A Learning Culture Is No Longer Just a ‘Nice-to-Have’ for Talent Retention

In a rapidly changing work environment, organizations grapple with retaining quality talent amidst an exhausted workforce, shrinking budgets, and an uncertain economy. The desire to stick around is decreasing among employees.

learning culture at work

According to Gartner, employee attrition averaged around 20% in 2022. The evolving landscape of employment—characterized by a surge in remote working, the loss of critical knowledge due to an aging workforce, and a demand for purpose-driven roles—underscores the need for a fresh approach.

In fact, purpose has arisen as an important driver for employees because it connects individuals to their companies.

Traditional development systems no longer suffice. Instead, companies must democratize and personalize learning at scale, fostering a culture that aligns with both individual and organizational purposes. While 83% of business leaders agree that development is important at every level, only 5% of businesses have implemented development initiatives at all levels.

As jobs and careers undergo transformative shifts and the lines between global and local blur, businesses must adapt. The significance of a purposeful learning culture, its impact on retention, and practical strategies for its implementation become paramount.

It’s not just about equipping employees with skills. It’s about giving them a reason to stay, grow, and thrive.

Here are three steps for implementing a learning culture throughout an organization:

Step 1: Aim For Personalization in Corporate Learning

The world of work progresses at a breakneck speed. To keep up with change, employees and teams need to consistently reskill. Though investments in learning and leadership development are at an all-time high, 70% of employees surveyed by Workplace Intelligence feel unprepared for the future of work.

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to learning. Personalization enables learners to focus on areas where they need the most improvement, allowing for targeted skill-building and efficient use of time and resources. This requires a blended and modular approach to give all learners access to training and materials at the right moments to unleash their potential.

Sadly, many learning programs prioritize ease of implementation and compliance, employing a rigid design suited for traditional learning academies and generic perspectives. Modern learners demand flexibility, including full access to quality materials, opportunities for exploration, and learning from others.

Democratizing materials and personalizing learning at scale across verticals can be challenging. However, adopting a more self-directed, human-centered approach is vital for the future of learning. Embracing technology to make learning tools and experiences accessible and relevant to everyone empowers workers to cultivate their skills and foster a stronger connection to their companies, reducing turnover.

Step 2: Create Ownership of Learning and Reward Curiosity

With a learning culture, every member of an organization must lead by example. It’s not enough to “sell and tell” a learning strategy. People—including the executive team members—need to know the “why?” behind learning.

All must feel a deeper commitment to the outcomes and impact of knowledge improvement. Individuals must perceive and experience the rewards of investing time and energy in learning.

For instance, when everyone develops their business and technology acumen, the path to digital transformation becomes smoother. Corresponding productivity gains benefit both employees and the business.

The cause and effect of learning on business results must be highlighted and rewarded.

Rewarding curiosity goes beyond praising and promoting those who show eagerness to learn. It also involves cultivating an environment that nurtures critical thinking, where debates and voicing opinions are encouraged, even if it leads to disagreement. As an added advantage, transparency in learning and development fosters psychological safety. Employees understand that they are encouraged to enhance their skills and won’t face penalties for applying newly acquired knowledge, even if the outcomes are unexpected or undesirable.

Rather than fearing excessive innovation, employees will be motivated to present novel strategies. Ultimately, this strengthens their connection with their work and the organization’s culture.

This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a balanced perspective between learning, testing, and relearning. An organization’s strategy and culture need to be mutually reinforced by means such as finding an equilibrium between accountability for progress while allowing the experience to be rich in positive, authentic coaching and feedback.

Step 3: Design Learning Portfolio Offerings Rich in Community, Experiences, and Content

More than 50% of employees who work remotely at least some of the time say they feel disconnected from their colleagues. Compounding this feeling, many learning strategies actively scale out human connections through technology. A well-balanced learning and development strategy will stimulate a learning culture when it optimizes for the right mix of three key things: community, experience, and content.

  • Communities are the best way to deliver lasting change because they create a connection between people and accountability.
  • Experiences are one of the most effective ways to disrupt mindsets and create the capacity to change.
  • Content is the foundation for guiding and reinforcing perspectives and ways of working.

Getting this balance is critical and should be the top priority for any learning organization.

One method of determining if participants are finding meaning from a learning portfolio is by measuring the impact through employee engagement surveys and similar vehicles. Together, the vehicles should measure three categories: the head, the heart, and the hands. In terms of the head, measurements should identify if the learning unlocks people’s intelligence so they can contribute to the company’s mission of outstripping the competition.

When it comes to the heart, the measurement should reveal whether employees are happy. As for the hands, the measuring device needs to indicate whether training has prompted productivity and performance.

Most companies accept that training their people is essential. However, far too many leaders haven’t changed their learning and development focus in years. That’s a liability in a modern labor market where talented individuals are quick to switch jobs.

The better way to ensure more retention and higher engagement is to invest in purpose-rich training that benefits all parties and creates a dynamic learning culture.

Stephanie Peskett is a senior vice president and partner at BTS, an organization that works with leaders at all levels to execute their strategies, help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions, and deliver results. Andrew Burns is a vice president at BTS, responsible for partnering with clients to accelerate strategy alignment and culture change initiatives.

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