Learning on the job has never been so important. According to Gartner, nearly 40% of employers say they cannot find people with the necessary skills at all levels. Plus, almost 60% note a lack of preparation for jobs. The problem is widespread. But what organizations have to their advantage is employees’ capabilities to learn.

We are biologically wired to learn. From the time we are infants exploring the environment, to our first day at work and first day as a manager, we take in the cues that surround us and apply them to our understanding of the world.

Learning changes the brain’s structure. It adds new connections to the wiring of the brain, and this is not limited to early development.

But successful learning comes down to the environment. Consider a day at work when you’re reviewing the results of a recent project. In the meantime, someone’s yelling about a mistake, and the air conditioner is on too high. Low-level office noise can drive up stress and lower motivation, according to a study by a Cornell University environmental psychologist. These distractions detract from your ability to learn.

The foundation of a learning culture is setting up the right environment to learn—it’s as simple as that. Providing on-demand and engaging learning content through platforms like Udemy for Business is a first step to creating a culture of learning. See how to create a culture of learning with Udemy for Business.

Once you’ve built your learning foundation, the next step is to create triggers for new knowledge. That’s where feedback comes in.

Internal data from Reflektive found organizations that use real-time feedback have 34% lower attrition rates than those who do not. Training and development are the most popular benefits an employer can offer to millennials, according to Deloitte’s 2016 report on corporate learning trends. Employees leave because they are looking for growth. They don’t want to be static commodities either.

A learning culture helps motivate employees and in-the-moment feedback shows them where they can improve. Everybody wins in a culture of workplace learning. Here are three ways you can start using real-time feedback to build a learning culture in your workplace.

Create a workspace optimized for cognitive performance

The workplace environment is the foundation for learning culture. Even when negative feedback is directed at someone else it triggers a fight or flight response.

Poorly delivered feedback creates a sense of fear. For example, say your VP of sales called out a junior sales team member in front of a group. Mistakes need accountability, but expressing anger towards an employee can create a sense that risk-taking is dangerous.

“When a person witnesses a negative interaction, the individual begins to feel negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and hopelessness. When humans process negative emotions, their cognitive ability is negatively impacted, which hinders their ability to learn or perform cognitively. Hence, bad behavior is not merely a large distraction, it actually damages others’ ability to learn well, if at all,” Donna Scarola writes.

Employees should be surrounded by managers and leaders who motivate. This means positive recognition and coaching, but also an expectation that holds employees high. When leaders expect employees to be resourceful and innovative, those behaviors are more likely to emerge. Employees who are trusted are better able to be creative, collaborative, and inventive—these skills are crucial to workplace learning and knowledge transfer.

Enable positive feedback

When we talk about learning and feedback, the first example to come to mind might be a mistake made by yourself or a colleague. Corrective feedback is a teaching moment. But, the most effective feedback is actually positive recognition.

According to University of Chicago researcher Ayelet Fishbach, “Positive feedback increases people’s confidence that they are able to pursue their goals, leading people to expect successful goal attainment. Negative feedback, in contrast, undermines people’s confidence in their ability to pursue their goals and their expectations of success.”

Thus, positive recognition is more powerful in changing behavior. When someone is recognized for running an effective meeting, their meetings from then on will become that much more smooth and consistent.

Insight sharing can be part of public recognition. Someone may share how a colleague found a solution to a problem that was a time suck for the organization. Understanding both the solution and how it drives business objectives may give ideas to others in the organization about similar improvements that can be made. Sharing success stories is the tide that lifts all boats.

Lastly, positive feedback enables the receiver to be more open to constructive feedback. In fact, most experts recommend a 6:1 ratio of positive to developmental feedback. Sometimes, the critical feedback has to happen, but if you have a track record of affirming an employee, you will maintain their trust when offering an improvement.

When you recognize an employee for learning and tie it to business objectives, the rest of the staff will follow suit.

Conduct frequent structured conversations

You want employees to perform better tomorrow than they did today. That means you need a culture that celebrates improvement. There must be no shame in admitting or owning up to a mistake.

The difference between management and coaching is the perspective. Management looks at past performance, while coaching looks forward at potential. Management keeps the employee accountable for errors, while coaching asks questions that enable the employee to find the solution on their own. This style of leadership builds confidence in employees. They become empowered to say what they don’t know.

Employees know where they need to go next—you just have to ask.

“When employees are given more frequent opportunities to give and receive feedback, they feel more comfortable participating in growth conversations with their managers,” Rachel Ernst, head of employee success at Reflektive, shared with HR Dive.

These coaching conversations should be frequent. Many managers run a weekly one-on-one with each direct report. At a company level, bi-monthly or quarterly check-ins can be documented with a lightweight survey to ensure these are consistently being run across the organization. Some organizations do a developmental check-in alternate quarters, opposite a goal check-in. This ensures employee performance and development are both covered.

“What’s most difficult about feedback is when the employee doesn’t understand and isn’t given the time to close the gap between his or her current behavior and the requested new behavior,” Ernst shared with Training Industry. Running frequent conversations will close this gap, so employees can improve.

However, giving and receiving feedback effectively is a skill that must be learned. A key building block for building a culture of learning is to train your employees in the art of feedback with online courses on Udemy for Business like Feedback is Fuel which teaches employees how to give the right kind of feedback.

Today’s workforce is not skilled for tomorrow’s challenges. But with a culture of learning, your employees can grow their careers with the company and prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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