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Building a Learning Culture: The Key to Driving Innovation

Think about your colleagues for a moment. Perhaps you’re thinking of a mid-level manager in your office with eight years of experience that graduated college in 2011.

The National Organization for Colleges and Employers (NACE), listed ‘Computer Skills’ at number nine on their list of the top 10 skills needed to enter the workforce in 2011, and referenced the need to be proficient in email and word processing. When you compare the NACE list in 2011 to LinkedIn’s 2018 skills list, you’ll notice prioritization of skills related to cloud computing, search engine optimization and data presentation among others. The rapid change that has been a constant in the skills marketplace over the last decade illustrates the need for greater emphasis on learning and development driven by employers.

Think for a moment about a junior employee that just started at your company. These entry-level employees make up Generation Z, and many of them may be younger than Google. Learning has been at their fingertips—literally—their entire lives. They are entering the workplace with high expectations about opportunities for them to learn and grow in their career. If careers are central to your organization’s employee value proposition, creating a learning culture is critical to your success.

Learning not only keeps your employees apprised of key trends and builds fundamental skills, it also drives innovation. Companies that invest in creating and maintaining a strong learning culture reinforce to employees that curiosity is central to their daily work. According to Bersin, a learning culture is “what enables Cisco and Google and Apple to “‘out-innovate’ their competitors.” A culture of learning opens the door to innovation in action by empowering employees to engage in prototyping, creating new systems and trying new technologies.

The way companies can stay ahead and meet the challenges of the future is by enacting key practices that contribute to a learning culture. Companies of any size can begin implementing these four practices tomorrow to build a learning culture.

Building a Learning Culture

1. Celebrate Failure

Seventy percent of how we learn is through experience. Our most impactful learning experiences are often the failures we have encountered throughout our career.  Many companies pay lip service to celebrating failure but putting that into action is another thing. Managers and project leaders need to carve out time to debrief big milestones with their team and reflect on the lessons they can learn from the event or project. Talking openly about failure from the top down can have a significant impact on the way people feel about trying new approaches or technologies. If we look at failure as a key driver in the learning process, we create a culture of innovation and learning.

2. Create Learning Communities

There is a reason that the concept of learning communities is so widely used in higher education: relationships play a powerful role in our learning process. Communities can be built around common career trajectories—such as a learning community for employees interested in business development—or groups can be built around other affinities. Companies with multiple locations will benefit by creating cross-office communities that can share best practices across time zones.  This also ensures that learning can be more targeted for the audience, and employees will have a community to reflect and discuss their lessons with one another.

3. Get Outside the Conference Room

When discussing learning and development, many professionals’ main point of reference for where learning occurs is in a conference room. This idea that learning comes solely from an expert delivering a presentation is the antithesis of a learning culture. Companies should work to limit formal learning programs to 10 percent of their overall learning and development strategy. Facilitating mentorships, job shadowing, book club style programs and most importantly, having managers assign stretch experiences that facilitate learning are much more impactful than any presentation. Leaders can play a larger role in the learning and development of their employees when they begin to see this. Instead of waiting for the trainer to come deliver a workshop, leaders should be looking for opportunities to build skills through experiences and relationships.

4. Make It Inclusive and Accessible

Everyone learns differently, and a strong learning culture is defined by multiple approaches to the delivery of training programs. Leveraging multiple forms of delivery can also help to scale your learning offering. Take public speaking skills as an example. The traditional approach may be to offer an in-person workshop. However, there are several alternatives that may work better for different styles. Providing employees with opportunities to speak and receive a critique or pointing the employee to micro-learning videos about different voice or gesture techniques, represent unique ways to tailor the delivery and create a learning culture.

When companies invest in creating a learning culture, the final step is communicating this to key stakeholders internally and externally. Positioning these messages to intentionally reach potential employees is of great value, whether through job listings, career pages on websites and even on LinkedIn company pages where new advanced capabilities to incorporate artifacts like videos and other media—creating a venue for your learning culture collateral. Think about the different touch points with top recruits as well. Providing your HR or recruitment team with language or content that speaks to the learning culture allows them to pass these materials along to top candidates.

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