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Linda Cartwright

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Creating Learning Culture in Your Company


Employee training plays a crucial role in retention today. That is why one cannot afford to omit it. First, on boarding a new employee is always more costly than converting and giving a new function to an existing worker who is already familiar with the corporate culture and generally knows the ropes. Moreover, the opportunity to learn and grow is one of the three top factors retaining Millennials and they are the largest cohort in a workplace today. As an employer, you cannot afford to ignore their expectations.

According to Edward Hess, a professor of business administration, the link between learning and business success is compelling. “Companies that learn fastest and adapt well to changing environments perform the best over time.” To achieve that you have to build a learning culture in your company.

What’s with Millennials and learning?

The importance of training steadily grows proportionally to the numbers of millennial employees in the workforce. If previously non-millennials welcomed the training opportunity within the company, today Millennials expect it. According to a Gallup poll, 87 percent of Millennial fundamentally think about jobs as opportunities to learn and grow. This strong desire to learn defines them as a cohort in a workplace.

Millennials are described consistently as entitled with every possible negative connotation attached to the word. Managers feel that Millennial employees do not want to wait. They want to receive training before they earn the right to get this investment from the company.

However, it is your task as an employer/HR specialist to understand that this readiness to learn is a strong side of today’s employees. You should leverage it to your advantage instead of dismissing it. Why not think of this eagerness as of empowerment instead of entitlement? Employees want to be useful, to acquire new knowledge and skills so they move towards their full potential starting now. How is that a bad thing?

Proactivity is key

According to the aforementioned Gallup poll, a whopping 93% of Millennials leave their company when they change roles. Most disturbingly, they leave not because they are not satisfied with their employer, but because they do not see any growth opportunity within the company. They may consider changing role within the company. However, they would hardly start the conversation about pursuing a different career path. They are afraid to appear disloyal. Millennials are also known for wanting feedback but shying away from asking for it themselves.

Proactive managers could mitigate this turnover phenomenon. To retain Millennials conversation about their development within the company is vital. Employee training is not only for big companies with a complex corporate ladder. As soon as your employees seek growth both them and the company can benefit from a career development program. You should start training programs before they become a necessity.

What is Learning Culture?

Learning culture is not about getting the HR police off your back by putting a certain percent of your budget into training or giving your employees a certain number of class hours every year. This still can mean nothing, if you do not walk the talk.

In an established learning culture, you see people learning because they want to. It is a community of workers with a common growth mind-set. They want to grow and learn new skills, but they also feel compelled to share their knowledge with others.

To encourage that you can schedule regular sharing sessions in your company and give employees a possibility to sign up as a prospective speaker for the next session. Even the youngest employee can have something valuable to bring to your common learning table.

How do you implement it?

Effective training incorporates five components:

  • Engagement – programs are immersive and deliver the exact skills required.

This is crucial. The crisis of the educational system was brought about by the outdated syllabi and courses that students see as useless. This caused the emergence of professional paper writers to whom student outsource their assignments. Yes, those very same Millennials who are eager to learn. How come? Remember, they want to be useful. If they know why they learn something, you can hardly find more knowledge-thirsty and diligent student. If they fail to see the value (i.e. future application) of the skills you teach them, they will become those bored and unmotivated Millennials that media have been feeding us since 2000. That’s not what you want for your employees or your company.

  • Structure – material is composed of specialized modules, integrating technical, behavioural and mind-set skills required for the new position.

This is crucial for the engagement. Specialized modules answer the question why. While integrated skills show how exactly. This structure is the most effective in maintaining motivation and feeding new knowledge to learners with short attention span.

  • Application – the majority of the curriculum emphasizes practical tasks including simulations and interactive animations.

Did you ever notice how fast, precise, and well-organized is the work of any emergency service is? That is because they are trained to deal with all possible situations via various simulation drills. They have an embedded procedure for every train wreck under any circumstance. Your company may deal with something less dramatic and more trivial. However, time is usually the dearest thing to all of us. Preparedness makes efficient workers that feel confident even during a crisis.

  • Diversity – instructions are delivered in many different ways and media (in-person conversation, mobile, video instructions, etc.)

This obvious but often omitted condition to accommodate all types of learners (audial, visual, reading/writing and kinaesthetic) is worth mentioning here again. The advantages of video format is that information can be presented for everyone at the same time (video and audio accompanied by the written instructions on the screen, which the learner can recreate in a hands-on activity).

  • Feedback – assignments are regular to identify and timely address the problem an employee might experience during acquisition of new skills.

You are probably familiar with the concept of “boot camp” training, which is a proven approach. One of the key aspects of boot camp model’s success it that competency of the trainees is assessed regularly, based on actual demonstrations. If a student is struggling with something, you do not let misunderstanding and frustration pile up. All necessary tweaks are made on the go, without breaking the state of flow.

To create a healthy learning culture you will also have to battle the three main constraints that prevent people from learning:

  • Ego.  We want everyone to perceive us favourably. As a result, we tend to avoid situations where we may look uninformed, not very smart and generally lose our face. To battle this constraint you should cultivate humility, with managers and leaders setting the tone. When they do not take themselves too seriously, they become more approachable, while everyone else is less tense.
  • Fear. Failure can be very embarrassing. Therefore, we seek to avoid it at all costs. However, learning without failure is impossible. To build a learning culture, encourage risk-taking and “failing forward” attitude.
  • Complacency. Our brain tends to resist new challenges and ideas, retreating to an autopilot mode. You can fight fire by fire here: create routines to stay on track. For example, daily checklists to keep your employees focused on learning.

Finally, model the behaviour and the mind-set you wish to achieve by becoming the life-long learner yourself.


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