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Does Your Workplace Have a Development Culture?

Baby Boomers will soon be exiting the workforce in the masses. Millennials will accept positions to replace them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, there will be a huge shift in workplaces as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials take their place. 

Within the training and development industry, we hear often that we need to develop a plan to bridge this looming knowledge gap. We create training programs that make this transition as seamless as possible. While many of us are focused on this urgency in the market, we are missing the bigger issue—crafting a culture of continuous learning and development. This will get us out of the generational hole we are currently in.

If history repeats itself, and it usually does, we will be here again and scrambling to deliver training and systems to support a changing business. We spend time: 

• bidding out learning management systems
• holding focus groups with senior leaders to discuss succession planning programs
• sending people to off-site trainings
• creating micro or e-learning programs to help grow new talent. 

With so many items on that laundry list of “to dos,” we aren’t creating a culture that encourages, inspires, and promotes learning organically without HR or L&D forcing the issue. 

You might be reading this and wondering whether or not you are in a culture of continuous learning. Below are five ways to spot if you do not have a development culture. 

Senior leaders do not participate in learning initiatives. Does your executive team teach or attend internal classes or external trainings? Leaders set the tone, and if you have programs in place and senior leaders are not involved, take a step back and look at how successful those initiatives truly are. Great leaders lead by example. When they show that development is important to them, it speaks to the organization in a huge way.

You do not have a budget for professional development. If you do not have employee tuition reimbursement programs or send employees to conferences where they can stay up to speed on their craft, chances are you are not in a culture that inspires continuous learning. No matter your company size or industry space, encouraging employees to fine-tune their skill set is imperative to the growth of their role and your organization. By not allocating resources, you are not driving employee development. Only so much can be done in-house, and you must give employees the processes and tools to allow them to obtain training externally. Even organizations with small budgets can get creative and encourage employees to attend local learning opportunities or seek out free programs and bring that knowledge back to their teams.


Leaders are not held accountable for their team’s development. As learning and development professionals, we know leaders must value ongoing training for themselves, but they must motivate their teams to seek it out, too. You must have a system in place to hold your leaders accountable for creating this culture. At GL group, we have this as an item on the leadership review form. Leaders are expected to share during the review process how they are personally growing their teams. They also must show accomplishments they have achieved as a result. If this is a program that only HR drives, it will never truly become part of your culture. You must partner with leaders and get their support, buy-in, and active participation, because that is how development grows at the team level.

When problems arise within your culture, they are brought to HR. What I mean by problems is a break down in systems, processes, or people. In a culture of development, employees see these opportunities as teachable moments. They take it upon themselves to create new and improved processes or training solutions to fix the issue. In cultures where training and development do not exist, employees bring every bump in the road to their leader to handle or, even worse, to HR for reprimand. Your employees are the lifeblood of your company, and they know well before leadership when something isn’t working. If they pass these problems onto someone else, or simply don’t address them at all, your culture is lacking in development. Create committees where employees are responsible for leading the cause. Give employees an opportunity to work on a cross-functional team or project group outside of their day-to-day role. They can be a part of creating something new and solving problems that arise within that process. In doing this, you show people that you want them to make decisions and figure out ways to solve issues. When employees have an opportunity to make positive changes, you will be amazed at how they identify development needs and the creative approach they take to solving them.

You do not have a dedicated space for learning. This does not need to be a flashy training room or computer lab. By not having a place for employees to disconnect from their workload, you set a tone that training and development isn’t important. When employees are expected to learn from their desks or cubicles, what happens? Emails still pop up, people walk by and pop in. The distraction of their looming workload leads them to not fully absorb the learning. By having a place where employees can go to read, participate in a class, or brainstorm, you show them that you demand that they put learning as a top priority. Be creative and imagine what would be inspiring for your individual business and teams. This could be a formal training room or an area of the office that is off limits except for learning. Figure out what works for your space and culture. But remember that how you treat the space speaks louder than any sign you hang on the door proclaiming the intention. Make the space warm, inviting, and fun! 

I encourage you to think about how well you do these things organizationally. Are you just going through the motions? Have you seen results? Is training a priority across your entire organization? Look at your learning metrics. Determine if programs are working the way you envisioned. It can be easy to create and dream up learning initiatives that sound great, but great ideas don’t matter if they’re not put into effective practice. 

As learning professionals, we have a lot on our shoulders. By creating a culture of development, we share that workload, burden, excitement, and passion with the business, which leads to in an engaged, growing organization.

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Lisa Whealon is the chief people officer for GL group, a premier provider of literature and educational materials. Whealon has been with GL group for seven years and currently oversees the HR function, including talent development and acquisition, organizational design, and internal communications for the four-division company.  Culture is king at GL group, and Whealon leads the people initiatives, which includes creating a new WOW! benefit every year. She has helped launch GL group’s Emergent Leader Program and GL University and assists in the support of WOW! Benefits, such as Sandy Vacations, the Marcia Jaffe Scholarship, and Bring-Your-Baby-to-Work. Whealon serves on the Forbes HR Council and is a member of the local and national SHRM and ATD chapters.  Prior to her work at GL group, Whealon worked as an executive team leader for a big box retailer and was responsible for business operations and talent development and lead key people initiatives.
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