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Shake up your culture
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Why learning cultures need to be reframed as awareness cultures

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Encouraging self-direction and self-regulation in learners can only be achieved if learning is targeted appropriately and that might take a culture shake-up.

7th Mar 2022
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In my conversations with HR leaders, and supported by industry research, a culture of learning has been identified as one of the most important things an organisation can work towards in the coming year. A primary reason for its importance is its relationship with the ubiquitous need for upskilling and reskilling that organisations are grappling with as they seek to become agile enough to thrive in this post-covid, VUCA+ world.

It also has potential to be a tipping point for retaining employees during the Great Resignation, through its connections with increased engagement. I propose that while a culture of learning is indeed important, investing in a culture of awareness is even more important. When you have a culture of awareness, the learning that is offered and engaged with is more likely to drive both individual and organisational performance. 

What’s missing in a culture of learning?

A culture of learning is defined as one in which employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve individual and team performance. It is one where learning is valued and supported by leaders, and where people help each other learn constantly.

People are engaging in self-directed and self-determined learning, and certainly are looking to be part of organisations that support their desire for continuous learning

All important, but without awareness, how would we know whether people are learning the "right" things, the things that fill their specific gaps in knowledge or skills, or what is needed to move the organisation towards its identified priorities. Brandon Hall Group’s recent state of learning practices report indicates that 45% of companies have a strategy to “increase capabilities of the talent pool and unlock its potential.”

This perspective begs the question of which capabilities should be increased, and we also might ask 'potential for what?' Since the pandemic, there has been an increased and increasing focus on learning and development overall, such that opportunities to learn abound. People are engaging in self-directed and self-determined learning, and certainly are looking to be part of organisations that support their desire for continuous learning. But to what end?

A culture of learning is now a ticket to play for organisations looking to hire and retain employees. But simply offering time for learning, pathways for learning, learning platforms, and talking about the importance of learning is not enough. Helping employees become aware of specifically what they need to learn, and how it will drive their individual success is key.

Also, employee motivation and engagement is linked to employees' ability to see a clear connection between what they do and the success of the organisation, so making sure employees are aware of where the organisation is headed, and offering learning that is clearly linked to these goals is what will enable that culture of learning to deliver the expected outcomes.

Training Industry’s trends 2022 identified efficiency as the key trend this year, beginning with better identifying employees’ training needs, and continuing to develop and deliver programs and resources that motivate, nurture, and retain talent. A culture of awareness is what is needed to enable that efficiency.

In the past, efforts to scale learning have sometimes led to one-size-fits-all offerings, or courses and learning journeys that are content-centric rather than learner centric

But what is a culture of awareness?

There are three key components of a culture of awareness: learning is linked to performance, individuals, teams, and leaders assess their gaps in performance before embarking on a learning journey and thirdly, it is acceptable to suggest that the solution might be a performance support resource rather than a learning journey or traditional course.

1. Learning is linked to performance

Learning is only efficient when it is clearly linked to performance that matters, whether that is at an individual, team, or organisational level. In the rush to react to the challenges of the past two years, there has been a flood of learning content, tools, and technologies poured into the market.

While a culture of learning might throw its arms wide to embrace much of that, a culture of awareness will ask what change to performance is needed, and then identify the learning content and methodologies that are linked to the desired performance. This is also a nudge to learning providers to design learning that truly drives performance.

2. Assessing gaps in performance

Not only is it important to link learning to performance, but it is also essential to become aware of where each learner is on the continuum from beginner to expert, and provide learning opportunities that address their specific gaps. In the past, efforts to scale learning have sometimes led to one-size-fits-all offerings, or courses and learning journeys that are content-centric rather than learner centric.

With today’s drive for efficiency, organisations need to leverage awareness to ensure learning is targeted where it will be most effective. Self-assessments can empower learners by highlighting their personal strengths and gaps relative to a necessary skill, and thus activate their focus on the learning elements that matter for them. Team and leader assessments can be useful to guide the selection of truly relevant areas for development, as well as to track progress.  

A culture of awareness is one where people are encouraged to consider this option and are supported to identify the criteria by which this decision is made

3. Performance support versus learning

Sometimes the most effective solution to a need is a performance support tool that actually eliminates the need for learning, rather than a traditional course or learning journey. A culture of awareness is one where people are encouraged to consider this option and are supported to identify the criteria by which this decision is made. What parts of each job or task can be performed to a high quality through use of a well-crafted performance support tool, and which parts require true learning? 

Learning is important and will be a key component of organisations’ strategies to increase engagement and effectiveness in their workers this year; but it is a culture of awareness that ensures that the learning that is offered is targeted appropriately to be efficient and personalized and leverages the power of self-direction and self-regulation in learners themselves.

Interested in this topic? Read Ways to kill your learning culture.

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