Crafting an Employee Culture of Learning

A Learning Culture

A few weeks ago Chief Learning Officer Magazine rolled through New York City with their Breakfast Club, a panel exploring new approaches to learning in companies.

Throughout the session– amid great insight from panelists and ample coffee and pastries– the discussion kept returning to one key point: in order to effectively inspire learning in your company, you need to create an employee culture of learning.

One participant introduced a Papua New Guinean expression that states, “Knowledge is only a rumor until it’s in the muscle.” Or the way I see it, learning is only a rumor until it’s in the employee culture. To use that analogy, how do you make sure you’re investing in learning and not the rumor of it?

Learning as an ongoing process

To start, you must shift the way you look at learning. Instead of viewing it as a single event, learning should be woven into other behaviors so that it becomes part of the culture. This means encouraging informal learning opportunities just as much as formal learning opportunities. As the panelists pointed out, informal learning is the way people have always absorbed information, it’s just a matter of tapping into that process.

The key to fostering informal learning experiences is having an environment conducive to learning.

Crafting the right environment

With all the technological solutions available these days, it’s tempting to hope that they can build the learning culture for you. However, creating a learning culture starts before you even implement a tool. It requires the correct environment, respect, and context.

Employees must feel comfortable learning and possibly making the mistakes required to learn. One way to establish a safe learning environment is to encourage employees to contribute knowledge into the system and to give feedback on existing programs. I know of a company that did a weekly speaker series followed by a company-wide lunch. What made this series special was employees were the speakers, and it was all volunteer-based.

This example leads me to the next point: in an employee culture of learning, there must be buy-in from all levels of the organization. Buy-in can be tough to achieve, but it comes down to aligning learning decisions and content with employee desires. An employee-led speaker series is a great idea, or consider sending a survey to identify learning opportunities or knowledge pain points of the group.

At the Breakfast Club, a panelist made the great point that Chief Learning Officers should be a carrier of employee culture, but I’d like to take it step further. In a culture of learning, anyone and everyone should be a carrier of learning and culture.