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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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Influencing culture through learning


In the second-to-last article in our series looking at how learning professionals can deliver on five key business outcomes, Laura Overton, CEO and founder of Towards Maturity, provides insights into how the most successful organisations are influencing culture through learning.

Creating an organisational learning culture represents L&D nirvana. Organisations that learn are resilient in the face of change and are more adaptable and ultimately more competitive. Our latest benchmark data shows us that L&D sees creating a learning culture in this way.

Nine out of ten of us are looking to support the way that an organisation learns for itself. We also want to achieve a whole range of culture-related outcomes:

  • 98% want to increase the ongoing sharing of good practice
  • 97% want to increase the ability to personalise programmes to individual need/context
  • 94% want to improve talent strategies to keep the best people
  • 93% want to integrate learning into the workflow
  • 90% want to drive business innovation
  • 87% want to increase the ability to attract talent
  • 77% want to build capability of organisations to solve problems

These are high aspirations and building the right culture is challenging. Rather than imposing a top-down approach to learning and performance, our data shows that a more effective approach is to build from the bottom up, giving responsibility for learning to your learners. This marks a dramatic shift for many organisations’ L&D strategy.

As one head of L&D comments in our report, Unlocking Potential, “We want to release learning from a culture which is currently centralised (learning is led by L&D . . . to learning that is owned by the individual).”

To achieve this, L&D leaders need to proactively encourage employees to own their learning.

We find that 81% of what we call ‘culture achievers’, those benchmark respondents who have achieved four or more goals in influencing culture, agree that their people understand how their work is linked to the organisation’s performance (vs 51% of non-achievers) and 49% say their staff know how to productively connect and share (vs 15% of non-achievers).

Organisations also need to identify opportunities to support learning in the workflow. Some   68% of achievers develop challenging stretch tasks to embed learning in behaviour (vs 22% of non-achievers).

And 63% of achievers also actively encourage staff to take on new work experiences as an opportunity to learn (35%).

As well as nurturing the conditions for a learning culture to flourish, it’s important to actively celebrate and share successes. Learning cultures cannot thrive unless people can see how they are working and some of the results.

Culture achievers understand this with 46% agreeing that individuals are rewarded or given some recognition for their achievement (vs 20% of non-achievers) 67% regularly communicating learning successes to line managers and supervisors (vs 36% of non-achievers).

These steps might seem small but they can lead to significant results.

Our Top Deck organisations - those in the top 10% of the Towards Maturity Index - are more likely to report that their staff can determine their own paths through the learning opportunities available in an organisation (49% of Top Deck vs 29% of the rest), and are contributing their own learning resources to share with others (23% vs 7%).

Importantly, 67% of the Top Deck have noticed positive changes in staff behaviour as a result of their learning engagement (vs 17%).

If you are looking to achieve these kinds of results then here are five tips to get started. And remember, small steps can lead to significant results.

5 tips for unlocking a true learning culture

  1. Ask how you are empowering your learners to take control of their own learning
  2. Make sure that information on learning opportunities and learning resources is readily available, clear and easy to find
  3. Don't be afraid to experiment with new technologies - this will help build team confidence and encourage greater collaboration
  4. Read and network widely - to feed your hunger for new ideas and to discover what is working well elsewhere
  5. And celebrate success!

In our next article we’ll look more in depth at how to influence culture through learning with several practical tips. 

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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