Learning & Development

5 Ways to Build a Learning Culture

Retaining employees should be at the top of any company’s priority list. Nevertheless, keeping good talent has become much more difficult today, as exemplified by trends like the Great Resignation. Modern workers crave meaning in their jobs, so many leave for better opportunities. In fact, research from LinkedIn shows that 94% of employees will stay longer at a company if they feel its leadership invests in their growth.

Simultaneously, technology, society, and culture continue to evolve rapidly, and many established companies across various industries are getting left behind. Businesses need to invest in their people, focusing on upskilling and reskilling, to stay competitive, especially in industries where automation is prevalent. In particular, by promoting a learning culture, brands can establish a workforce capable of adapting to change, fostering new skills, and bouncing back from failure.  

What Is a Learning Culture? What Are Its Benefits? 

A learning culture prioritizes individual and companywide learning efforts. It also values knowledge-sharing, continuous growth, and regular improvement. Likewise, employees in an enterprise with a robust learning culture understand that education is critical to keeping the business relevant and for their own professional betterment in and outside the organization. In essence, a learning culture is constantly moving and never stagnating.  

While the benefits of a learning culture are multifold, companies will more likely be motivated to adopt this mindset due to external threats. Indeed, with supply chains and customer demands in a state of flux, a learning culture can enable organizational adaptivity, preventing the loss of revenue and market share. Such a culture can also curb employee turnover. Of course, recognizing the importance is easy, but initiating real change can be daunting. Nevertheless, there are ample methods companies can use to activate the learning culture evolution. Here are the top five.

1. Frame Learning Through Business Objectives

Organizations with a learning culture determine what their employees need to learn to support business success. Unfortunately, many companies fail to align learning with their business objectives and goals. A scattershot approach to learning will a) potentially misalign with the business strategy, b) cost more, and c) not necessarily correspond to what a particular role (or individual) needs to know to advance in the organization. Likewise, avoid copying and pasting (or scraping) competency and skill matrices from others—every organization is a different combination of strategy, infrastructure and technology, culture/values, processes, and tools.

2. Build in Motivation to Learn

The criteria for promotion and advancement are often opaque and nebulous. To promote a learning culture, organizations need to turn the learning economy upside down by connecting learning to more direct assessments and career progression (and retention to move the needle quickly). Explicitly linking learning opportunities to career paths will motivate employees to engage meaningfully with learning programs. This same approach—especially assessing candidates’ growth mindset, curiosity, and openness to learning—is also valuable for new hires.

3. Harness the Power of Informal Learning

There is a well-known and supported theory that only 10% of effective learning happens in a formal training setting. The remaining 90% comes from informal activities. The acronym STRIVE best encapsulates this theory.

  • Social learning or feedback, mentors, job shadowing, and experts/coaches;
  • Training, such as formal courses at work;
  • Reflection;
  • Investigation or finding and reading online; following someone with good ideas on social media; or subscribing to podcasts, websites, or magazines;
  • Vocational education or certification programs from professional organizations; and
  • Experiential or putting ideas to work, trial, and error and failing fast.

4. Adopt Theory One 

Renowned Harvard professor Dr. David Perkins defines Theory One: “People will learn when they have the reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn.” To give employees both of these essential criteria, companies must break down data siloes between talent development (learning) and talent management (hiring, managing, promoting, and retaining) and supercharge everything with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. However, Kentaro Toyama cautions that technology acts as an amplifier—when talent-related data, processes, and structures are good quality, technology will help businesses scale, find new insights, and make their talent approach more efficient. But if that same technology leverages a bad talent approach, it will achieve the opposite result.

5. Lead from the Top

Everyone needs to learn continuously if an organization is going to successfully navigate near-content changes in customer expectations, technology, and business models—even, and sometimes most importantly, leaders. Executive education can help company leaders practice what they preach and model a true learning culture, in addition to helping their organizations thrive and adapt.

Don’t Discard—Repurpose  

Organizations don’t have to completely revamp their learning and development strategies to achieve a learning culture. Nevertheless, it will ultimately require various changes, and sometimes, these transformations involve technical proficiency that might be outside of a company’s expertise. In these instances, it is best to consider a trusted technology and strategy consultant, primarily to help determine which existing processes can be repurposed rather than discarded.   

 Sandra Loughlin, Ph.D., is Head of Learning & Talent Enablement at EPAM Systems, Inc.

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