Sustainable Learning Org
ATD Blog

10 Characteristics of a Sustainable Learning Organization

Monday, May 8, 2017

Organizations that consistently produce the best business results demonstrate a strong commitment to learning and have robust learning organizations that foster a learning culture. Here’s a brief review of 10 key characteristics of a sustainable learning organization.  

C-Level Engagement 

Senior leaders are engaged as visible business partners and learning advocates. Executives can clearly describe how performance-based learning capabilities contribute to organizational mission, values, and effectiveness. 


We provide easy access to employee-centered, flexible learning content and routinely monitor time, usage, and cost indicators. A large portion of resources go toward the efficient use of automated and nontraining performance solutions. 


We use a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate the organizational impact of organizational learning strategies and overall progress toward key outcomes. We regularly assess how services and practices are aligned with, and contributing to, critical talent development and capability needs across the organization. 


A percentage of the total HR, L&D, or talent development budget is regularly applied toward organizational learning, including staffing resources and systems for effectively collecting, analyzing, and displaying results data. This also includes investment in continuing education around learning best practices for the enhanced capabilities of learning staff and key business partners. 



We facilitate learning anytime, anywhere at the time of need. Learning and performance scorecards are routinely used by our senior leaders, managers, and business units to monitor results and track business outcomes (including negative outcomes) of learning, talent development, or performance improvement initiatives. 


Stakeholders across all organizational levels regularly request learning and performance results data for continuous process improvement and improved decision making. Learning, talent development, and performance improvement strategies, processes, and practices are adapted to meet evolving user needs and business demands. 


Results data generated from our learning and talent management processes are consistently perceived as timely, trustworthy, and relevant to multiple stakeholder needs. Learning and performance staff members are considered credible experts and organizational leaders in learning, talent development, and performance improvement. 


Operating policies, procedures, and standards are in place for governing learning, talent development, and performance improvement practices in our organization. A cross-functional governance committee ensures that standards are applied in a consistent manner and that processes and practices remain relevant and trustworthy over time. 


Continuous Improvement 

We use a variety of innovative approaches to identify, share, and apply results and lessons learned from our strategic initiatives. We use outcome data to develop new or better solutions that meet evolving business needs and performance requirements.  


We have the capacity to successfully adapt or alter direction in the face of continuous change or unexpected risks. We use a variety of change or risk management approaches to buffer disturbances and still keep core learning functions intact during times of disruption or adversity.

But building a high-performing, integrated learning organization is never easy. Sustaining one is even harder, especially in a new "normal" of volatile, complex, and ambiguous times. Yet the learning function needs to remain stable, relevant, and resilient in the face of up and down cycles of budget cuts and reorganizations if it is to deliver its full potential for driving talent development, high performance, and innovation.

During my session at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition, you'll learn seven proven practices that will help your learning function gain traction as a pocket of excellence in a world of churn. Discover how diverse learning organizations in the public and private sector have applied each of these practices to create sustainable value. Assess the resilience of your learning organization and identify key strategies for enhancing individual and organizational resilience.


About the Author

Holly Burkett, SPHR, CPT, has more than 20 years’ experience helping diverse, global organizations achieve strategic change impact with workplace learning and talent management initiatives focused on leadership development, succession planning, career development and coaching, and performance improvement. Formerly with Apple, she is now principal of Evaluation Works, a performance consultancy in Davis, California.

She recently wrote the “Talent Manager as Change Agents” chapter in ATD’s Talent Management Handbook and was a contributor to the Human Resource Certification Institute’s (HRCI’s) The Rise of HR: Wisdom From 73 Thought Leaders, an e-book distributed to more than 1.5 million HR professionals around the globe.

Holly holds a doctorate in human capital development, along with a master’s of human resources and organizational development, and is a frequent conference presenter, international facilitator, and writer.

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