Create a culture of learning

Do you have a culture that fosters learning and ultimately transforms the organization? Is your culture neglected and left on its own, which can breed conformity and stagnation?

Organizations not focused on learning experience high turnover, struggle to keep customers, and ultimately fall behind competitors. They may be profitable in the short term but ultimately fail.

Organizations with sustained learning practices thrive. They understand the connection between cultivating talent and growing a business.

What is culture? 

It’s like the air we breathe—it’s all around us yet very hard to see. You notice it when you go from one company to the next. 

It’s made up of all of the policies, practices, and values demonstrated. It’s how we behave and even more so, what people get away with.

Culture is hard, not soft. It’s not a ‘touchy feely’ thing—but rather an important set of behaviors and processes which impact your organization’s success.

What do your leaders do when something fails for example? How do they treat people who deliver bad news? How well are decisions delegated to owners of a problem?

The answer to these questions and others will vary from company to company and shows a difference in organizational culture. These critical questions which deal with culture, and their answers, often mean success or failure for many business initiatives.

What is a culture of learning?

A set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that encourage individuals to increase knowledge, competence, and performance.

Why does this matter?

According to a study by Bersin & Associates, titled “High-Impact Learning Culture: The Best 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise” Organizations that have a strong learning foundation in place tend to significantly outperform their peers in several areas:

  • They are 32 percent more likely to be first to market.
  • They have 37 percent greater employee productivity.
  • They have a 34 percent better response to customer needs.
  • They have a 26 percent greater ability to deliver quality products.
  • They are 58 percent more likely to have skills to meet future demand.
  • They are 17 percent more likely to be market share leader. 

In addition to this study there are others that also point to statistically significant relationships between learning organization behaviors and performance measures.

A learning culture is very business-relevant and not at all academic. “Learning Culture” is what enables BP, Toyota, Microsoft, IBM to identify the problems in their products and fix them quickly.

It’s what enable Cisco and Goodland and Apple to ‘out innovate’ their competitors. It’s what enables Walmart, UPS and Dell to drive down costs and maintain service quality. 

It’s what enables ING Direct, Zappos, and Starbucks to grow at rates 10-100X their competitors. And it’s what prevented Digital Equipment Company, Tandem, Apjollog Computre and Silocon graphics, Kodak and hundreds of other defunct companies from embracing change in their markets and evolving their products. 

This topic is important! It means life or death for many organizations.

How do I know if my company is a learning organization?

There are several ways you can begin to assess whether your organization stands in becoming a learning organization.

First, you can begin by asking some key questions. I’ve given you a head start in this document. Use this tool to self-assess your culture.

Once you have evaluated your answers, pass this survey on to other leaders in your business and use it as an aid to begin dialoguing with each other to see how aligned you are. Discuss how your results vary from theirs and where they are similar. Conduct focus groups with employees or customers.  See how leadership’s view vary. Strategize at a retreat, business planning session or at staff meetings.

Once you know where your opportunities are as an organization, you can begin making necessary changes to transform your organization. This is not an overnight process, but takes steady, focused, long term effort.