A Learning Culture Is A Must Today
Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He was right. Copious applied research conducted by cultural change luminaries such as Edgar Schein confirms this. Building a learning culture is key when it comes to organizational strategy and performance. Organizations that want to engage their talent and drive for results to increase performance must focus on building an enduring culture of learning, one that aligns the learning they offer to their C-suite business performance results. This is easier said than done.
And that is why I focused on it. During my doctoral dissertation in organizational change and leadership at the USC Rossier School of Education, I researched the elements of building an enduring learning culture. Using the Clark and Estes knowledge, motivation, and organizational influences model, I distilled three actionable and practical steps to help chief learning officers (CLOs) and their Learning and Development (L&D) teams build an enduring learning culture that aligns the learning to business performance results. I distilled my research into three tactics:
1. Foster Confidence, Creativity, And Commitment In Your L&D Team
This first tactic is critical because it focuses on people, the people in your team. This tactic pertains to the immediate term so you have to tackle it first. You have to motivate your team before building a learning culture for the broader organization. Motivating employees is critical and entails creating a culture of psychological safety where you empower your team by creating a platform to engage, collaborate, and explore new ideas without the fear and burden of failure. The following steps can help you chart your course.
1. Start With “Why”
As Simon Sinek recommends, before embarking on an organizational change effort, the company must start at the beginning to ensure that everyone is on board with the why. To do this, you can conduct brainstorming and training sessions that empower and enable your teams to define their organizational values (their “why”).
2. Encourage Innovative And Creative Problem-Solving
Empower your teams to think innovatively and creatively through design thinking and agile training sessions. Design thinking and agile process learning sessions will help L&D teams increase efficiencies and develop new ideas, and empower them to embrace their own notions of choice and control over those ideas through specific tasks and activities to implement them.
3. Communicate Openly
This begins with you setting the example, and cascades all the way to your individual team members. Openness means that the team communicates openly about successes and challenges alike. Open communication can be expressed verbally, in writing, and non-verbally, and fosters trust and psychological safety.
4. Hire, Develop, And Retain Great People
Yes, before you can build an enduring culture of learning for your organization, you must create a microcosm of it in your Learning and Development team. To do this, you need to focus on hiring the right people, providing them with learning opportunities, and recognizing and rewarding them with specific rewards and recognition programs that foster work and life balance. For more tips and strategies to foster a good employee experience, check out my article series on employee experience .
2. Align Metrics, Strategy, And Resources To The CEO Agenda
This step is about data and alignment and pertains to the medium term of your efforts. You can manage what you can measure. So collecting the right data and aligning this with the CEO’s agenda is critical, because the learning you will be introducing needs to close the gap between employee skills and the organizational strategic goals the employees need to achieve. To know which skills your organization’s employees need, you must collect and review relevant data on employee learning habits, needs, and wants. The following steps can inform your efforts.
1. Collect The Right Data
Engage the L&D team with the C-suite through consistent, periodic meetings with the organization leaders to listen to their vision and goals. Using information from these meetings, draft a data collection plan to ensure that the team collects the right data on the organizational learning needs and sets metrics that align with the vital C-suite goals.
2. Develop A Strategic Plan
Provide your team training sessions and tools for developing a strategy, conducting an environmental scan (externally of the industry and internally of the organization), conducting a SWOT analysis, and setting SMART goals. You will use the data from all these components. as well as the budget, to build the strategic plan.
3. Align Your Resources To The CEO’s Agenda
Having set the metrics and the strategic plan, the CLO and the management team must align the budget, the people, and the technology resources to the organizational priorities gleaned from the meetings with the C-suite, to ensure that all align to the CEO agenda.
3. Cultivate Continuous Improvement
The third tactic pertains to the long term where a continuous improvement mindset feeds an enduring learning culture and vice versa. Benchmarking, accreditation, and industry awards are three approaches to help you and your team instill continuous improvement in your organization.
1. Benchmark The Best
First, you need to ensure your team is well versed and trained in conducting benchmarking, identifying best practice organizations within and outside their industry. They will be engaging in benchmarking virtual visits to collect, glean, adopt, and adapt best practices within the Learning and Development division and the organization as a whole. The American Society for Quality and the American Productivity and Quality Center, among others, offer tools and resources.
2. Seek Accreditation
This step pertains to corporate universities. You will need to provide guidance and learning opportunities to the L&D team to prepare, seek, and obtain higher educational institution accreditation from organizations such as the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and others.
3. Apply For Industry Awards
Similar to accreditation, your team can apply for industry awards, such as the Chief Learning Officer’s LearningElite award, Brandon Hall, and Training Industry. In this case, your team will need to collect success stories related to Learning and Development from across the organization. Next, your team will need to seek, apply for, and win industry awards through the specific and often rigorous application preparation, submission, and communication process required.
So, as my research revealed, to build an enduring learning culture that aligns learning to business performance results, you must take the lead by fostering confidence, creativity, and commitment in your team; by aligning learning metrics, strategy, and resources to the CEO agenda; and finally, by cultivating continuous improvement in L&D and throughout your organization.