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The Elements of a Learning Culture

I once heard that when you stop learning, you stop leading. This seems to be especially true in our fast-paced world where the ability to learn is perhaps as important as experience. Most people are conditioned to think that learning stops when leaving school or university but learning should be a continuous process and modern organisations have the responsibility to promote a learning culture to enable the growth of its employees.

Start with recruiting

Creating a learning culture starts with hiring professionals who possess a growth mindset. Most recruiters think conscientiousness is one of the most important personality traits as it a strong predictor for management capabilities. Still, to create a learning culture, more is needed. Research related to the Big Five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientious, extroversion, agreeableness neuroticism) and academic achievement, show that conscientiousness and agreeableness are positively related with successful learning.

Introduce innovation accounting

Tracking entrepreneurial outcomes is the overall goal of innovation accounting, a method proposed by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. It deals with questions such as how to measure progress, how to set up learning milestones, and how to prioritize work.

The current status-quo in measuring progress is measuring productivity. But instead of measuring a team solely based on its performance, management should additionally track learning progress and set up learning milestones. For example, once every month the team could sit together and discuss valuable observations from real customers as opposed to empirical data, something Ries calls validated learning.

Validated learning uses insights of real people to improve a process, product, or service as it is developed, which is superior than learning from failure. For example, instead of planning a new product, pushing it to the market, and then learning that the product is not working, one should create a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be tested with real customers to validate value and growth hypotheses.

An organization in transition to a learning culture will shift its focus so prioritising work will be very important. The best way to prioritise is using a basic Kanban board with three columns: 1. To do 2. Doing 3. Done. Keep in mind to install work-in-progress (WIP) limits to prevent log jams.

Install a corporate university

Corporate universities, also called academies, are educational entities within the organisation that assist in achieving corporate goals by conducting activities that foster individual and organisational learning and knowledge. Babbel, one of the most successful language learning platforms, has one of the greatest academy programs one can encounter. As a learning company they feel that it is their responsibility to offer as many opportunities as possible for the personal development of their employees. Every month, they offer different training courses provided by in-house trainers or external practitioners. The following transcribed course titles should give an inspiration for what striving learning organisations could implement as well.

There are essential courses on communication, on motivation, on ownership (transforming initiatives to projects), on teamwork, on culture, on conflict, on creativity, and on work life-balance. Furthermore, there are method training courses on presentation, on facilitation (a great alternative to presentation), and on project management. Personal and team development courses: self-discovery, team building, team counseling, lessons from professional athletes, and a course on managing unconscious bias. Tool training courses: working with Apple’s operating system, tracking business and travel expenses, and courses on various company systems. Obviously, they also offer language courses and, lastly, leadership courses: leadership skills, change management, performance management, labor law, and a course offering a personalised 1-to-1 coaching sessions.

With so much offer, it is possible to build an individual learning curriculum that can suit almost everyone in the organisation. Twice a year, they also offer a certificate of participation, which employees can use during performance and development dialogs (PDD) with their line managers. Through these performance dialogs, employees and managers see whether skills gap exist and can immediately enroll in one of the academy courses.

Provide access to MOOCs

MOOCs stands for Massive Open Online Courses. Coursera is one of my most favourite provider for online courses. To this date, I have taken four Coursera courses in entrepreneurship, leadership, management, and project management. Through a wide-ranging course offer, Coursera enables its students to continuously learn and grow as a result.

I have recently followed Coursera’s webinar Strategies for Bridging the Skills Gap in Your Organization and learned the following insights: training increases the value of an employee, which is why training should be promoted. This can be done by prescribing fixed learning hours during working time or by providing free access to MOOCs by paying the online tuition fee. Apparently, workers like to be told to learn during working hours. For example, one can allocate employees two hours during each Thursday or Friday that have to be used for learning purposes. To make this a success, however, you need to provide people with choices. Forcing people to follow a course from a very limited list will diminish the success of the training program. If learning is promoted correctly, employees will take learning serious and the organisation will benefit as a result.

Copyright © 2020 Claudio Marseglia. All Rights Reserved.

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