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Insights

How to Create and Sustain a Culture of Learning

Monday, June 15, 2020
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“What gets measured gets done.” This expression means that if you don’t set metrics for what you want to accomplish and actually track and hold people accountable for them, nothing will happen. There will always be another priority.

A Culture of Learning Is the Key to Perpetual Success

The number of trusted sources who continue to espouse the criticality of a culture of learning continues to grow: the World Economic Forum, McKinsey & Company, Josh Bersin.

They say that a culture of learning is not just a competitive advantage but an essential element of survival.

Why? Because the pace of change dictates that whatever you know how to do today will not be the same as what you need to be able to do tomorrow. If you think about this logically, it just makes sense. It is learning agility—the ability to learn quickly—that is the key skill needed for employees in an organization to thrive.

It’s not about what you know,

but what you can do with that knowledge . . . your skills and capabilities.

A culture of learning exists when everyone demonstrates the target level of learning agility.

How to Create Learning Agility

So, if learning agility is key, how do you drive that capability? You do it with metrics. What gets measured gets done.

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We have a customer who sets a monthly learning goal. Each person must do and document two things to develop their skills each month. Because it’s a metric, it becomes a priority. For each person. For each manager. For each leader. On up to the senior leader.

After they did this for four months, mindsets started to change toward a growth mindset. They realized the value of what they were perpetually learning to do, and it just became the norm. The metric remains, helping to reinforce the importance of learning in success of this company.

Avoid Learning Metric Pitfalls

Many organizations still believe that learning equals classroom or e-learning, which means to them if it’s not formal learning, it’s not learning.

That just isn’t so. In fact, the most impactful skills for all jobs—so-called “skills of the future” such as collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity—require experiential learning (learning while doing), which may incorporate social learning (learning from interactions with others, such as mentoring).

Informal learning is the most important type of learning because it applies the learning immediately, which solidifies the new skill. Plus, informal learning enables people to learn while working, which overcomes the biggest obstacle to a learning culture: that there’s no time for learning. If you learn while working, you get the benefit of experiential learning and completing other necessary work activities. Two priorities for the price of one.

The biggest pitfalls to avoid are setting metrics in terms of one e-learning course per month or one classroom course per quarter. These are typically untenable objectives with content that may not be as relevant to a person’s needs and that will lead to anarchy by your audience. Once you lose them, it may be hard to get them back.

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Informal Learning Makes Learning Agility Easier

As a learning professional, when you focus on informal activities, you set yourself up for success. Informal activities are quick to create and can be applied multiple times to different situations. When you have learning metrics such as a monthly objective, people will go through the list of activities you offer rather quickly unless you:

Find and attend a webinar about industry trends. Upon completion of the webinar, document how that trend will affect your customers (internal or external). Make a list of three things in your role that you can do to capitalize on that trend. Make a list of three concerns you have about how this trend will affect your organization. Based on what you’ve documented, make a list of three to five action items you plan to take, including sharing those insights internally, sharing them with your customers (to help them) or using them to ask probing questions about how people (internally and externally) are preparing for those trends.

This is an activity about developing industry acumen that will never be exhausted. It can be performed multiple times by the same individuals on different topics. Unlike a typical learning recommendation of just watching a webinar on industry trends, because it requires application, the learning is more meaningful to an individual and positively affects those around them: customers and peers.

The Right Learning Metrics Are a Leading Indicator of Success

If you believe that learning agility is a key to success, then creating a monthly learning goal, such as one activity per month, is a realistic and achievable way to create a habit and a skill.

  • Ask your senior leaders to implement and champion a monthly learning goal.
  • Ensure they understand that it is a leading indicator of each person’s success in their job.
  • Make it easy to capture and share these metrics monthly.
  • Help leaders hold people accountable for achieving their monthly learning goal.

You’ll soon find that you have created a culture of learning and have helped your organization set the stage for perpetual success.

Check out the webcast, How to Convert Existing Content into Competency-Based Experiential Learning, for more insight.

About the Author

Cheryl Lasse is SkillDirector’s managing partner. Her goal is helping people and companies achieve their potential. Cheryl has extensive experience with competency model development and implementation, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion with others. Check out the LinkedIn group Competency Models For Professional Development.

She believes people are intrinsically motivated to excel, if they are given access to a competency model for their role, the opportunity to assess themselves against that model, and personalized learning to help them close gaps and meet aspirational goals. This philosophy has been embodied in the Self-Directed Learning Engine, the engine behind the ATD Skill Tracker.

Cheryl has a strong background in consulting, marketing, and sales, mostly in technology companies, where training has played a chief role throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University in computer science and HR, and an MBA from the University of South Florida.

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