"An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage."
~ Jack Welch
In any organization, the primary focus is on getting the ''work done''. Desperate to achieve this, managers fail to realize that most ''work'' is accomplished by people, or rather the employees. To get the work done and to help the organization achieve its goal, individuals need to be trained, motivated, encouraged, and rewarded. This is the only way that real and long-term organizational benefits can be procured. One way in which leaders and managers can generate desired organizational outcomes is by fostering a learning culture in an organization.
What is a Learning Culture?
Defined as enhancing the capability for learning within the organization, a learning culture focuses on continuous learning and its respective implementation. A learning organization is one which encourages and facilitates learning and assessment. Not only are learning and assessment opportunities provided and supported, but also encouraged and rewarded in such an organization. Learning is an integral part of the organizational goals, and is supported by technology and other learning tools.
Unlike popular notion, learning culture is not about academic growth of the employees. It is in fact extremely relevant for the growth of the business. It allows the organization to remain productive and competitive in local and global markets by building a loyal and result-focused workforce that has a greater ability to deal with changes. Higher employee satisfaction and retention, along with an impetus to build an environment in which people are open to new ideas, new skills and capabilities, is the focus of a learning culture. Rather than the passive intake of information, a learning culture supports and facilitates the growth of people through their own processing of information into knowledge, values and skills.
Creating a Learning Culture in an Organization
In his widely acclaimed book, The Fifth Discipline
, Peter Senge defines a learning organization as ''an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future''
. Creating a learning culture where learning is valued and promoted, and also seen as an integral part of the business, is not easy. Here are some ways in which an organization can create such a culture.
Assess the Organization's Orientation to Learning
Before you can create a learning culture, it is important to assess the organization's learning culture currently. To do so, you can perform a type of self audit by asking the following questions.
Do the employees at all levels ask questions and share stories about their learning experiences?
Do the managers encourage continuous experimentation?
Do managers lead their team members by example? Do they invest in their own personal development?
Are innovative suggestions and ideas rewarded?
Are the managers willing to explore their underlying values, assumptions and beliefs?
Do the performance reviews in the organization pay heed to and include what people ''have learned'' instead of focusing only on what people ''have done''?
Do the managers pay attention to the individuality of people instead of treating them as mere resources?
Is feedback solicited and encouraged?
If the answers to all these questions is an affirmative, then the organization is perfect for fostering a learning culture. As opposed to this, a stringent top-down organization where managers share information on a need-to-know basis, treat people as objects, and are unwilling to do anything without knowing the outcome, is not conducive to an environment that would foster a learning culture.
Commitment of the Management
A learning culture can only be fostered when the top management is committed towards encouraging the culture in the organization. Additionally, the manager must be able to create and communicate a clear vision and plan, he or she should be able to inspire and motivate others, and should also be able to change course in case the circumstances change. It is the top management's responsibility to align the organization's goals and work culture with learning. Every manager must encourage, facilitate, and hold people accountable for learning.
Along with this, the managers should also serve as role models for learning. In addition to expanding the learning quotient of the employees, the managers should think about their interest in and capacity for learning new things. This will help them become champions for learning. Managers who behave as a know-it-all, can never motivate and serve as role models to employees.
Aligning Learning Culture with Organizational Goals
One of the mistakes that most organizations make is to assume that learning is all about training. It is just an external solution that needs to be handled by the HR and external trainers. Learning is not about training and about creating content that just lies there without having any meaning. Learning should be the heart of the organization and a key part of everyone's work. It should be incorporated in the process itself. It is the manager's responsibility to emphasize that learning is an important activity and is aligned to business strategies. Make "Learning Culture" your corporate goal, and ensure that it is a part of every person's personal and annual goals.
Providing Learning Tools
Even though the employees may be motivated enough to learn, without the right learning tools, a learning culture cannot be created. A training program, or an educational event may not be enough. To provide the employees with the right learning tools, it is important to continually assess their learning needs and provide continuous learning interventions that facilitate knowledge acquisition and application to the workplace.
Ensure accessibility of knowledge through books, social media, online videos, etc. Provide internal learning opportunities through coaching and training, support outside learning, and celebrate and reward learning. The learning courses must be simple to use and must be easily accessible, without cost being a major hurdle in the learning process. To create a learning organization it is important to invest time and effort into building one.
Promote Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge sharing within the organization is a great way of building a learning environment. Instead of trying to automate learning by replacing human interaction with technological solutions, promote knowledge sharing within the organization and foster relationships among people. People learn faster from one another. This does not mean there should be internal experts telling people what they should do. Instead, peers should be motivated to share their thoughts and experiences, and in the process, learn from each other. Managers can facilitate the making of connections across the organization and into outside networks so that the whole organization and employees can "learn".
Encourage an Experimental Mindset and Allow Mistakes
New ideas should be encouraged and employees must be encouraged to be innovative, creative, and experimental in their work. The innovations and solutions should be shared within the company, and due rewards should be provided for the same. Challenging conventional wisdom and critical inquiry is the cornerstone of innovations and long-term organizational success. With an experimental mindset, there is also a risk of making mistakes. What we need to understand is that mistakes are valuable sources of learning. Even when the results are not great and mistakes are made, it is important to internalize mistakes and lessons learned, and apply them broadly in the organization. If the organization fails to allow people to make mistakes, they will never experiment.
Listen to Feedback
Feedback by the learners is an important part of a learning culture. When introducing a learning culture, it is important to consider the feedback of the employees. This will allow you to assess the effect of the learning culture in the organization.
Making a profound cultural transformation in an organization is hardly easy. What is needed is a consistent reinforcement of the values of learning, a commitment to learning, and to creating a learning culture. Soon it will become a part of the organization and you will start reaping the benefits of a learning organization.