How L&D leaders build learning cultures from the ground up featuring practical advice to help you:
- Define what a learning culture could look like in your organisation
- Put employees at the heart of your strategy
- Work with senior leadership to spark cultural change
- Identify and win over often overlooked influencers in your company
- Help employees become accountable for learning
- Use technology as an ally
- Find tangible impacts to drive home the value of a learning culture
Top-performing organisations are five times more likely to have learning cultures, suggesting a culture of learning is a key component of business success. “An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage,” according to Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric.
What does a learning culture look like in action? To find out, we’ve identified various L&D leaders who have worked to lead a holistic cultural shift in the communities of their organisations. They come from a diverse array of industries and organisational sizes, from both the public and private sectors, and have shared their experience and insights in leading cultural change.
There is no one-size-fits-all learning culture
Learning cultures come in “a lot of different flavours, smells and styles because every organisation is different,” says Steve Garguilo, who led a cultural revolution at Johnson & Johnson through a grassroots movement which included the world’s first global corporate TEDx programme.
L&D teams should therefore choose and promote learning cultures that address and complement the specific needs of their organisations. “It is important to remember the specific context of the organisation and its workforce, as the culture needs to be a good fit for both,” says Will Chaney, Workforce Capability Team Manager at Essex Social Care Academy – Adult Social Care, part of Essex County Council.
The implementation of learning cultures is becoming more necessary as training,
technology and learning needs evolve. “Historically, our workforce had effectively been ‘spoon-fed’ training opportunities, usually in a traditional classroom-based format, which was no longer an option,” says Chaney.
“We needed a different learning culture which would increase staff’s personal responsibility for their own learning and introduce more variety and flexibility in learning opportunities in order to suit our specific context.”
Yet, this isn’t a cut and dry process. Everyone we spoke with described finding an optimum organisational learning culture as an ongoing process; one of continuous exploration and discovery of what works best for their tribe.
Keep employee impact at the heart of what you do
A healthy professional learning culture is “one which puts the employee at the centre of everything,” says Kim Edwards, Talent and Leadership Development Manager at Getty Images and co-presenter of Learning Now TV.
It is crucial to help learners understand how their individual learning makes a positive impact on business success. Communicating personal learning as the driver of organisational success underpins a learning culture.
After solidifying the connection between what employees do and how that contributes to
the organisation, Edwards says Getty Images employees have “more awareness that they’re always absorbing information and making decisions in all that they do – therefore always learning and applying that learning – and realise that our company encourages and appreciates that time and effort.”
“ ...by empowering more people in your organisation, that's where huge change happens. ”
— Steve Garguilo, Johnson & Johnson
Link learning to promotion
Another way to help employees understand the value of continuous learning is by offering professional development incentives. People and Culture Manager, Jo Rapley, explains how this worked successfully for global resourcing partnership BPS World: “Every employee has a Personal Development Plan (PDP) which links closely to our ‘Stars’ career development programme.
In order to receive a promotion, individuals have to achieve two consecutive sets of quarterly objectives. This year alone, 42% of our employees have been promoted.” When learning is considered a performance factor, employees will seek out training proactively.
“As soon as employees realised that their own careers were hugely impacted by embarking on the L&D programme, we noticed a rise in training requests. In addition to employees requesting internal training courses, we observed an increase in employees wanting to deliver training (peer-to-peer), more individuals interested in buddying new starters and a rise in demand for LinkedIn Learning Licences. All clear indicators that employees recognise the value of training.”
Work with senior leadership
Executive-level support is key in any learning initiative, but it is more essential than ever when taking on the endeavour of transforming company culture. In our survey to over 180 U.K. L&D departments, the number one comment from professionals about how they encourage a culture of learning is through meaningful and overt support from senior leaders. This support may look like personally modelling engagement in learning, connecting employee learning directly to promotions and giving L&D leaders the funding to support research, creation and implementation of programmes.
“Where new methods of learning are introduced, we have also found that getting ‘buy-in’ from influential people, such as Service Managers, has helped,” Chaney explains. “If they feel that a particular initiative is a useful one, they are more likely to encourage their staff to get involved.”
If you need to attain buy-in, we recommend pitching senior management with specific desired business outcomes that can be met with an improved learning culture and then tying each culture campaign tightly and measurably to organisational goals.
Connect with key cultural influencers
Although executive buy-in is paramount, it’s important to draw on key influencers, and they may not be individuals you have previously worked with. Driving a learning culture can be helped by “building a relationship with the internal communications team. They’re always in the know, with direct partnerships at executive level, and can help promote L&D activity, aims and brand,” according to Edwards.
You can also work with catalysts in your organisation who exemplify the culture you’re trying to create. “As opposed to trying to drive change from within an HR function or from the senior executive level, it’s critical to amplify voices buried within the organisation who are connectors and who are making new ideas happen. So if you’re an L&D professional, what can you do to start building up an army of people in diverse places in your organisation to help you with your goals?
We all know that we never have enough resources in L&D to do everything that we want to do, but by empowering more people in your organisation, that’s where huge change happens,” says Garguilo.
“A healthy professional learning culture is one which puts the employee at the centre of everything.” — Kim Edwards, Getty Images
Push for accountability on all ends
Individual accountability for learning is a linchpin in any learning culture; when corporate learning becomes “pull” instead of “push,” the organisation wins. This behaviour needs to be modelled by the L&D department.
Embracing accountability as an L&D department by encouraging and acting on feedback, will go a long way. “I think [a healthy professional learning culture] is one where feedback and recognition is encouraged and appreciated, and valued as an important aspect of development and progress,” says Edwards.
This also means prioritising your department’s professional development. “As a team, we are practicing what we preach, with several of our L&D members undertaking further or higher qualifications,” says Sian Musial, an L&D specialist at Pepper Financial Services Group.
Ultimately, the success of a learning culture depends on the engagement of the entire organisation, as Chaney explains: “Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own learning; everyone should be willing to try different means of learning, including personal reading and experiential learning; and reflecting on your own learning is essential to help transfer learning into practice.”
Use technology as an enabler
Technology can be a powerful ally in cultural transformation. “If we’re not tech literate as L&D teams, then we’re at risk of falling incredibly far behind,” says Garguilo.
What all high-performing learning organisations seem to agree on is that technology is the enabler and not the starting point. Technology has played an important role in the increase of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, according to Musial. However, Pepper Financial Services “remains committed to bringing people into a room to experience training in group settings where the status quo can be challenged and productive discussion can drive the change and improvement agenda.”
“Technology has also enabled us to launch new forms of learning, such as virtual reality apps,” Chaney explains. “We have partnered with a specialised external website to provide staff with reading and research materials which are directly relevant to their professional practice; this website, as well as our LMS, enable staff to keep their own record of their CPD and reflective learning.”
This shows how technology can help staff take ownership of their learning, a pivotal aspect of a successful learning culture. Other applications could take the form of encouraging learner groups in social platforms like Slack, enabling learners to share their knowledge through video platforms, or helping employees track and visualise their learning progress.
Be specific about the impact you're looking for and then measure it
During Stephen Garguilo’s time at Johnson & Johnson, he focused on measuring the rise of employee engagement throughout the company through metadata on digital and social technologies, their improvement in critical skills and net promoter scores. But for him,
“Stories were also a really important measure. I’d constantly be on the lookout for impact stories of product development and people development, and collecting dozens of those stories was really valuable in being able to demonstrate value as well as inspire others to realise similar outcomes.”
At Pepper Financial Services, one of their desired impacts was for progress in their business measure of being an employer of choice. They were specific in what they considered impacts, including enhanced internal promotion and movement, lowered attrition, and brand and cultural awareness.
Make it part of a larger cultural transformation
It’s no surprise that a learning culture is intertwined with business performance, so if your overall company culture is suffering, your battle can be an uphill one. On the flip side, your department has the capability to positively impact your organisation for years to come.
“What happens culturally throughout an organisation is linked to what happens with learning and career development and viceversa,” says Musial.
Seizing the opportunity to introduce new learning cultures while an organisation is already open to, or experiencing change, may prove successful. For Essex Social Care Academy, it was industry changes that sparked the introduction of new learning approaches. Chaney says: “In a way, we were helped in starting this process by the various changes that were introduced in relation to adult social care over the last few years . . . the inevitable need to deliver social care in a different way and a new learning management system to name a few.”
A cultural transformation of learning is unlikely to happen overnight. “Patience will be necessary,” says Chaney, “as well as determination and an agreed plan to achieve a well defined outcome. The methods to deliver the change may need to vary and be adapted through time.” For those ready to start implementing or reinforcing a learning culture, education is key. “For a culture of learning to be fostered successfully, the concept has to be understood, supported and driven from every level of the organisation,” says Edwards.
In order to inspire a learning culture, the organisations we spoke with recommended promoting learning from failure as well as success, advocating for employee freedom to challenge the status quo with new ideas, supporting and publicising innovation that springs from learning, and if possible, giving learners encouragement and a platform to collaborate with each other after training events have taken place.
This article is part of the U.K. L&D Report 2018: Benchmark Your Workplace Learning Strategy.
Download the full report below:
- The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organisations in 2018.
- Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, get the most from the apprenticeship levy and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.
- How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!
This article is sponsored by the ICAEW Academy of Professional Development.
About the Author
Abby works as the Communications Team Lead for findcourses.co.uk with a mission of connecting learning leaders with the data and information they need to provide the best training possible for their people.
Originally from Indianapolis in the U.S., Abby studied her bachelor’s at Hanover College in Business and Literature and has worked for findcourses since 2015. She is passionate about corporate learning and works internally to help organise Learning at Work Week within findcourses.co.uk's company of 165 team members, and provide and source external training in content creation as an in-house expert.
Abby is also the creator and editor of the UK L&D Report which interviews and surveys L&D leaders from top UK companies to help uncover data-driven best practice and easy-to-implement advice.