ATD Blog

4 Ideas to Promote a Learning Culture

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Many companies look at employee development as a way to increase employee engagement. Engagement is good, but the real purpose of development is to improve employee performance. And better performance is only possible with a culture that supports and acknowledges employees for their development. 

What Is a Culture of Learning? 

Culture refers to the habits, thinking, beliefs, and customs of a group or society. When applied to learning and development, it refers to the values, processes, and organizational behavior that encourages employees to continually increase their knowledge and improve their performance.

Why create a high-impact learning culture?

Companies with high-impact learning cultures experience three times greater profit growth than their competitors over a four-year period according to research from Bersin by Deloitte. The reason? Employees with current knowledge and skills have a direct impact on their company’s performance and ability to adapt.

Here are four steps for promoting a culture of learning for your employees.

Discuss Development Regularly  

One of the keys to success is to ensure that development is part of regular conversations about performance between employees and their manager. These conversations should be:

  • scheduled regularly—as often as it makes sense for employees and managers
  • built into agenda items to ensure that they’re not missed.

These conversations are an opportunity to get information on workload, performance issues, and progress on personal development. Helpful, open-ended questions are a manager’s best friend:

  • What are you pleased with about your development plan? 
  • What have you learned and applied so far from this development task? 
  • Are you having any issues or challenges? 
  • Do you have any concerns about your workload? 
  • Is there anything I can do to help?

Keep development top of mind by talking about it and recording progress, particularly on how employees can transfer their knowledge to others and apply it in their day-to-day work.


Create Time for Development 

Employees need time and space to invest in learning and development. Start by putting learning development directly into the organization’s mission statement and vision. This signals from the highest level that the organization is committed to and values continuous learning. Employees can be confident when they allocate the time they need to work on their personal development plan.

They require time to build a plan, discuss it with their manager and put the plan into action. Make the time and reap the rewards that follow from engaged, motivated employees.

Monitor and Evaluate Development 

Monitoring and evaluating is the key to unlocking an employee’s full potential because it builds accountability into the plan. The most widely used framework is SMART goals—specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.

Set, manage, and reassess individual goal and development progress during one-on-ones, reviews, or conversations. Employee productivity will only improve when performance is monitored as part of a regular check-in process.

Link Development to Business Goals 


Performance management is about getting managers and employees together to plan, monitor, and review employee productivity and contribution. Employees need to see how what they learn contributes to the organization’s success.

A joint research study by Brandon Hall Group and Halogen Software reported that more than two-thirds of high performers “use cascading goals to connect business and learning objectives, while only half of everyone else uses them.” The report also confirmed that there must be some degree of alignment between learning strategy and the overall goals of the business, revealing that nearly 60 percent of organizations that responded said learning is not aligned with business goals.

When employees’ goals and competencies are aligned with the organization, they’re motivated and empowered to make an optimal contribution, fueling productivity. 

Time and Resources Are Finite 

Managers have limited time and resources for promoting a learning culture. Mastering and holding regular one-on-one meetings is essential. Recurring meetings, focused on discussing employee performance and development, help managers engage employees, drive meaningful conversations, ask the right questions, provide coaching and feedback, and reinforce the link between what employees learn and the bottom-line success of the organization.

And, let’s not forget that employees need to own their own development. That’s why regular conversations about development are so important. They offer employees the opportunity to keep their manager in the loop on what they are learning. The quality performance comes as an output of wanting to succeed.

That’s what employee performance management is all about.

About the Author

Joanne Wells is manager of the Learning Centre of Excellence at Halogen Software. She has more than 20 years of experience in managing, coaching, and mentoring skilled professionals. In her current role, she is responsible for employee skills development and career progression.

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