What differentiates companies that can leverage opportunities during uncertain times from the ones that succumb to the threats?
Often, the answer lies in their ability to identify new ways to grow and be able to use this to their advantage. This, in the modern business world, critically depends on business leaders and employees having the right skills. But owing to the unpredictability of periods marked with rapid changes, zeroing in on the right skills to possess is a difficult bet.
However, it is far more impactful to create a learning culture that promotes the rapid uptake of skills within a company.
Before we go on to look at how companies can create, and in turn, sustain a learning culture, defining what constitutes a learning culture is imperative. A recent Skillsoft report defines a learning culture as “providing employees with an environment that gives them access to continual learning, whether to acquire brand-new skills or to enhance their existing knowledge.”
For learning initiatives to effectively translate into a culture that spans the entire organization, it is essential that learning becomes an integral part of every employee’s work life. The characteristics of a robust learning culture include supporting an open mindset and a quest for knowledge within both leaders and employees, creating a cohesive learning experience directed toward an organization’s mission and goals, and facilitating the sharing of knowledge across different functions.
Today, business leaders are waking up to the need to have the ‘right’ learning culture. According to a 2020 PWC survey, 74% of CEOs are concerned about a lack of availability of key skills in their workforce, with 32% of those polled describing themselves as extremely concerned. This brings us squarely back to having the ‘right’ tools to create the ‘right’ learning culture. Here we take a look at a few factors you need to consider:
- Focus on conveying the ‘why’ of learning. Learning initiatives and programs can be designed in a way that helps different employees build skills. But this does little to create a learning culture if the importance of learning is not translated into an organization-wide mindset shift towards acquiring new skills. As this insightful SumTotal blog notes: "Your organization needs to demonstrate to employees that their development is integral to the continuing success, not only of the individual learner, but also of their teams, and the organization as a whole.” By embracing the need to learn and develop new skills, HR professionals can help push companies in the right direction of creating a learning culture.
- Provide access to user-centric learning: The first step towards building a company-wide culture is to make learning opportunities easily accessible and personalized. This helps raise the uptake of new skills and makes learning less of a chore for the employee. Digital technologies can be greatly leveraged to create personalized learning journeys and make them available anywhere, anytime. It is important to remember that people have different learning abilities — so trying other techniques like Virtual Instructor-Led Training, on-demand, and bite-sized or micro-learning can prove to be of great advantage.
- Provide meaningful and constructive feedback: To further strengthen a company’s learning culture, feedback can be used in meaningful ways. Providing timely and constructive feedback has a two-pronged impact. First, it helps employees’ correct and fine-tune their learning and take up skills that are more in tune with business goals. Robust, real-time mechanisms to share feedback help companies during uncertain times by creating networks to course-correct and prioritize relevant skills.
The second advantage of constructive feedback? It helps employees and business leaders truly identify knowledge gaps that they need to bridge. The proper feedback mechanism can add much-needed depth to a learning culture.
- Hire inquisitive talent: Sustaining a learning culture is often looked at as a training and development issue. While it is true that learning professionals bear the core responsibility of sustaining such a culture, it is vital to have the right people be part of that culture as well. With predictive analytics and suitable recruitment mechanisms, companies that focus on hiring curious talent stand to make their learning initiatives more impactful. Qualities such as being open to new experiences, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness prove to be critical among employees to help companies sustain a learning culture.
- Reward continuous learning: Creating a deliberate learning culture can often be met with resistance. It is often necessary to bring in a formal rewards system to help entice and motivate employees. While there are many ways to reward continuous learning — from using internal communications to highlight achievements, to gamified achievement boards linked to financial incentives — it is important to remember that to sustain a learning culture, the scope of rewards has to be increased. By ensuring that rewarding curiosity is not just limited to praising and promoting those who display an effort to learn, HR professionals help create a long-term change in how their company uses learning during an uncertain time.
- Measure and refine learning: Regularly tracking learning metrics and noting how the uptake of skills improves productivity can help HR professionals fine-tune their efforts. To measure learning results and refine initiatives accordingly can make the learning culture more responsive to external change, and help in including the practices that work best for the company.
A recent research report published by Bersin found that companies who effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period. But that’s not all. The past year has shown that traditional disruptors within the business ecosystem — like the increasing role of technology and shifting employee preferences — aren’t the only factors that put their business plans into a toss. Investing in creating and sustaining a learning culture helps companies future-proof their goals and prepare for uncertain times.