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Establish a learning culture as part of your employee management…

... And drive high performance

Josh Bersin from Bersin & Associates, in his article entitled 'How to build a high-impact learning culture', says that the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation's learning culture. Cultivating a learning culture in organisations is critical to driving the performance and innovation necessary to compete in today's marketplace successfully.

Says Joyce Lebelo, partner and managing executive of eLearning at LRMG performance agency: "What's essential to realise, however, is that a learning culture is not the same as the more traditional practice of putting learning in a box and labelling it 'skills development'. Instead, it's the active practice of establishing an overall learning culture in an organisation that facilitates the practice of continuous learning. It's not simply a series of activities that take place periodically to complete development scorecards."

Research, which studies best practices in corporate training, has been conducted by Bersin & Associates for over six years. After this, they identified more than 100 possible business processes, programmes and strategies which fall into the area of 'culture.' These include:

  • Many formal aspects like 'creating development plans', and
  • Also informal aspects such as 'regularly conducting after-action reviews' and 'leaders listen to mistakes.'

That was followed by Bersin interviewing and surveying over 40 000 organisations to understand how well they adopted these employee management practices and simultaneously studied how well these organisations performed on well-defined business measures.

"As illustrated by this study, high-performance cultures are typically associated with highly innovative organisations – and in order for people to innovate they have to be encouraged to engage in the practice of learning. That's why establishing a culture of learning is important as it ensures that people feel safe, and therefore are willing to be a part of innovation process," says Lebelo.

A learning culture generates deep specialisation

Companies that have been particularly successful have found that deep levels of competence are required, particularly in challenging economic times. While you may have people in an organisation with scarce skills and ability, they may become stagnant if there isn't a culture where those attributes can be channelled into measurable contributions that are being applied to the specific context of the business. You also run the risk of losing that deep specialisation if it's not appropriately used.

To ensure that learning is established as a culture in your employee management practices, leadership plays a huge role. What kind of environment does leadership create for people when they make mistakes? Is it a safe space, or a shameful one? Is it a place where people are openly criticised or where old, traditional thinking about any form of failure equates to incompetence? "The number one driver for inculcating a culture of learning is that people have to feel safe to learn, as well as safe to fail. Failure can't appear to be fatal," she stresses.

Value has to be attributed to everyone's contribution

Junior colleagues represent an untapped source of feedback that can help senior executives materially improve their performance and provide input on key strategic decisions. Also known as 'coaching', input from lower-level team members to senior leaders is a really effective way to get a full, 360° lens on the whole operation of an organisation. Yet it requires that leadership is open to those types of contributions and don't fall back on old-school thinking that only people at a certain senior level or above are competent or qualified to make strategic contributions of that nature.