And, like learning itself, those challenges never end.
Creating and maintaining a true learning culture requires
continuous measurement, the disciplined use of processes
and, as you might expect, overcoming objections while
you integrate the concept of learning into how your company operates. All of that is no small job, but here are 8
steps that can help you succeed.
Recognize the Difference Between
Skills and Behaviors
Skills are generally straightforward to learn and often
narrow in scope: Knowing how to use a piece of machinery is a skill, for instance, and so is being adept at Microsoft Excel. You can usually teach individuals a basic skill
online and then test them to measure whether they’ve mastered it, says Phil Geldart, CEO of Eagle’s Flight, an organizational culture and leadership development firm based
in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
But lessons on behavior—how someone acts under certain circumstances or pressures—are trickier to impart.
How do you teach people to behave in a safe manner? Not
only do you have to instruct them on, say, the proper way
to don protective gear, but you must instill in them the
importance of why they need to wear it in the first place.
“A learning culture should be designed to enable and
promote learning behaviors,” Hess says. “The first thing
to do is define the behaviors you want and the behaviors
you don’t want and design [your culture] to produce those
results.” For example, if you want people to challenge the
status quo and be candid with their colleagues at all levels, you must teach employees how to do that. Indeed, that
idea must be incorporated into your company’s overall
approach to learning.
TRY THIS: In her book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass
Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press,
2017), Kim Scott says the best way to develop a culture
of candor is for leaders to ask their employees to challenge them directly—and to not react defensively to
what they say. “If a person is bold enough to criticize
you, do not critique their criticism,” writes Scott, a former manager at Google and Apple.
Make It About KSAs, not KPIs
A learning culture reflects an organization “that values
and has norms around learning,” says Amy DuVernet,
director of certification programs at Training Industry
Inc., a media company focused on learning professionals
in Raleigh, N.C.
In particular, she says, it’s a culture where people are
encouraged to improve their knowledge, skills and abili-
ties, or KSAs, in order to better themselves for the orga-
nization. “It’s more than training,” she emphasizes. It’s
where learning “permeates the culture.”
That means your workforce must understand that
learning and experimenting are both safe and expected—
and shouldn’t be reserved only for formal training scenar-
ios. “Today, both the company and individual have to con-
tinually adapt, and skills have to be continually updated,”
says Eric Duffy, chief executive of the enterprise learning
platform provider Pathgather in New York City. “A learn-
ing culture understands this and broadcasts that you’re
expected to continuously improve.”
In addition, you must “take the time to continuously
reinforce new skills learned,” adds Debbie Deissroth,
SHRM-SCP, corporate director of learning and develop-
ment at Kennedy Health in Cherry Hill, N.J. “It’s critical
to integrate all of the learning so that people can see the
connection between each of the skills being applied until
they become preferred behaviors.”
“It’s [about] empowering people to discuss new knowl-
edge with co-workers and experiment on their own,” adds
Maria Ho, research head of the Alexandria, Va.-based
Association for Talent Development. Instilling that sec-
ond piece is where companies struggle, she warns—which
is why tip No. 3 is so important.
Get Buy-In at the Top
“Buy-in” goes beyond sign-off. Leaders must fully understand how a learning culture works, why they’ll need to
be visible champions of it and, of course, why it’s worth
the investment. “Any time you can translate HR initiatives
into dollars, it’s going to help you make the argument,”
The bottom line is leadership should be excited and
must model the behavior it wants to see. In addition, the
message that it’s OK to fail must come from top executives, Ho says. Indeed, failure is integral to learning.
That’s why managers must provide many opportunities
for workers to go out and experiment.
Also, ingrain one word in your thinking: relevance.
“Making sure learning goals are aligned with business
goals is absolutely key,” Ho says.
“A learning culture is a strategic imperative in a world
characterized by change and complexity,” Hess says.
“Constant improvement and innovation are required
to stay competitive.” Your leaders must be shown that
learning underlies constant improvement, operational