Changing the “culture” of any organization is a real challenge. It’s all too easy to focus instead on day-to-day tactical issues (How do we make this meeting shorter? What’s a better email program? How can we take steps out of our workflow?)
But, as they say, most things that are hard to do are, in the end, worth it. That goes especially for instilling a learning culture in your organization. Just about every aim for an organization that corporate leadership is looking for these days—ability to handle change, innovation, engagement, etc.—can be fostered by a learning culture.
So what is this magical “learning culture”? A learning culture is basically a set of organizational values, processes, and practices that encourage employees, and the organization as a whole, to continually learn and add new skills.
And here’s why championing a great learning culture is worth it:
- It improves employee morale and motivation. Employees respond well and are better engaged when they feel that their organization is investing in them. Building a learning culture shows employees that they are valued.
- It saves on new hires by “promoting” from within. We’ve all heard the statistic that it costs well over three times more to hire a new employee than to retain and train an existing one. So when new skills are needed, what’s the most cost effective way to get them? Train, promote, and deploy from within.
- It challenges rigid opinions and behaviors. Challenging rigid thinking and behaviors improves team performance even as it reduces close-mindedness and “silo” thinking.
- It instills a “growth mindset” in your employees. Dr. Carol Dweck, a research psychologist at Stanford University, found that individuals with a “growth mindset”—people who enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and uncover ways to develop new skills—develop more skills, work harder, perform better, and adapt to change better than those with a “fixed” mindset.
- It gives your organization a “growth mindset” too. Dweck’s work has been extended and shown to apply to entire organizations as well. Organizations with a growth mindset have more employees that feel valued, less politics and cheating, and more innovation.
- It prepares the organization, as a whole, for change. A proper learning culture emphasizes asking questions, observing, and continually acquiring new skills. When a critical mass of employees can do this, the company as a whole can adapt to change, anticipate disruption, and innovate. Those that don’t… well, notice what happened to Kodak, Blockbuster, Yahoo!, etc…
- It helps everyone keep pace with rapid changes in technology. Technology changes so quickly, employees often have to be retrained on new devices, new software and mobile apps, and new social media sites (or new features of existing ones.) On-demand learning especially is helping employees keep up with trends and get up to speed on new technology, saving organizations time and money.
- Learning can increase productivity. This one’s so obvious, we almost didn’t mention it… of course learning enhances productivity. Especially when that learning focuses on practical skills and tips.
- It prepares talented individuals for “the next step.” And that next step is often a promotion to a leadership position. But someone who is knowledgeable about their work still might not have all the “soft skills” or “people skills” they need to lead right away. But there’s a lot you can do to give your talent the needed skills—for example, see our supervisor training series.
- The long term ROI is huge. Take all of these together, and we would expect an organization with a true learning culture to adapt to change more easily, innovate more, reduce employee turnover, promote the right people to leadership positions more rapidly, and generally be more productive. While most of these might be hard to measure on a day-to-day basis, they are on every CEO’s list of things that they want of their company. And with good reason: they are all the hallmarks of a successful, long-lasting, and profitable company. Given how easy it is to put a learning culture in place, and how long the benefits last, it’s easy to see that the final ROI would be huge.