A successful competitive thriving business requires hiring the right employees and then promoting and sustaining a culture of engaged employees.
As a business owner:
- How are you developing your managers to be the manager everyone wants to work for?
- How are you developing your employees to understand and implement the ever-changing technology, latest work methods, and regulatory compliance updates?
- How are you effectively handling the ever-increasing training standards related to sexual harassment prevention, cyber security, technology theft, and workers’ compensation injury protection?
A business plan consisting only of hiring new people with the latest skills is not a sustainable single solution to the challenges of changing technologies, compliance issues, and shifting customer expectations. Keeping that in mind, the question becomes, “How can I achieve my company’s highest level of competitive advantage?”
If you want to see your business succeed while helping employees thrive, a culture of learning may be the single most positive impact to your bottom line yet.
"Organizations must maintain a steady growth of knowledge and skills among their workforce if they wish to succeed—both from a business standpoint and to attract the right talent," said Jim Link, SHRM-SCP, CHRO at SHRM.
What is a Culture of Learning?
A culture of learning “supports an open mindset, a quest for knowledge and shared learning, directed toward the organization’s mission and goals,” according to Corporate Executive Board Co. (CEB), now a part of Gartner.
As part of overall workplace values, a learning culture emphasizes the development of knowledge, enabling employees to continuously seek, share, and apply new information and skills.
While learning environments come in different shapes and sizes, some common characteristics include:
- Fostering a desire to learn and a growth mindset throughout the organization
- Supporting independent learning and development
- Enabling learning to shape organizational strategy and process change
- Encouraging team members to reflect on what they've learned and share their knowledge
Ideally, learning is embedded into all aspects and levels of the workplace, not just formal training. And leaders encourage their employees to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their best to support the organization’s goals.
The Business Case for a Culture of Learning
To stay on top in the marketplace, you need to ensure that your greatest asset — your people — are prepared for the challenges ahead, and implementing a culture of learning can help you to do just that.
It’s not surprising that proper training is often correlated with positive business outcomes. For example, according to an IBM Smarter Workforce survey, 84% of employees in best-performing organizations report receiving the training they need, compared to just 16% in the worst-performing organizations. Focusing on learning and ensuring a well-trained workforce is a commonsense way to improve business performance.
Instead of hiring leadership roles from outside your company, a learning culture will help you develop talented candidates from within, using methods such as leadership training and mentorship programs. This not only saves on the cost of new hires (which can be over three times that of training and retaining existing employees), but also reduces turnover as employees are less tempted to leave a company that offers career advancement. Another advantage to homegrown talent is that they’ve already proven to be a good cultural fit, which is difficult to predict with an outside hire.
In a pro-learning workplace, incremental improvements are encouraged, and failures are accepted as a part of long-term success. This mindset allows employees to be innovative, which is an important component of long-term success.
Lastly, creating a culture of learning also fosters employee engagement and retention. Employees feel valued when you invest in their development. Research has shown that a strong learning culture can result in employees feeling more satisfied with their jobs and having a heightened sense of personal worth. In fact, SHRM has found that 76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training. Often, individuals are starving for knowledge and want to make a difference — a learning culture provides that opportunity.
How to Create a Learning Culture
Once you understand the benefits of developing a pro-learning work environment, you can begin taking steps to make it a reality. A true learning culture will not develop overnight, but incremental changes will add up over time. Here are some ideas to consider.
- Get Leadership Onboard
It’s critical to receive buy-in from leadership to make learning a priority. In doing so, you can ensure that resources are allocated to support the program. Also, have managers and company leaders participate in the learning process by acting as coaches and mentors to demonstrate the company’s commitment to employee development.
- Reward Learning
From public recognition to financial incentives, consider company-wide initiatives to reward employees for their dedication to learning new skills. Rewards serve to motivate and are a demonstration of what the company values.
- Personalize the Learning Experience
Make the learning experience relevant for your employees and empower them to learn at their own pace. What do employees want to learn? What will help them advance or help them achieve their career goals? There’s no faster way to turn people off to learning than by forcing meaningless training. While you should limit mandatory coursework to only what’s necessary, it’s also wise to provide optional training for those who choose to pursue greater knowledge.
Providing employees with mentors — whether formally or informally — is a key part of a learning culture. Mentorship connects senior employees with junior employees to help with career development. Having a mentor is a valuable opportunity for employees to engage in knowledge sharing and gain insight from experience.
- Encourage Learning
Ensure learning is a top priority from day one. The number one reason why employees feel held back from learning is due to time restraints. If possible, consider providing employer-approved time for learning on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.
- Use a Learning Management System
You may think that creating and overseeing a solid training program will be a huge hassle, but the right tool can help. A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that allows you to administer, document, track, report, customize and automate the delivery of employee coursework, making teaching and learning efficient, easy, and cost-effective.
Creating a culture of learning has a number of potential business benefits: cost savings, employee retention, improved business performance, a homegrown leadership pipeline, increased innovation, and more. Although you can’t transform a workplace overnight, taking small steps to encourage learning can go a long way toward building a happy and engaged workforce, one that’s capable of meeting the organization’s needs no matter what the future holds.