How to create a learning culture
If the digital revolution has taught us anything, it’s that today’s business moves at light speed. To compete and thrive, organizations must build upon their pandemic lessons and become agile, resilient, resourceful, and decisive. This can only happen if there's an openness to learning within a business that’s company-wide – a learning culture that empowers employees to develop attributes and skills that support the business and for themselves. In a recent survey, conducted by the SAP SuccessFactors Growth and Insights team, 44% of employees wish they could spend more time learning at work. The best businesses know that if they are to win in today’s business climate, they must prioritize and commit to continuous workplace learning and development.
What is a learning culture?
A learning culture is one where employees are encouraged to grow personally and professionally, and have easy access to tools, programs, and training that helps them develop, share, and apply new knowledge and skills.
In addition to closing skill gaps, a learning culture actively promotes curiosity and growth, with the end goals of short and long-term organizational and personal success.
In a learning culture, training, learning, and development are no longer located within a specific department, such as human resources, but are instead a valued cross-company initiative
Why is ongoing learning so critical now?
The sharp shift toward hybrid workplaces, remote work, and the gig economy continues – and is likely permanent. The talent wars, too, show no sign of abating. Together, these factors present an enormous and immediate challenge.
According to a 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, within the next five years, up to 50% of all employees will require reskilling to perform successfully in their role, while nearly 100 million new roles may come to the fore.
As before, businesses must effectively onboard new hires and provide training and development to existing workers. But today, companies must deliver learning digitally, globally, and on-demand. This shift is required not only to meet current needs but also for companies to remain agile and competitive in the future.
Equally crucial to the “push” of training and development from employer to employee is the “pull” of demand from individuals within the organization. Whether workers’ motivation is to improve job performance, climb the corporate ladder, or gain marketable skills, they want personal and professional growth. In today’s world of work, surveys show that up to 48% of U.S. workers would switch to a new job if offered skills training opportunities.
Fortunately, the simultaneous development of smart technology solutions lets companies rise to all these challenges. With the evolution of HR tech, employers have new ways to create and support a learning culture across all geographic locations at every employee level, from fontline staff to leadership positions. A corporate learning culture can also include people outside the company, potential recruits, and existing business partners.
How a learning culture benefits everyone
The benefits of investment in a learning culture can easily outweigh the costs. In high-performing learning organizations, Deloitte found that employee productivity rises by an eye-popping 37%.
Employees win, too. Every skill learned can increase their value within the company, job satisfaction, quality of life, and standard of living. It’s no wonder then that, in a 2021 Gallup study of 15,000 U.S. adults, more than half (57%) of survey respondents said they are “extremely” or “very” interested in an upskilling program and it would have an impact on their willingness to accept a job offer.
Intelligent HR solutions can measure and analyze employee learning participation and performance, then measure the learning plan’s effectiveness and ROI.
The three levels of a learning culture
For a learning culture to exist across the enterprise, it must incorporate initiatives on all levels, from macro to micro.
- Organizations typically tie learning to company objectives around becoming more competitive, improving the bottom line, and employee retention.
- Team initiatives revolve around communication, priorities, and development. Teams learn through collaboration, group exercises, and experiences, so learning should involve multiple modalities.
- Individual employees should have access to various training programs, resources, and methods. They can take responsibility for their own development by actively personalizing their learning approach.
Three styles of organizational learning
A goal of organizational learning is to customize the experience to the individual, allowing workers to acquire skills and information in the ways that best suit them. Successful plans thus incorporate multiple learning styles to help all types of learners get the most well-rounded learning experience.
- Formal learning
- University or college courses
- Formal training programs within the organization
- External workshops or conferences
- E-learning courses
- MOOCs (massive open online courses)
- Social learning
- Working with other co-workers
- Coaching and mentoring
- On-the-job training
- Internal communication networks
- Self-directed learning
- Personal reading and study
- Customization of learning plans/journeys/pathways
- Participation in groups, clubs, or online forums
Creating a culture of continuous learning: steps and tips
The saying “When you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail” is especially true in developing workplace culture. For large organizations, creating a continuous learning culture requires formalizing a detailed plan with the help of experienced learning and development professionals.
Below are some recommendations to consider:
- Get buy-in from the top down
Managers and team leaders have targets and deadlines and may resist training initiatives interrupting their workforce. Confirm with the C-suite that management at all levels will prioritize and allot time for training and will reward successes.
- Create a formal plan
Developing a learning culture should be approached like any other cost/benefit project:
- Formulate outcomes to best address business goals
- Dedicate a budget
- Offer technological and physical resources
- Allocate time blocks for training
- Encourage departmental cross-collaboration (e.g., IT for data insight, facilities for booking space and equipment)
While the plan should be formal and speak to ROI, it’s the workers who drive it. Offer them the personalized and organic opportunities that make learning compelling.
- ·Make it accessible and flexible
For employees to take ownership of their learning, corporate transparency and flexibility are essential. Break down silos so that employees have visibility beyond their department. Make it easy for individuals to access their learning plan as well as their team’s.
Offer a range of learning programs, outcomes, and different routes through them, with clearly stated learning benefits. Then let employees personalize their learning pathways and support them in applying their learning at work. Acknowledge and reward their successes.
- Make continuous learning attractive
Take the necessary steps to make workplace learning as engaging and personally relevant as possible.
Incorporate natural, likable writing, attractive graphics, interactive elements, and access-anywhere apps and interfaces.
Make it fun and social by incorporating cross-team/organization collaboration, activities, and gamification. Bring in the experts you need so that achieving stated goals is something workers look forward to.
According to SAP Insights: Six Drivers of the Future of Corporate Learning, "Technology is no longer just an assistant to learning; it’s also the teacher. Advances in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) compress years of real-world experiences into targeted, immersive virtual programs that let employees test their skills without the real-world consequences of failure. AI lets leaders insert learning into live work processes, prompting employees with content at the moment it’s needed rather than in the classroom. L&D leaders will have to balance the right mixture of in-person and virtual learning experiences."
- Identify skills gaps
The evaluation of strengths and weaknesses across the staff is the core of the learning plan. Smart HR software solutions can help you to assess, analyze, and recommend what skills workers need for professional and personal growth. Let workers know the rewards for filling those gaps, such as opportunities for advancement. Being transparent and rewarding learning behavior supports talent retention and acquisition.
- Develop a broad portfolio of learning options
The best results come when employees have a voice in their learning and input into their personal learning plan. Some may prefer interactive team learning, while others like to work independently or with a single mentor. Give them choices and control as to how, when, and where they learn. For example:
- Team training to strengthen skills and communication
- Easy access to dashboards offering multiple, mobile-friendly courses and learning materials
- Bookable calendars for coaching or mentorship
- Lunch-and-learn opportunities (avoids cutting into time outside office hours)
- Soft as well as hard skills
A learning culture is far more organic, personalized, and engaging than the traditional culture it replaces. Today’s intelligent learning technology provides invaluable assistance through data-driven solutions that allow personalization while providing analytics for the individual, team, and organization.
- Analyze and experiment using “fail fast” principles
Like the company and its workers, a good learning plan should be agile and continuously improving. Encourage trial and error as part of a fail-fast philosophy: quickly assess and measure new learning ideas, keeping those that work and removing those that don’t.
Examples of feedback that can alter the learning plan include:
- The amount of time employees are able or willing to spend learning, balanced against their workload
- Which learning styles and techniques best serve them (e.g., VR devices, apps, interactive video)
- Whether the training translates to practical learning outcomes for the business
The plan and its implementation can – and should – undergo revisions as the company gains insight through data gathering and analysis.
Common hurdles to organizational learning
Designing and implementing organizational learning is ambitious and, like any major initiative, will face hurdles. It’s easiest to prevent impediments by anticipating them. Some examples:
- Traditional mandatory training models can seem boring and irrelevant.
- Despite directives from the C-suite, managers and individuals may resist blocking out training time if they’re not clear why it’s a priority.
- It can be hard to get employee buy-in if they don’t perceive a clear path to career improvement or other personal benefits.
- Learning plans could fail to meet company participation targets or translate to measurable improvement for the company.
These issues (and others) are solvable with commitment to a learning culture – buy-in from all levels of management, the proper technology, and an engaging curriculum. Developing a company-wide learning culture is a significant shift, one that will steer the company in the right direction and help to future-proof it.
More in this series
SAP Insights Newsletter
Gain key insights by subscribing to our newsletter.