What is the learning culture like in your business?
We all know the value of learning new skills and continuous improvement, particularly as the pace of change continually increases.
But having a learning culture is not as simple as putting our teams through lots of training courses.
So, what is a learning culture, how do you get one, and where do you start?
And we thought it would be helpful to capture some of their tips and advice in one of our blogs.
Let’s begin by making sure we are clear about what creating a learning culture means.
It has become a much-used phrase. And there is a risk it can be thrown around without much to back it up.
So, if the term is used properly, what does it mean?
"A learning culture is an environment where employees are constantly learning and developing and where that is encouraged," said Kirsty.
"It can’t be a standalone project. It has to be lived and breathed throughout the organisation."
For Tienie, the key is that the learning is used.
He said: "For me, a learning culture is where learning is embedded in an organisation through its systems, values and resources. I think it goes further, and it is where there is an application of learning so that you can see it pulled through into the work that is being carried out."
A crucial part of getting that learning right, and ensuring it is used, is for it to have a purpose.
Sometimes learning and training can become little more than a tick box exercise. Either the leadership team decides on a programme without considering how the employees will use that learning.
Or, the employees scramble to complete courses so they can tick the continuous development parts of their annual performance review.
Both of these can be expensive mistakes.
Organisations must carefully consider the skills they believe they lack and base the learning around them, starting at the top.
Tienie, the BCF Group’s learning and development director, said: "Sometimes you get people saying something like ‘I need my guys to be able to present much better,’ and then they don’t demonstrate a good presentation. So, the buy-in from everyone in the organisation is critical.
"Too often we find the boardroom dictates a particular learning element that needs to be created by the learning and development department and then passed to the team so that at the end of the year they can say ‘we’ve done that’. And you are just throwing money down the drain when you do that."
Having a purpose for learning is one thing. But how do you ensure it is used and helps the business to improve?
Does that responsibility sit with the HR department? Learning and Development? Managers? Or, individual workers?
Our panel believe it is vital line managers create opportunities for their teams to put learning into action. And individuals need to make sure their managers provide those opportunities.
Tienie said: "The business has invested its profits to help people get better at something. The person being taught needs to hold the line manager to account and ensure they have opportunities to use those skills.
"Part of a course is giving you content you can apply in the workplace. It is the line manager’s responsibility to give you opportunities to apply that."
Kirsty added: "Everyone has their part to play. The organisation needs to create opportunity. The person who has received the training has a responsibility to master those skills, but they can’t do that without opportunity.
"The point of developing people is for a need of the business. So, it is about utilising that knowledge across the business rather than sending someone on a course and letting that skill and knowledge go.
"Organisations need to think upfront about how they will create those opportunities."
So, if you want to create a learning culture, do you need to arrange loads of training courses?
Our panel believe that both accredited programmes and bespoke training have a crucial role to play.
But they also argue that learning should also happen where and when people need it. This could be through shared learning with colleagues, resources on intranet sites or even YouTube videos.
"I think we are moving to a culture where people want knowledge when they need it rather than the traditional way of putting in a requestion to get some standard training," said Kirsty.
"It needs to be on the job when they need it. And that is where the collaborative culture of learning comes in and is a much more beneficial approach.
"You need to create an environment where people can come forward and say ‘this is what I need’."
Tienie said: "Creating a learning culture is about getting people to be even better than they are.
"We shouldn’t be frowning on people who go on the internet to solve a problem. We should go in and support them, share knowledge, and tell them what we have seen or researched.
"That shows people you are passionate about learning.
"I also think there is a lot to be said for curated learning content where potential problems have been anticipated, and people can find the answers they are looking for on the intranet."
Internal communications also play a part in creating those learning opportunities.
With so much of the way we work changing over the past 18 months, different departments – and individuals – should look for opportunities to share what they have learnt and how they have overcome challenges.
Kirsty said: "We should encourage learning to be shared. Rather than operating in a silo, departments should think about how what they are doing and learning can help other parts of the business. What can other people learn from it?
"I think the way people learn has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. A lot more people are looking at videos online and don’t think it is odd if we share one for learning.
"It is just how we do things, and that makes learning and sharing knowledge a lot easier."
One potential challenge is that your organisation may encounter people unwilling to learn new skills or more modern ways of doing things.
Not everyone will buy into the process. But those who are reluctant should not be viewed as a lost cause or a barrier to others learning.
Tienie said: "It is ok if there are people who don’t want to learn. If you have a learning culture and someone wants to tap out of it, that is ok. It is not a judgemental process. Some will buy into it, and some will not."
He believes that one way around the issue is to make them mentors and pass on their experience and knowledge.
"This is something I did with some of my clients. And some of those mentors have flourished and have become collaborative.
"If it is someone new to the business who has an apathy to learning, the line manager needs to try and coach them and maybe see where you can meet in the middle."
Kirsty agrees with the mentorship approach but also feels the learning culture needs to be ingrained in the recruitment process to ensure you attract people who want to develop.
"Having a learning culture needs to take into account the recruiting process," she said. And you have to think about what you are doing at that stage to show people ‘this is our culture’, ‘these are our values’, and ‘these are the sorts of people we want on board with us’.
"If you want to create that learning culture, you need to attract and bring in those people who want to continuously develop. They will be your cheerleaders who try to grow that culture."
Ok, we’ve looked at how you can create a learning culture? But what is the first step in the process?
Where do you start?
For Kirsty, intent and involving people at the beginning is pivotal.
"I would say you need to be intentional about what you want to create," she said. "You need to create it with intention. And be clear about what it is so everyone knows where the line in the sand is and what you are trying to achieve.
"It is also about how you sell it to them or position it. If you involve them from the start, such as finding out who could be mentors and has information to share, people will take some responsibility.
"Everyone will then be involved, rather than having just that one person shouting about it on a megaphone."
Tienie believes organisations should focus on the things their people need to do their jobs.
"Orientate the learning to what most people need in the organisation," he said.
"For a large organisation, with say 11,000 people, that is not an easy answer. But for an SME, it is about finding those one or two things people need to do their jobs because you are not going to solve everything."
The webinar ended with a brief look at the future of work.
Much has changed in the past 18 months. We’ve had the world’s biggest homeworking experiment, followed by a shift to hybrid models that see many workers split their time between the office and home.
So, what does the future look like? Will the focus on office attendance return, or will it all be about output?
"I think a lot of businesses are looking more at output rather than attendance, and they are thinking about how they can build that into normal life," Kirsty said.
"Working from home all the time was a huge pivot for lots of people. That is not just a physical shift, it is a mindset one too and it brings issues about trust and output.
"There are some that want to go back to the old way of doing things, but I’m seeing more people move to the output side."
Tienie added: "What I’m seeing is that it is work anywhere and everywhere as long as you deliver.
"But one issue we are seeing is that where people are meeting expectations, and they’ve had to overcome challenges in their home working environment to do that, is they are asking for more money.
"So, I think organisations need to think about what opportunities they are creating for people to go back into the office to minimise that conversation.
"You need to be comfortable to trust your people to do what they say they are going to do. And that involves some adult thinking."
The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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