5 Proven Strategies to Build a Culture of Learning in the Workplace
The ability to learn and develop new skills over time is the essential skill of the modern workplace. It’s also beneficial for companies to encourage employees to build this capability in themselves. Trying to hire your way out of a skills gap is expensive. The cost of hiring a new employee ranges between $4,000-$7,000 and filling an open position can take months.
But encouraging your employees to learn is not the same as developing a culture that actively values learning. You also have to offer employees the time in their work schedules to learn a new skill. To make learning core to the way your organization works, leaders should leverage the following five strategies, based on Udemy VP of Learning, Shelley Osborne’s book and course, The Upskilling Imperative.
1. Develop agile learners
The first step to making learning core to the way you work is by developing learning agility in your team. Learning agility simply means having the capacity to figure things out when confronted with an unfamiliar situation.
A great way to promote learning agility is by regularly reviewing three questions with your employees:
- What have I learned before? This question connects knowledge employees gained previously to their current work. Discuss how those prior experiences can inform — even improve — the projects they’re working on today.
- What did I learn today? Ask employees to reflect on the present and to learn from their wins and losses. This question encourages regular introspection so employees aren’t flying on autopilot. They’re continually finding ways to get the most out of their workday.
- What do I need to learn next? This question is complicated. For hard skills, there’s no shortage of the latest tools and tech for an employee to learn. But for soft skills like creativity, leadership, and communication, employees can feel like they have it or they don’t. Not the case. All soft skills can be learned and improved on.
Self-assessments can be difficult for many employees. Guiding employees through these questions allow them to reflect on their own development and have open conversations.
2. Use feedback to fuel career coaching opportunities
For many of us, the word “feedback” conjures negative connotations. But to achieve a learning culture, you must also establish a feedback culture. Feedback serves as the foundation for employees to understand and identify their learning needs.
It can be tricky to implement feedback loops. You don’t want people to fear or dismiss feedback. Rather, employees in a feedback culture would ask for and apply feedback constantly.
The most impactful types of feedback are:
- Constructive: Honest messages that keep the recipient’s best interests at heart, but are geared toward improvement.
- Perceptive: Helps recipients to see themselves differently and have real direction about where they should be learning and growing.
- Connected to a specific behavior: Actionable advice around behavior that is not a comment on the employee’s personality or intelligence.
By learning how to properly give and receive feedback with a growth mindset, we become more aware of development opportunities. Leaders must help teams reframe the idea that they’ll hurt a colleague’s feelings if sharing feedback. Managers can lead by example in giving well thought out, constructive feedback to their teams and asking for feedback in return.
3. Use creative techniques to motivate learners
To cut through any resistance to workplace learning, borrow from your marketing team. Employees are busy and need motivation to embrace continuous learning. Give them a reason to pay attention to learning by getting creative.
Follow this simple framework to get your creative juices flowing:
- Consume: You never know when an article or show will spark an idea applicable to your learning programs. Bring an active eye to your media consumption and be on the lookout for things that might connect with your employees.
- Flip: To innovate, take a step back from the present and see things differently. Flip the script. Ask yourself what the learner is experiencing and where their challenges lie. Ask yourself: “How are things now? What could make them better?”
- Incubate: Growth comes from taking the time and space for self-reflection. Give yourself permission to step back from the project at hand and let ideas simmer. Take your time, go do something else, then return to your work with fresh eyes.
- Connect: Find the connection between consumption trends (for instance, VR) and content you’re building (new employee onboarding) to create an innovative experience (a VR walkthrough of the office for new remote employees). Don’t force a connection where there isn’t one. But if there’s a way to connect your inspiration to your L&D program, go for it.
- Follow: Continue to pull inspiration from the consume phase to help shape your plan of action. Follow the lead of organizations you find resourceful and creative. This last step in the framework also refers to how you follow up on your ideas to get feedback. Asking for feedback helps you improve your programs.
4. Put learning in the flow of work
You can’t maintain a healthy learning culture if learning is not offered in the flow of work. Here are some suggestions for how you can put learning into the flow of work.
- Share the importance of learning: Even in the best of times, learning might be at the bottom of an employee’s priority list. Combat this by getting company leaders to visibly set aside their own time for learning. This shows employees that learning is an encouraged part of their work.
- Empower employees to direct their learning: Let employees decide when learning best fits in their workflow. Record instructor-led training sessions and upload them as an online course to a central learning system. This allows employees to set the pace of their learning and autonomy over what to learn and when.
- Build in a budget: Many companies provide learning budgets for employees to attend conferences or in-person workshops. While travel is not as accessible right now, encourage employees to use this budget for other purposes. They can buy books, attend virtual conferences, or participate in virtual instructor-led workshops.
Learners need time and space to learn, access to the right learning environment and resources, and leadership that supports their learning needs.
5. Leaders signal the value of learning
Leadership is the most powerful and impactful lever for spreading a culture of learning. As a leader, you can incorporate learning into everything you do. Here are a few ways leaders can signal the importance of learning:
- Incorporate learning into team meetings: In regular meetings, ask team members to come prepared with one win or lesson from their week. This gives everyone a chance to share their voice and ensures learning is a two-way discussion and not another lecture.
- Discuss career development with employees: Studies show that if employees are not able to talk about their career development with their managers, they are more likely to leave the company. Hold at least two career-oriented conversations with employees per year. Use these sessions to check in on goal progress, ask questions about how they think they’ve grown, and push them to find learning resources that continue their career growth
- Hold post-mortems after large projects: Post-mortems are a useful tool to identify and analyze which aspects of a project were successful and less successful. They’re an easy way to keep learning front and center by answering the question, “How’d we do? How can we do better next time?”
Cultivate a culture of lifelong learners
When building your culture of learning, keep in mind that learning should be like air — all around you. Sometimes you call attention to it, but most of the time the organization should be sending signals without even realizing it.
A workplace learning culture propels innovation, bridges skills gaps, and develops more satisfied employees. Before you begin implementing these strategies, evaluate your company’s current learning culture with the Learning Culture Evaluation Workbook.