“Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.” – Dale Carnegie
Learning is a process – which means that it is on-going and continuous. Amongst the many goals and aims of a company, creating a learning culture is probably one of the most important. The world at large and the business world are changing rapidly and what we knew to be true yesterday has probably been overtaken by something else, making our learning and knowledge of yesterday obsolete. In a company that promotes a learning culture, each person in the company is encouraged to not only enhance their own skills, capabilities and knowledge, but also help each other to move forward. A company that supports and promotes a learning culture will ensure that their employees are focused on improving continually, look at challenges as opportunities and have a creative and innovative bent of mind. A learning culture in any organization will also ensure that the company is more adaptable and flexible to change and other market conditions.
A company that is committed to creating and maintaining a learning culture will ensure that that their employees have time built in to their schedules to invest it personal development, self-growth and finding new ways to do things and approach problems. When employees see the benefits of learning continually, this becomes a habit and a religiously followed practice that then enhances teamwork, raises productivity and reduces the opportunities for conflicts and stress. The company too has a mind-set that ensures they hire the right people – that is people who have the attitude and value system that aligns with their learning culture.
Does your company promote a learning culture and what are some of the benefits gained from it? It would seem that the most crucial advantage a company gains from a learning culture is that each person working in it strives forward to build their own personal aptitude leading to an organization of growth and one committed to the goals and vision. A learning culture helps the employees to become more self-confident, finding it easier to take on challenges and turning them into opportunities and advantages. Employees are able to question the status quo, thereby finding new ways to do things, innovative solutions to pre-existing problems and also developing new tactics to delight the customer.
When each person is focused in the same direction through a common path – the learning culture – it builds a sense of sharing, togetherness, cohesion and commonality of purpose. Each one shares the vision of the company and is committed to the goals, the achievement of which is made possible by collective learning and developing knowledge and intelligence. It brings the teams together, who will use their individual talents and skills for a common good rather than for personal gain. People gain the capacity to look beyond the immediate and are able to more easily embrace the changes that will affect the whole organization. In the words of Stephen Covey “inter-dependence is a higher value than independence.” These words ring true in a company that promotes a learning culture, since each person understands the importance of cooperation, teamwork and leveraging the strengths and capabilities of each person together rather than individually. The concept of working in silos or in a vacuum does not exist in an organization with a learning culture.
When people in a company work together, rather than against each other, there is a visible and sustainable increase in productivity and the quality of output and this increases the company’s profits and bottom line. In addition, employees remain happier and more satisfied which reduces attrition, absenteeism and stress levels that could make employees sick. In addition, when employees who are consistently good workers, get recognition and rewards, it encourages others to follow suit by raising their performance standards and devoting time for professional and personal development. An energized workforce will ensure the best of service to customers and the high quality output will keep the standards of products and offerings at a very high level.
The other benefit of a learning culture is that the company is able to ‘produce’ high potential talent from within the organization, who would be equipped to handle some crucial leadership positions. This saves huge amounts of effort and costs, on hiring from outside, for the company. With leaders and other positions being filled from within the company, employees see a clear path of career progression which in turn fosters enhanced accountability and a sense of ownership and responsibility. People know that their efforts will be duly rewarded and hence would make every effort to blend in with the learning culture and gain benefits for themselves and for the company.
A learning culture promotes the growth mind-set – something that we discussed, as being extremely crucial to any organization, in a previous exposition. Employees learn to understand that ‘traditional’ methods will not always work and hence they are more amenable to try new methods and create their own paths to find answers and solutions for the customers and the company. The concept of ‘being stuck in a rut’ is almost non-existent in a company that actively promotes a learning culture.
So how have companies with a learning culture developed it and sustained it over time? What does your company do to ensure that it creates and sustains a learning culture? The first and foremost practice would be to understand the learning requirements of your company and its employees. It is also imperative to know what the company’s long term goals are, where the company currently stands and what would be required to reach the desired goals. The learning culture would ensure that everyone moves forward together to achieve these goals through consistent upgrading of skills, talents and knowledge.
Just like any other business imperative and initiative, creating a learning culture would need to start at the top. The leadership must be able to show by example how crucial a learning culture is. They must be able to emphasize its importance at company-wide meetings, email communication, office newsletter and other intra-office communication. The company’s strategies and policies must reflect the importance of maintaining an attitude of learning and the criticality of shared ownership and responsibility. In order to serious emphasize the necessity of a learning culture, leadership must continually reiterate that gathering knowledge is not an option – it is a business and personal imperative. This will ensure that there is uniformity and consistency in the attitude of all employees towards learning and improving.
Learning is never complete unless it is shared and used. A company with a learning culture will support the usage and dissemination of knowledge gained by allowing the employees to hold ‘learning’ sessions for their team mates, be part of important projects and assignments that will test that learning and also coach and mentor newer and less experienced employees within the company. Not only does company specific knowledge get around more quickly, it is also spread in a manner that is easier to understand. Such knowledge sharing increases respect and mutual cooperation within the employees, raising the standard of work output and customer service since everyone would be working together rather than against one another.
Companies with a learning culture regularly applaud and ‘celebrate’ the accomplishments gained from increased knowledge. Such recognition and rewards motivates each person to work even harder and smarter at the next opportunity. Also mistakes are not seen as reason to reprimand but rather as opportunities to learn and deliver even better results the next time. When employees are not afraid of repercussions for genuine errors, they are more likely to try out new things and apply their learning and knowledge.
As we said, learning is a process and it should not stop. Creating a learning culture would create a workforce that is self-motivated, vibrant and ready to move ahead. A company with such a workforce would gain market reputation and a distinct and sustainable aggressive advantage over their competition.