The great reset: how to develop a learning culture that protects your organisation from future threatsby
In the wake of the pandemic all of us recognised how essential it is to have the right people with the right skills in place to ensure continuity when the unexpected occurs. Developing a learning culture protects organisations, allowing them to be agile in response to threats and challenges – but what is a learning culture and how can you develop one?
When talking about learning culture I think it’s helpful to make some crucial distinctions. If your organisation is excellent at providing education, training, and content, you probably have a culture of learning – but you don’t necessarily have a learning culture.
Fundamentally, a learning culture is about people, building communities of practice, learning, and growing together. It’s about organisational resilience.
My moment of enlightenment was when I realised the potential of creating a learning culture where knowledge, skills and experience weren’t just something taught – they were shared. This happens through people helping people, using learning to communally solve business challenges, and preventing knowledge and talent from walking out of the door. Learning begets learning, and I could see the benefits and opportunities right before my eyes.
Building a learning culture is not a quick or easy fix – it should be your ‘north star’. It’s about change and change seldom is easy. It requires commitment at all levels of the organisation, hearts, souls and minds, time, and energy to support the conditions for a learning culture to emerge.
A learning culture needs the right environment to flourish, and this is where ‘psychological safety’ matters. If you try to create a learning culture in any of the following conditions, it won’t work:
- There is no trust
- There is a culture of fear
- There is a lack of autonomy
- Command and control rules
- Learning is done to you than something you do
- Failure is frowned on
- People work in silos and don’t share – knowledge is power, a commodity, so why would I want to share power?
If you meet any or all of these conditions, stop for a moment and reset. Focus on that psychological safety and organisational culture first. The conditions must be suitable for a learning culture to emerge, otherwise you are setting yourself and your people up to fail.
There are many benefits to creating a learning culture in an organisation. Here are just a few of the most important ones:
- Recognises and embraces informal learning
- Breaks down silos
- Creates an ecosystem where knowledge, skills and experience are shared openly and freely for the benefit of the many, not the few
People are the key to a thriving learning culture emerging. They have the untapped knowledge, skills and experience, and it’s your job to create ways to unlock that. Leaders are essential to provide the proper permissions and lead by example – they must share how, when and what they learn widely and readily. Learning must become the norm – ‘what did you learn today?’ should be a mantra.
A learning culture is about building an organisation where people can thrive and dismantle the inhibitors that prevent that process.
Fundamentally, a learning culture is about people, building communities of practice, learning, and growing together. It’s about organisational resilience; if we consider what’s just happened in the wake of the pandemic, I’ll wager most organisations scrambled to create plans to ensure the right people with the skills were in place or could be trained, and desk aides were frantically sketched out to ensure continuity.
A learning culture acts as an organisational gyroscope against such threats and ensures knowledge and skills are already widely available and accessible. A learning culture is agile and iterative and can change course on a whim in response to the environment.
Nurturing a learning culture is a collective responsibility, owned by everybody and built by everybody – it cannot be imposed. This effectively empowers L&D professionals, while facilitating the emergence of a learning culture, to focus on adding value as a performance consultant, being out there in the business solving problems, addressing critical points of failure, and focusing on driving performance through learning.
The secret sauce
So what’s the secret ingredient? It’s people. People are what will make or break your learning culture. Everyone in the organisation owns a learning culture. Trust, invest and empower your people and great things will happen. Prescribe and tell people what to do and how to do it, and you won’t have a learning culture.
Coaching is fundamental to people development and therefore underpins a learning culture. Coaching unlocks the potential of the individual. It enables powerful conversations to occur in workflow, leading to more significant innovation, empowerment, and problem solving. Therefore, investment in a coaching habit and mindset is a must and a key ingredient in a learning culture strategy.
You don’t need a team of qualified coaches or external consultants to make this change – make it our priority to develop a coaching culture. Establish coaching networks and communities, invest in coaching skills for your people managers and make coaching part of the everyday.
Measurement and evaluation
Is it possible to measure and evaluate a learning culture? In short, yes. You must set your benchmarks before you begin. Ask yourself what are you trying to change and why? What are you benchmarking success against? Align your learning strategy to business KPIs, not L&D’s objectives, and this will provide you with a clear view of how the needle has shifted.
There are a range of tools, resources, and approaches readily available to support you on this journey. A few of the most common include pulse surveys, people surveys, focus groups, business performance KPIs, performance reviews, anecdotal feedback, and behavioural change, to name a few.
I recommend the following resources that have helped me on my journey and might help you:
- The Fifth Discipline, Peter M. Senge
- Workplace Learning: How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development, Nigel Paine
- Driving Performance Through Learning, Andy Lancaster
- Back to the Future: Why Tomorrow’s Workforce Needs a Learning Culture, Emerald Works/Jane Daly
- How to Build a High-Impact Learning Culture, Josh Bersin
Finally, you can listen to my podcast on learning cultures here.
Interested in this topic? Read How effective is your learning culture in the hybrid world of work?
Mike Bedford is a Senior L&D Lead for the ESFA’s Funding Directorate. He is an experienced Coach and an accomplished people development leader, practitioner, and specialist in his field. Mike has worked across the UK Government in a career spanning over twenty years and has a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience in everything from...