learning culture at work

How To Build A Learning Culture At Work?

Go back to the beginning of your career. Fresh out of college and looking at the prospect of your new fancy job – what was on your mind? “Learning a lot” is a popular answer. And over the years, things have not quite changed; it’s still about learning and growth, with greater importance on the former as the speed of changes and advancements has increased rapidly. 

Josh Bersin and LinkedIn teamed up to understand how much learning matters at work; unsurprisingly, they noted – 

  • the opportunity to learn and grow is the second most inspiring thing about the job 
  • the lack of opportunity to learn and grow is the foremost reason to leave a job 
It is bound to happen as learning is closely tied to professional growth. Moreover, a rapidly evolving world creates redundancies and demands for new skills. To keep up, you need to learn constantly, even by stealing time from your full-time job.

It’s about more than just the employees who are seeking more; organizations that are not learning are losing their competitive edge with older methods and ideas. Learning as an organizational initiative has never been more pertinent and misunderstood at once. In between this chaos comes the cultural element – does your organization have a learning culture? One that enables rather than punishes. 

A learning culture helps you thrive, not just survive, at your job. Think of a learning culture as one where everything is designed to enable growth and learning opportunities for employees instead of treating them like hurdles on the way to productivity. As a result, the average day in a learning culture looks quite like this: 

You attend a stand-up call that focuses on the tasks and challenges of the day. Your colleague shares where they are stuck, another update about their progress, and the new skill they are learning. During a coffee break, you tell your team member about a solution you thought of. They listen, help you fine-tune it, and help you apply it when you encounter the following problem.

The day is going on, and you are stuck. There’s no way out, but your manager shows up and offers a solution. They also ask if you want to add something to the process. At lunch, there’s a session that mixes good food with interesting ideas. This week’s lunch and learn features an expert, and you can ask them about the latest happenings in your field. As the day closes, you have a list of books suggested by your peers and a course your manager recommends. Your company even pays for it! You are excited to know more.

Does that sound good? That’s what a learning culture looks like in action. To sum up, let’s see the key features of a learning culture in an organization.

Creating a learning culture: Key ingredients

  • First, a learning culture embraces a growth mindset that recognizes the value and opportunity of learning at every opportunity. It allows managers and team members to approach limitations as opportunities instead of roadblocks. As we saw in the example above, there are constant and omnipresent reinforcements toward learning, whether innovative ways of doing things or risk appetite.
  • Second come the resources and tangible ideas, such as books and lunch-and-learn sessions. These can take many forms depending on what your team needs—the key is finding something that creates value for them.
  • Third, as noted above, many opportunities are informal and created in situations that are not actively planned. It happens when learning becomes second nature to everyone. The effort is not just for L&D or the senior leadership; it’s a community effort for everyone.

Why is a learning culture important?

Although it sounds good as a concept, why should you invest in building a learning culture in your organization? Primarily, the reasons why a learning culture matters include: 

  • Helps you retain good talent: Opportunities to learn and grow are top priorities in employee surveys. They are also critical determinants of your employees’ long-term growth and success. Moreover, learning and development can positively impact your employees’ self-esteem and safety, enabling them to work more stress-free.
  • Learning culture leads to a more developed workforce: When learning is a way of life, your people are bound to be on top of their game with constant updates and ideas from the world. Learning is reinforced through regular interactions as an aspect of your organizational culture. Consequently, you can keep innovating and getting better than your competitors.
  • Builds resilience and agility: The skills determining success today differ from a decade ago. Organizations that understood trends and moved with them could capture the market and get more done even when things kept changing. Constant learning makes your team resilient to changes and keeps your processes agile.
  • Improves business outcomes: Learning helps you advance and remain ahead of others, thus providing a competitive edge to realize strategic objectives rapidly. For L&D leaders, a culture that consistently reinforces this critical area of success is the most significant enabler.
Let’s flip the table on the example we saw earlier: what would your day be like without a learning culture?

  • The morning huddles don’t really talk about challenges anymore, let alone overcoming them. The team does not share tips and tricks across the board. You are as stuck and confused as you were before the meeting, with some humiliation to accompany.
  • At coffee chats and lunch breaks, you are talking about the new employee improvement program that you need to sit through. It’s boring, and it’s been the same since the two years you joined.
  • You are thinking of your next job while leaving; there is no list of ideas or resources to consider on your way out. Plus, you might be wondering how much you need to pay for upskilling.
That sounds like a recipe for disaster. As we saw here, an employee improvement program is in place, too. The leadership does have development on its mind but cannot get it quite right without solid planning and culture to provide consistent reinforcements to those plans.

How does culture affect learning?

Culture gets your mind set on what you need to do. Think of it this way: your team has a list of resources available, and they are great. You encourage everyone to take those courses and even ask them for updates and experiences. But there’s hardly any response. Wonder why? Because they did not see their managers or peers do it, this was a little important in the bigger picture. Suppose someone even opened it to audit, another colleague’s passing remark, “Huh? Who does that?” would ensure that the tab closes soon enough. Putting learning on the minds of your employees is not just about setting the resources in front of them. Instead, you need to get them going.

Social expectations and norms are critical in determining what people do, as the seminal Hawthrone studies noted. Moreover, learning methods could be inaccessible, and you would not know until there is an active discourse on the matter. Challenges like special learning needs and different learning styles and practices clarify only after active use. Similarly, learners may need better teaching methods, a different set of resources, and more opportunities to apply things – all discovered during feedback and one-on-one meetings focusing on these issues.

Culture, thus, becomes a significant reinforcer of your tangible moves. At times, it is the most important determining factor for your success, as noted in this study on leadership development initiatives, which showed that the direct involvement of senior leadership and their focus positively impacts retention and change!

Signs that your team needs a learning culture

A culture is hard to diagnose, so how do you notice what changes are needed? Let’s look at some signs of the absence of a learning culture: 

  • Your team members hardly raise questions about new things; there’s little talk about what they are learning. 
  • Your team sticks to tried and tested ways of doing things; innovation and risk are missing. 
  • You may not have a learning budget, or it is severely restricted, or the employees do not know about it. 
  • Mistakes often become conflicts instead of opportunities to review and learn something new. Managers punish mistakes rather than encouraging a solution-oriented mindset.
  • Employees are not engaged and active at work. Your team sees high turnover and routine processes. Feedback is limited in terms of good or bad performance and not extended to the next steps.
When we talk of culture, we assume it’s about the simpler things—like how someone is speaking or their review of the latest skill-building session and how positive it is. We frequently miss the fact that culture also has complex and tangible aspects. 

Bersin and LinkedIn’s research listed over 100 areas that contribute to culture. Some of these, like development plans and strategies, are easily assumed to be outside the area. That’s where the fun is: you are making culture unknowingly so far. A culture considers your methods, reactions, and processes that keep the organization going. While setting these up effectively, you will see the former aspects as a consequence – by being intentional about where we want to take our teams as L&D managers. 

Hence, when discussing building a learning culture in your team, we are thinking holistically – what can you change, and what results should you expect? Let’s unravel a few key ideas:

Create informal instances of learning 

First up, break the silos and systems that keep learning obscured. Your team wants the opportunities, but often at their own pace. Allowing employees to participate in defining their responsibilities and keeping the decision processes open to them helps empower them as substantial members of the team. It also ensures that they trust the system and own bits of it, thus being willing contributors and participants. 

Moreover, learning shared over informal instances, such as cross-functional teams and lunch breaks, is a great way to collaborate and share ideas. It is even better that once the cycle is on, it reinforces itself further as team members add information, insights, and feedback. The best part is a community that learns from each other without thinking of limitations. 

Focus on continuous learning instead of one-stop shops 

It’s a no-brainer at this point that teams no longer appreciate the full-fledged workshop on the most important skill of their lives, which will throw them behind by two days with little retention or remedy for their issues. Then the question becomes, what do they really want? Most often, professionals seek learning in the flow of work, learning that does not disrupt their lives, be it professional or personal. 

Second, they are looking for learning that they can apply at work and have the chance to do so. Many participants are dissatisfied with L&D initiatives because the knowledge is often not applicable or provided at the right time. Your team needs learning that suits their needs, be it the schedule, the type, or the purpose – keep the employee at the center of it all. 

Notice and give feedback 

Let’s go back to school. What did we love most after getting something right? A bit of appreciation, right? The principle stays the same as the years pass. Team members need appreciation and encouragement to keep going in the right direction. When you are designing learning experiences, incorporate two-way feedback mechanisms, too. 

Moreover, reinforcements should be provided throughout the program in various ways. This can include recognizing someone for solving a problem independently or offering praise during a one-on-one meeting. In the end, it’s about seeing the effort and acknowledging it. 

Feedback is not just a manager’s job, so don’t fill their calendars with review meetings for everyone they see. Instead, think of feedback as an ongoing and shared exercise. Along with reviews, encourage employees to give feedback to peers and show intentional action accordingly.

Encourage risks and errors

What stops us from trying new things? Often, it’s the fear of failure that we can blame. The fear of not getting things right in the first place is a huge hurdle. As learning managers, it becomes imperative to help our team members overcome this. Thus, consider how your workplace and leaders react to bad news and mistakes. 

A leader’s openness to lousy news is featured in Bersin’s 40 features of a learning culture, thus making it a must-have for your team, too. When leaders are willing to hear what went wrong without losing it, the team can relax and be honest about their situations. All the heads can come together and solve issues. This reinforces employee empowerment and builds loyalty for the leadership team, too. 

Similarly, mistakes and risks need to be encouraged among the team members. Let them have the space to apply what they figured out. Team members thrive in a psychologically safe environment. So think reflection, not punishment, when something goes wrong the next time.

Build an employee-centric community  

What makes you trust someone and relax? Knowing them well, right? The same goes for your team. Visible openness and honesty in processes and outcomes are essential to ensuring that they place trust in you and your abilities. 

One way of doing this is building context around your activities by regularly sharing stories from the organization that help employees connect with the “why.” Similarly, when leaders and managers show up for training sessions, it is an added boost because team members see them valuing the initiative. This establishes the importance and value of learning at work and thinking of it as more than just a chore that needs to be done. 

Keeping the employee at the pivot and developing ideas around them—like career development plans, project leadership, and taking opinions in strategizing—makes their role very tangible. 

As we embark on this journey together, let us remember that building a learning culture is not just about ticking off boxes or implementing initiatives—it’s about igniting a passion for learning, inspiring curiosity, and nurturing a spirit of innovation. It’s about creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, empowered, and supported in their quest for knowledge. So let us dare to dream, explore, and learn, for in the journey of learning lies the promise of a brighter, more resilient future for us all.

How strong are your communication skills?

Communication creates a culture. Are you ready to ace this task? Find out with a free assessment now.

Other Related Blogs

are you on track to meet your q1 goals

Are you on track to meet your Q1 goals?

Are you on track to meet your Q1 goals? We are in the middle of the first quarter of 2024. Seems hard to believe. It surely is! ⏰ Time has…

5 Secrets Of Solid Goal Setting At Work You Can’t Miss

5 Secrets Of Solid Goal Setting At Work You Can’t Miss “I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the…

Understanding the world of Goal Setting Coach to reach new heights

Understanding the world of Goal Setting Coach to reach new heights Setting and achieving goals is essential for personal and organizational success in today’s fast-paced and competitive work environment. However,…

Manager’s Guide to Collaborative Goal-setting (with examples)

Manager’s Guide to Collaborative Goal-setting (with examples) Collaborative goal-setting is an essential process that enables teams to work together towards a common objective. It involves creating shared goals that align…

Comments are closed.