to provide a comprehensive package of trusted, flexible, and actionable content that your team can roll out on the appropriate schedule – freeing up the bandwidth of your internal training talent to provide insight on tailoring the content to your organization’s unique needs.
Also, think about involving business leaders who can cascade down the key leadership messages to their teams. This helps organizations maximize internal leadership development while offering invaluable insights for team members.
Accelerating Leadership Development Through Licensing
For example, at Shallow Waters we started working with one client organization at the top. After creating customized learning journeys for the senior team, we designed specific solutions for the levels below, emphasizing critical leadership skills for the rest of the organization. We then trained the internal facilitators in the organization, and they led the training internally, scaling and disseminating key leadership skills across the enterprise, at their own pace.
Similarly, other clients have opted to license our content, often at key times to fulfill specific needs. For example, we partnered with one government agency during the pandemic to provide their burned-out employees with a library of content they could access asynchronously that was focused on providing their employees the tools and techniques to become more resilient and bring their best selves to work. We helped the client on a strategy to recruit cohorts of participants from across functions, leader levels, generations, and social identities to foster an open environment of sharing and rapport-building with colleagues they normally wouldn’t interact with. In just a few weeks, the organization was able to support hundreds of employees and scale best practices in resilience-building across the organization, building connections and trust across during a difficult time.
With these examples in mind, your HR team can also effectively scale and accelerate leadership development at your organization, thereby increasing access to development and preparing your people — and your business — for the future.
We would love to help you with accelerating leadership development initiatives. Partner with us to scale learning and build a common leadership language across your entire organization.