How to Develop and Encourage a Culture of Learning

Posted: January 7, 2015 by Don Weobong
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It has been said that workplace culture is a collection of unwritten rules, codes of behavior and practices by which people operate. What then is a culture of learning? Is this a series of unwritten codes and rules regarding the role and importance an organization places on learning? Are learning and training the same?

Some of the most admired organizations for company culture include Zappos, Google, Apple, OxFam and Coke. Coincidentally these most-admired companies also happen to rank highest as the best places to work and return some of the highest financial performances to their shareholders.

How do these companies develop or encourage a culture of learning that is so much better than others? Are they simply lucky to have wonderful employees and responsive management? Is their overall success based on some random factor, or rather a well-honed learning culture that allows team members to pull resources, share knowledge and engage in reasonable risks and creative effort?

A learning culture does not simply occur in a vacuum. The key to developing such a culture is the willingness of the team members to invest in the hard work needed to nurture and develop the learning environment. Let’s examine how this is done.

Cultural Change Can Start in the Middle

While executive or management engagement and buy-in is crucial to developing a learning culture, it is not always the catalyst. Middle managers can begin in their own small circles to develop a learning environment. If senior management chooses to nurture a learning culture, it typically is tied to business goals, vision and objectives.

Develop Standards: Communication and Models

Here are some questions to consider:

• What information do people need to do their jobs?

• What is the function of the information?

• Who holds that knowledge now? Who needs it? When?

• How can that information be made substantially more effective?

• What connection should you make between documents and “workflow”?

Recognize Success and Achievements

As with any organizational activity, it helps to reward employees for achievements both small and big. Management and leaders must learn to deal with setbacks and failures in a way that does not traumatize the team and lead to paralysis. Employees will quickly clam-up if they perceive mistakes are dealt with harshly with no chance to learn. Mistakes and setbacks should be turned into powerful learning opportunities.

Sustain the Learning Culture

After successfully developing a learning culture, the work is not done. There have been countless stories of great corporate cultures that have wilted away because the early evangelist of the culture left or senior management changed priorities.

To continue, there must be regular feedback, honest evaluation and reality checks of the processes and outcomes mentioned above.