Establishing a Culture of Learning
In an ideal world, learning is a continuous process that is self-sustaining; continuous because it never stops, self-sustaining because it is not imposed in a top-down approach, but rather kept alive from the bottom up.
Unfortunately, achieving such a scenario is much easier said than done, and the reasons are organisational as well as individual. From the company's point of view training might be nothing more than a cost and a burden, while from an employee perspective it is often seen as a waste of time and energy. And that's why ensuring that learning is valued in an organisation is a process that requires a slow but fundamental change in attitudes and behaviours, which requires time as well as appropriate structures and processes.
Senior managers, HR professionals and L&D Managers thus have a tough road ahead when it comes to instilling that learning culture within the organisation. But there is hope yet - it's hard, but not impossible, to incorporate a commitment to learning, knowledge sharing and the transfer of skills into the very core of what the organisation stands for.
Below are 8 key milestones to ensuring that learning gets embedded in the fabric of your organisational culture.
Align learning to organisational goals and strategic objectives.
There's a reason why the terms HR Assistant and Manager are slowly being phased out in favour of the more business-sounding "HR Business Partner". Organisations are finally becoming conscious of the fact that people development is very much tied to business performance, and as such should naturally be approached with the same goal-oriented, strategic approach used to set wider company goals.
More than that, it should be aligned with the business' goals and objectives in a proactive way and clearly presented to staff in an official setting.
Gain management buy-in for learning initiatives.
It's not high school anymore, but there is no getting around the fact that employees look up to their superiors. Even if they don't particularly like them, they effectively (and rightly) interpret them as role models who embody and are responsible for conveying the company's core values and commitments.
Companies that don't invest in training their leaders and managers in the importance of learning are thus taking a big risk. With stress levels high and the pace of business ever increasing, you can't rely on the individual alone - who has other business goals to meet - to give learning the time and room it deserves. Educating managers and leaders in the business benefits of learning and ensuring they buy into the idea is thus key to ensuring that all staff develops a similar attitude to continuous professional development.
Make knowledge-sharing an organisational habit.
This may be more or less difficult depending on the size of the organisation you work for, but it's really important to make staff see that knowledge-sharing is actively promoted across the organisation.
If you work for a company, take the initiative and organise some of these sessions directly, encouraging others to take part. If you work for a larger corporation, team up with the internal communications team and spread the word about initiatives that other teams and units are taking, or find otherwise engaging ways of getting people to contribute to initiatives with their knowledge and ideas.
Remember that making people feel that it's OK to speak up with their thoughts and opinions in general is critical to making them feel comfortable in situations where they have to share their expertise with others.
Link performance management to development and training.
Your performance management system, used by managers at all levels to review the performance of their staff, should link directly to employees' learning and development objectives.
In other words: there should be a clear progression from the "problem" to the "solution", the former being the area that requires development and the latter being the training necessary to address that need. Knowing that they can receive training to address their weaknesses should serve to make staff more open about areas they are having trouble with, as well as ensure that these are dealt with immediately rather than via a separate process.
Change it up.
Traditional classroom training and online courses are just fine when it comes to developing skills. But when you're talking about organisational culture, bringing a little fun into the mix every now and again will work wonders in terms of employee engagement.
The truth is: learning is often seen as a rather boring endeavour. By showing staff that learning can actually be fun, you will indirectly make them more receptive to learning opportunities in the future. A great time to organise activities that are a little "out there" is National Learning at Work Week - held every day in May, it is a national event dedicated to celebrating the importance of learning in the workplace. Many companies take the opportunity to organise at least a few sessions that focus on the "light-hearted" side of learning - from cake-baking to chess, they encourage staff to let loose and do something a little different, but that still ultimately results in learning that they can use in the future.
Seek tailored in-house induction programmes and training solutions.
In-house programmes that are tailored to your organisation and your values are a great way to integrate learning into the organisation. Rather than just sporadic courses here and there, however, the implementation of company-wide induction programmes is a great way to ensure that all staff are introduced to training early on in a standardised - yet tailored - way.
It won't be easy, but taking steps to approach and rectify these issues will go a long way in instilling that learning-friendly culture your organisation needs to retain top talent and stay competitive in the long run.