Creating a Learning Culture

Creating a Learning Culture

Leaders may think that getting their organisations to learn is only a matter of articulating a clear plan, giving employees the right incentives, and providing lots of training. Well, in this era discontinuous change this assumption is not only flawed—it’s risky in the face of changing competition, advances in technology, and shifts in what our customer expect.

So, does your organisation have a learning culture?

Do you have a process in which you strive to improve your performance, to detect and correct errors and adapt to your environment? Learning is the key characteristic as it enables the organisation to sense changes, and to adapt accordingly in the face of an increasingly discontinuous environment.

Working with organisations that have varied cultures reveals that there are two basic attitudes which inform a company’s approach to learning:

  • Compliance with mandatory legislation and industry regulators.
  • A desire to improve performance, morale, explore human potential, attract, develop and retain talent, create a learning, questioning culture and drive innovation.

If you’re simply completing training for compliance sake – sorry, it doesn’t mean you have a ‘learning culture’. So before we examine why a ‘learning culture’ is important, let’s be really clear on what we mean by ‘learning’.

 Learning (particularly as an adult) must involve the following:

1. An active, participative process – adults learn through problem solving and doing

2. There should be less emphasis on ‘teaching’ than on supporting and facilitating the growth of people through their own processing of information into knowledge, values and skills (that’s what an experienced a coach provides)

3. Adult Learning involves:

  • Questioning
  • Problem solving
  • Developing the full potential of employees
  • Fostering an innovative and responsive environment
  • Idea sharing to stimulate and develop best practice
  • Learning events followed by ongoing coaching, to continually better performance
  • Mentoring and developing talent; continuously, and with an eye on the future (succession planning)
  • Developing successful habits via the process of learning
  • A mindset of ongoing learning; for practical reasons,

In any organisation the ‘learning culture’ is crucial. It affects the capacity to remain agile to the changing needs of the market – to cater for the changing desires of its end users, and consequently its overall performance

 Here are 9 reasons why you should be adopting a ‘learning culture’:

  1. Developing morale and motivation – being valued is crucial to your team’s satisfaction.
  2. To improve staff retention and lower costs. People may or may not leave your company – but do you want loyal, yet low-morale, staff staying and only giving you some of their potential? Absenteeism and the associated Presenteeism can cost your organisation thousands or in some cases millions of dollars.
  3. Learning and development go hand in hand. Learning helps develop sound working practices aligned to organisational goals.
  4. Learning fosters understand and appreciation of other perspectives, critical in the changing expectations across our community
  5. Learning at a rate faster than change is critical. This can be seen in the large companies that have failed over the last decade – not changing will invariably kill you!
  6. Learning usually increases productivity – through efficiency gains
  7. Learning can produce a often massive return of investment
  8. People, service and attitude are increasingly important to organisational success. These factors differentiate you from your competition
  9. Learning and change are inextricably linked.

Are you convinced yet?
I’m an educator – so I’m biased, but the facts are pretty compelling you must admit!

In order to start, you must have some tangible ways of moving your organisation to one that focuses on learning as a vehicle for high performance, success and adaptability.

Here are 2 practical ways you can start that process right now…

1. Demonstrate the value of formal training.

Formal training has not gone away, and it still plays a huge role in career development and professional capacity building.

If you have lots of formal training available, managers should promote such opportunities and help people make time to learn. Yes, it might take them away from their jobs for a few days, but ultimately the return is much greater productivity and satisfaction.

As one of my high-performing clients put it: “we are paying our managers to develop people for the entire organisation. If I find them hogging the talent or preventing people from improving their own skills, they won’t be in management for long.”

2. The Competence Model

Recognise people need development in 4 areas to impact on their capacity to really learn something. Competence is made up of 4 distinct areas – all interwoven to impact on an individuals ability to do something effectively, these being:

  • Knowledge – understanding information / data / theory behind something
  • Experience – ‘the doing’ which requires trial and error, test & measure
  • Skills – practical, demonstrable ability in a given task
  • Behaviour – The want of belief that underpins an individual effort and ‘why’

This graphic explains how the competence model evolves as people learn

Competence Quadrants


As a learning organisation, you can’t simply throw some training at people and hope they become amazing! You must really know who your team is, where they have gaps, and fill these strategically.


3. Allow people to make mistakes.

The best learning occurs right after you make a huge mistake. These are the most important learning opportunities you, your team & your organisation has.

Take a lesson from the military, the largest learning organisation on the planet (they only do two things: fight and train – and most of the time it’s the latter). Whenever a manoeuvre is completed, there is always an “after-action review.” This is a formal process which forces the team to analyse what worked, what didn’t, and what processes will be changed to improve the outcome next time.

What happens in your organisation when someone fails or makes a mistake? Do you punish them? Or do you take the time to diagnose what happened and put formal programs in place to improve?

There are lots of ways to build a learning organisation, and they all get back to management. If you build a learning culture which gives people time to reflect, develop and share expertise, stay close to customers, and learn from mistakes you will outdistance your competition and thrive in the face of huge market change.

Take a lesson from companies like Apple and Google: two great examples of companies that have built expertise and promoted organisational learning, and look what they’ve achieved.

Next time I’ll be sharing my view on the manner in which we give and receive feedback – a critical element of anyone’s success in business!

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