A “vibrant learning culture” sounds appealing, doesn’t it? A focus on learning and renewal attracts and generates an engaged, productive, and loyal workforce. Learning is also critical for an organization's ability to influence, adapt to market conditions, and thrive over the long run.
It’s not surprising that numerous organizations are actively creating or planning to adopt a culture of lifelong learning. They recognize the connection between inspiring employees to learn continuously and keeping their organization in step with today’s pace of change. Those that get it right will achieve the competitive talent advantage necessary for success.
Three critical attributes of a learning organization
How can an organization build a culture that inspires effective and impactful learning at scale and at speed? It must address content and courses (the “supply side” of learning) with capability-building needs and proactive participation (the “demand side”). Learning should become part of the organization’s core DNA and culture by being essential, meaningful, and accessible.
Organizations make learning essential by building it into their strategic, financial, and talent planning processes. They acknowledge the direct correlation between skilled talent and business value, and they factor this into their governance model and vision. They recognize the importance of the business taking ownership for learning strategy, and they work alongside learning and development (L&D) to realize the vision and ensure the organization maximizes impact.
An effective learning organization provides personalized, adaptive learning journeys and integrates everyday learning into culture and working practices. Essential learning goes beyond this: Skills, aspirations, and expectations are reviewed regularly and publicly communicated by leadership across the organization. Appreciable financial resources and other investments, such as executive time, are allocated and learning is fully infused into the day-to-day rhythm of work.
One organization made learning essential by shifting from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” ethos with close L&D collaboration. The organization successfully incorporated open learning days, informal social learning opportunities, learning data for internal career pathing, and new platforms and products for its partner network that integrated self-directed learning paths.
Organizations make learning meaningful by enabling and promoting individual choice and self-directed/self-determined learning. This allows employees to achieve personal value, purpose, and growth. Recognizing that learning includes personalized explorations that tap into emotion and a sense of individual purpose, these organizations place value on generating and celebrating learning moments that are often ignored.
Success here entails nurturing learning as a skill in itself and endorsing relevant learning options that resonate with different populations. Communities of expertise will emerge naturally, with knowledge distributed more widely than it may otherwise have been.
One pharmaceutical company launched an organization-wide learning campaign around “curiosity” designed to encourage creative thinking. The company made the campaign meaningful by inviting employees to self-nominate as “curiosity storytellers.” Its emphasis on employee empowerment was rewarded through thousands of voluntary participants and impromptu peer-learning sessions.
Organizations that make learning accessible place an emphasis on the learner experience. Beyond providing a learning platform and content, they involve learners in design and adapt learning according to each role, industry context, and other personal criteria. This may require L&D to upskill their own teams to design intuitive delivery systems that inspire and enable employees to learn anytime and anywhere.
These organizations also embrace analytics and technology to identify skill gaps and “nudge” learning proactively to meet employee needs. They reinforce learning with feedback, coaching, and peer-learning opportunities, and they actively curate the quality of learning, rewarding the acquisition of new skills.
A large bank overhauled the way they think about learning, including the development of dynamic, accessible learning journeys. Learners logged in weekly and were asked what they’d be working on. After selecting a topic, the program suggested the most useful and up-to-date modules—including tips from colleagues who had performed that specific work recently.
As organizations recognize the need for skilling at scale to keep up with and anticipate the pace of change, the most successful are building learning into the flow of work and expectations of all employees. Making learning essential, meaningful, and accessible requires a commitment from leaders who are dedicated to developing their people—and a next-generation L&D team that can ignite inspiration in all employees to seek, share, celebrate, and be propelled by learning.
The authors would like to thank Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi and Matthew Murray for their contributions to this blog post. They would also like to thank the following members of the Consortium for Learning Innovation: Tim Welsh, Vice Chairman, Consumer and Business Banking at U.S. Bank; Dr. Rachel Fichter, Vice President of Talent at S&P Global; Tammy Lowry, Global Head of Talent Innovation at Hoffmann-La Roche; and Bob Chapman, CEO and Chairman at Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc.