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Harri Savage

ELK Online

Online Learning Specialist

Read more from Harri Savage

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How to kill your learning culture in one simple step

Follow these steps to ruin your organisational culture and demotivate your staff

I know what you’re thinking: ‘There is no way it can be that easy! We’ve spent years hiring the right kind of conscientious, self-motivated employees keen to develop in their roles. We’ve produced and procured high quality, ROI assured learning materials, programmes and social learning spaces to support our people. And we’ve fostered effective relationships with senior stakeholders in the business who share their learning trials and tribulations openly and honestly with their teams.’

The secret

I hear your concerns, but don’t panic. We really can unpick all that work, and relatively easily too. So, if you want your staff to focus on their own problems and stop casual social learning with others, if you want to deter people from pursuing new skills and if you want to prevent the urge to learn from returning, I’ve got the solution for you: erode your employees’ time. 

Increase tight deadlines and stress that everything is ‘business critical’ 

The method 

There are lots of different methods you can use to achieve this, so make sure you understand your business and pick the one that’s right for you. But here are a few that I’ve seen work really well. 

1. Increase the workload

2. Increase tight deadlines and stress that everything is ‘business critical’ 

3. Throw a few curve balls in for good measure

This approach was highly effective with a friend of mine. We used to work together a few years ago so I have seen first-hand how she handles her job. She is amazing. She is diligent and self-sufficient. She is a problem solver and a relationship builder. She’s more than happy to pitch in to help someone out; share hints, tips and advice; and if there is something she doesn’t know how to do, she will go find out how to do it. 

Six months ago she accepted an apprenticeship with her employer. She knew it was going to be hard work, but she would have a couple of afternoons a month to dedicate to it and she was thrilled her manager had accepted her training request.  

1. Within three months colleague number one asked to reduce her hours to part time and colleague number two was reassigned to a different team. Not only did she have to pick up the extra work from her now part-time colleague, but she had to cover the other vacant/not vacant positions too. 

2. Simultaneously, the business redesigned its management and leadership approach. With the exec bearing down on the team it was ‘critical’ that the new projects were completed yesterday. Every task that wasn’t project related was challenged and scrutinised. 

3. Then, two days before the deadline, the scope changed. Someone (not that anyone knows who) forgot to include the central communications team and they had concerns that needed to be addressed before sign off. 

She is so fed up and overwhelmed by her day-to-day that the very thought of picking up anything else seems like such a burden

The impact

“I just can’t do it,” Her voice cracked, “I can’t believe I begged them so much for this course and I can’t do it.” We were sitting talking over coffee. My friend had just told me how another last minute change had unpicked all the work she’d completed over the last week. 

“I mean, how ridiculous does this look?” – a half smile as she tries to laugh it off .“I asked them for this, I said I could do it and now I’m missing the deadlines, I haven’t even had the chance to look at the materials and I’m going to have to withdraw. I can’t face telling my manager.” 

We talk a bit about how she might be able to postpone the apprenticeship, or maybe pick something a little less intensive but she shakes her head. She’s not interested anymore, she is so fed up and overwhelmed by her day-to-day that the very thought of picking up anything else seems like such a burden. 

The perfect storm

And there you have it. The method works. Erode your employee’s time and you will have them too exhausted and stretched to invest any time in their development. Learning something new takes minutes and hours on that clock and mental energy. Then it takes time to embed the new skill, practice it and perfect it.  

It’s easy for us to forget to make time and space for our learning and carve that time out for our team

The best aspect of this method is that the employee starts to feel it is their failure, not yours, after all you invested in them and gave them the opportunity and they weren’t capable of stepping up to the mark, right? 

Putting it right

No, I don’t really believe any of us willingly set out to discourage our team members and turn them away from developing their skills. But when times are tough, resources are stretched, and business leaders are pushing and pulling us in all directions –  it’s easy for us to forget to make time and space for our learning and carve that time out for our team. 

Capture that satisfying penny drop moment where the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place, remember the sense of pride and accomplishment you feel when you achieve something new, think about the buzz you get when you help a teammate figure something out for the first time – those are the feelings you want to cultivate to keep your learning culture alive.

Interested in this topic? Read Why a learning culture is inherently agile.

Author Profile Picture
Harri Savage

Online Learning Specialist

Read more from Harri Savage

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