April 13 2022

How to create a learning culture in your organisation

The ability to adapt is necessary for organisations. This is because adapting is needed to thrive in an competitive world. For an organisation to adapt, it needs a robust culture of learning and development. This will enable it to cope with moving forces. But how can you create a learning culture in your organisation?

What is learning culture in the workplace?

A successful learning culture is beneficial to employees. This is because it allows individuals in a company to learn, grow, and innovate. A strong learning culture supports continuous learning. It also encourages employees to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities.

As a result, this continuous journey and learning benefits individuals. Moreover, it also benefits the company too.

Why is it important to create a learning culture?

Your company’s ability to adapt is only as good as your employees’ ability to adapt. However it’s useful to remember there’s no one size fits all when it comes to learning and development (also known as L&D). 

What are the benefits of creating a learning culture for your business?

In 2020, Google, Microsoft and Adobe were recognised in Comparably’s Annual Best Company Culture Awards for their successful learning cultures. So what can we glean from these companies? How can they help us promote a culture of learning in our own organisations?

1. Drive productivity by fostering engagement

A lack of engagement costs the UK economy £340 billion per year according to Perkbox. So what’s causing this lack of engagement?

Well, the results from a review of three million employee feedback surveys were compelling. They showed that learning and development opportunities are the second most significant factor in determining engagement.

These figures show that robust learning culture is directly linked to business productivity. This has been proven. Top performing organisations are five times more likely to have supportive learning cultures (ATD Research and i4cp, 2015).

2. A culture of learning with highly-skilled people gives you a competitive edge

By encouraging learning and skill development among employees, organisations stay competitive. In addition, employees can also can adapt to new changes. They can also maintain high levels of productivity.

According to Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric;

“An organisation’s ability to learn…is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric

3. Leverage the creation of your learning culture to attract and retain top talent

The relationship between employer and employee is changing. For today’s talent, a job is no longer just a job. In other words, a robust learning structure is crucial to attract the best talent.

The opportunity to grow is vital when it comes to employee engagement. This is proven by data that shows that organisations with a strong learning culture have 30-50% higher engagement and retention rates

This means that it’s essential to invest in your employees and commit to developing this talent. By doing so, you’ll create an employer brand closely linked to learning and development. The result of this? It will help your organisation attract growth-focused individuals when recruiting.  

4. Boost employee wellbeing 

According to research compiled by LinkedIn, employees who spend time learning on the job are:

  • 47% less likely to be stressed.
  • 39% more likely to feel productive and successful.
  • 23% more able to take on more responsibility.
  • 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

The research shows that giving employees opportunities to learn isn’t just good for their personal development. That’s because it has a positive effect on their team and the wider company as a whole. 

5. Reduce recruitment costs by retaining employees for longer

94% of employees would stay at their current company if it invested in their career development. That’s according to the 2018 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn. This statistic tells a clear story. One that shows that a better L&D programme the key to boosting retention rates.

A PwC report from 2020 found that 80% of CEOs need new skills. And that this is their biggest business challenge. Sourcing these skills from inside your company makes a lot of sense. It saves on hiring and HR costs. What’s more, it gives employees control over their career progression.

Your company already has a learning culture

The Society of Human Resources Management defines learning culture as “the glue that holds an organisation together”.  To put this into context, while you may not be aware, every organisation has a learning culture. Including yours. 

If you haven’t intentionally created a learning culture, then it has developed by itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Your learning culture is a product of your organisation’s beliefs, values, and norms. But not all learning cultures are created equal.

In short, a learning culture that creates the most value for your employees is the one which will in turn also bring the most benefit to your organisation. 

Let’s take a look at the different types of learning culture and which one your organisation aligns most closely to.

Types of learning culture 

1. Compliance training focused 

This is the training necessary for employees to work safely and legally in a particular industry or organisation. 

In many cases, it’s training that’s required by law. It may be financial compliance, GDPR, and/or compliance around equality in the workplace. Whatever it is, every company that operates legally, does it. 

2. Necessary learning focused 

This is the learning required for an employee to do their job. For instance, training on how to use the software necessary to carry out tasks. This type of training often takes place during the onboarding process.

3. Learning focused 

A culture of learning is one where employees are given the opportunity to acquire new skills. These skills are beneficial to the individual and the organisation’s success.

This learning is often event-driven. This means that individuals are given time outside of their job to develop new skills that they then bring back to the organisation. An example may be an employee learning specific management skills to successfully build a new remote team.

4. Continuous learning focused 

A culture of continuous learning is a step above a culture of simply learning. 

In this environment, learning is an essential part of the working day. It’s encouraged and supported at leadership level because those leaders are actively engaged in continuous learning themselves.

Employees feel empowered by learning skills that will help them in their role or in a future role. This environment places greater value on the individual. That’s not all. Another benefit of continuous learning is that it gives each employee the freedom to be responsible for their own self-learning.

In short, continuous learning focuses on personal development (as opposed to learning limited to what’s required by or benefits the organisation). 

Creating your learning culture

So you’ve identified where your organisation fits into the above four types. It may even be a mix of two types. Either way, there’s probably room to improve.

But where do you start with creating your learning culture? Below are five ways to help you create a culture of continuous improvement:

1. Make learning a core organisational value

Core values drive decision making. And decisions are the foundation for your workplace culture. That’s why it’s important to focus on continuous learning as a core value. But ensure that it’s supported by providing the resources needed to promote it.

2. Focus on personalised learning plans

Focus on the individual employee by developing a personalised L&D plan. This will help employees feel valued and engaged. This is about their career progression, but it’s also of great benefit to the organisation.

3. Promote knowledge sharing

It’s not always needed to bring in outside experts. For example, it can be possible to source skills from right inside your company. You can encourage individuals to coach and share knowledge with each other. In doing this, you’re creating value, and improving communication and connections.

4. Actively encourage a learning culture with rewards

Whether this is recognising someone’s success or financial compensation, rewards can help promote continuous learning. As a result, when you recognise your employees for their achievements, it actively encourages them to continue learning.

5. Leading by example

Support from managers and leaders for learning and development is vital. This is because leadership reinforces the core values of an organisation. Yet leadership isn’t about a job title. Stakeholders want leaders who walk the walk. 

How psychological safety links to creating a learning culture

Psychological safety is key to a successful learning environment. In other words, any learning environment can’t be successful without psychological safety.

What is psychological safety?

According to The 2021 People Management Report, employees who feel psychologically safe are less likely to quit their jobs.

Luckily, there are ways of asking for help in a way that promotes psychological safety, as the below sketch note from QAspire shows.

In short, feeling psychologically safe at work means sharing views and feedback without fear of negative consequences. In other words, employees who feel psychologically safe can share information and ask for help without feeling like they could be penalised for it. 

The feedback loop is vital for an organisation to grow and adapt. As a result, ensuring that employees feel safe giving feedback is essential. 

In short, creating a strong learning culture must go hand in hand with promoting a culture of psychological safety. Therefore it’s important to work on this element of your organisation too. 

Key takeaways

  • Be aware that your learning culture is constantly changing. This means you can correct your approach if you start to go off course. 
  • Consider allowing employees to take responsibility for their own learning. This will encourage a greater sense of achievement.
  • Using resources to create a successful learning culture is a short term investment. The upside to it is long-term growth for your organisation. 
  • Promoting a culture of psychological safety for your employees is an important part of building a successful learning culture. This is because your employees will feel comfortable when asking questions.