5 Tips for Developing an Effective Learning Culture at Work

Big Think Edge | August 10, 2017

You know what many of the best employees have in common, regardless of the industry they work in? They’re constantly learning new things and applying those lessons to their work.

Continuous education provides innumerable benefits to a workforce and, by extension, their employers. For example, lawyers who stay up to date with Supreme Court and other major case rulings are usually in a better position to argue their cases because they know how those rulings create legal precedent for whatever case they’re working. Sales representatives who intimately know the latest products and services of the company and its major competitors are better able to market their company’s products and services to customers.

Essentially, the more knowledgeable an employee is, the better they’ll be at their job function. This is why employee training is so important. However, creating an effective learning culture at work goes beyond simply having one or two training initiatives each year.

If you want to create the kind of learning culture in your company that encourages workers to learn independently, retain information, be open-minded, and direct that knowledge toward the good of the company, it will help if you do the following:

1) Think Outside of the Classroom

Learning is an activity that really shouldn’t be constrained to a specific setting or time. If you want to create a true learning culture, one of the first things to do is find a way to promote critical conversations in the workplace—not just in special meetings to be held at specific times.

One of the issues with traditional corporate training is that it gets treated like a “one and done” solution, in which a group of employees are all corralled into a meeting room or lecture hall and talked at by a “learning expert” for a set period of time.

Such training sessions, while they can be useful, set up an expectation that learning is a special activity to be done at a particular time and place. This can keep employees from actively engaging in learning opportunities outside of these “classes.”

So, it’s important to reinforce these lessons with learning opportunities outside of a regimented “classroom” setting. For example, you could use short-form video lessons that employees can watch at their leisure during their off hours or when there are lulls at work.

2) Encourage Creative Solutions, Even if They Could Fail

Sometimes, employees and companies can learn more from their failures than they do from their successes. As noted in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article, “you can’t learn when you’re too comfortable and without the possibility of failure… If you fear repercussions from failure, you become risk-averse.”

Fear of punishment because of failures can drive employees to stick to only pre-approved ways of doing things. They’ll stop exploring new options or learning new things, knowing that could cost them later on—stunting knowledge growth and flexibility.

To counteract this, it’s important to encourage creativity and experimentation at work (within reason, of course). When a creative solution fails, don’t reprimand the employee. Focus instead on what the assumptions were behind the solution, and how they differed from the reality so the same approach to the problem doesn’t appear over and over.

3) Welcome Dissenting Opinions

A team made entirely out of “yes-men” isn’t going to produce much in the way of innovation, and they aren’t likely to seek knowledge apart from what they think will satisfy their immediate superior.

To create a real learning culture, a little dissent and candor should be encouraged. Active debate where two or more sides present evidence for their arguments encourages learning and gives everyone a broader perspective on the topic. Plus, having an open forum for employees encourages participation by everyone.

4) Reward Employees Who Contribute to the Learning Culture

As some might say, “you have to put your money where your mouth is.” Well, maybe not money, per se, as rewards can take many other forms.

When establishing a learning culture at your workplace, it’s vital that you reward and recognize employees for how they go about their work as much as for what they accomplish. So, when employees try new things or make suggestions for improving a process based on something they learn, provide acknowledgement and support for the idea regardless of the results.

This is a part of encouraging employees to think creatively, and critically, about their work and the processes they use.

5) Get Buy-In from the CEO and Management

Even in an organization in which the learning culture is well-developed, employees still take their cues from the leadership of the company. As noted in the SHRM article that we shared:

“In vibrant learning cultures such as UPS, American Express, Bridgewater Associates and the Container Store, C-suite executives and leaders within the business are committed to learning. They model behaviors that communicate their belief that being smart is no longer about how much you know or how adept you are at avoiding mistakes. Instead, it’s about being a critical thinker, a motivated learner and an effective collaborator to further the business.”

In other words, at organizations with strong learning cultures, there tends to be buy-in from the people at the top. So, getting top-level leaders to buy-in to the importance of establishing a learning culture at work and demonstrating how they follow it is vital.

One way to get buy-in from leaders is to use distinguishable metrics that compare the performance of different groups of employees in the company. This will show the difference in performance between learning culture-enriched teams and those that haven’t been given that type of training. Or, you may need to reference case studies from other organizations if you don’t have the time and resources for such an elaborate experiment.

Building a true learning culture at work — one that encourages employees to constantly learn and try new things — helps make your business more adaptable, efficient, and successful. Help your employees engage with their learning by using convenient short form training videos exclusively available on Big Think Edge today.

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