Within my first six months on the job, I was ready to deploy my first training for the sales teams. The training had been designed, developed and launched using our best in class Learning Management System. The first question sales executives asked was "When is it due?" I was stumped. This was not the first question I'm typically asked when deploying training. I had taken the role of Director, Learning and Development to build an L&D function within a company who thought of training as their annual compliance training necessary to meet their credentials.
Quickly, it became clear to me that one of my first tasks at hand, was not to actually increase the number of curriculum offerings beyond compliance, but to build a learning culture within the organization that supported independent development, encouraged curiosity, rewarded and recognized those who took opportunities to develop, and provided an environment, either virtual or in the office that supported learning.
Ask people within L&D and you will get varied answers about building a learning culture. I have chosen to break it down into clear and accomplishable areas in which I could measure success short, medium and longer term.
A learning culture can be created with the right foundations in place. Three pillars I use to create a learning culture in my organization are: Leadership Support and Role Modeling, Line Manager Support for Learning and Providing a Safe Environment for Employees to learn, create and share learning.
Leadership Support and Role Modeling
Most companies influence their employees and drive strategy and culture through their leaders. What leaders do, how they act, and what they say are the biggest drivers of how employees will behave. They set the tone and drive the messaging for their teams and the rest of the organization. Therefore, a learning culture has to be supported and even more so, role-modeled, from leaders. Key elements of learning include leaders encouraging curiosity and an environment where it is safe to try and fail. Leaders should take opportunities to communicate the importance of development and enable learning through providing budget, time or resource allocation. Finally, by demonstrating their own ability to develop and learn, leaders can use public or virtual forums to share their own experiences and their journeys towards their own development, successes and failures. In my company, using technology, we encouraged leaders to create short video clips of their experiences, post them for employees to see, react and respond to. A true demonstration of a learning culture is for a leader to show their vulnerability, how they learned from it, and for others to further share their experiences as well.
Line Manager Support for Learning
When employees get promoted to becoming a manager of people, their learning focuses on helping them to manage a team and manage performance of that team and individuals. As a servant leader, it is their responsibility to help their employees be the best they can be, and to provide the support to help them to do this. But what does this look like in practice? In order to build a learning culture, line managers need to leave time, space, and budget for their employees to learn. I have heard many people tell me they will just do their e-learnings at home, or watch a webinar on their own time, because if their managers saw them just sitting staring at a screen, they would deem them to be unproductive and not doing their job. In an organization that has a learning culture, space may be set aside within offices designated just for learning. Or as we are mostly working remotely, managers may encourage employees to block time on their calendars so they can participate in a webinar or read a few articles. Better yet, line managers within a learning culture often encourage their employees to learn and try new areas of interest which are aligned to their current job or career aspirations. Some Line Managers simply believe that performance is getting the job done, but development, and creating space for learning, whether it is during their day, within their flow of work, or supporting them to participate in a conference or webinars, even during their work-day, all create an environment of support for employees to learn.
Providing a Safe Environment for Employees to learn, create and share learning
Social learning technology has come a long way over the past decade to say the least. One of the most exciting parts of creating a learning culture is enabling employees to showcase and share their learning with others. We know that employees are using YouTube outside of work to learn how to fix a car, build a patio and write a book. Technology within the workplace further enables employees to learn quickly, effectively and efficiently through the sharing of presentations, best practices, simple how to's and any learning of their own creation. This helps to create a culture of learning and sharing, it enhances the employee experience at work, and invites others to learn through their peers and watch their colleagues try new things, and increase their competence simply by sharing through others. As stated above, this works particularly well when leaders and line managers are also doing the same thing. A true learning culture can be demonstrated when employees within the organization are willing to share and learn from each other.
These three pillars enable measurable and observable changes within an organization on its way to building a learning culture. There are visible ways to see leaders, line managers and employees behaving differently and creating space and experiences which contribute to learning. Over time, this culture can be measured in other ways through retention, increased productivity, time to competency and overall employee engagement and employer branding. By starting with some visible and measureable opportunities, learning can be at the heart of company success.