How to foster learning culture

How to foster a Learning Culture?

How to foster a Learning Culture?

How to foster learning culture

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Author: Mariam Taqui Ali | Senior Associate – KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre

How to foster a Learning Culture?

As discussed in part one of this series, building a learning culture is a crucial priority for HR and organizations alike. What haunts many HR and L&D professionals is the question of ‘how?’ With businesses being disrupted daily, it is becoming increasingly complex to manage a workforce and keep them up to speed with the changes in the business landscape.

In this part of the ‘Learning Culture’ series, we highlight the five best practices that help in building a learning culture and sustaining it.

Prepare employees for the Now and the NEXT

Upskilling, re-skilling and cross-skilling employees is an important part of any organization’s strategy to help their workforce deal with the challenges of their current role, prepare them for future challenges, build capability to take more responsibilities, deliver phenomenal results and add tremendous value to the organization. Preparing the workforce for the future is a crucial requirement and a non-negotiable practice of a strong learning culture. For example,  Zappos, an online shoe retailer has brought practices like ‘Holacracy’ into play for improved innovation and growth of the organization. It allows its employees to act as entrepreneurs and self-direct their work.

Zappos learned early on that their focus should be on delivering exceptional customer service. It was important that every employee could address their customers’ needs and provide WOW customer experiences. As the company grew, the hierarchy prevented an immediate response to customer feedback and slowed the process of getting things done. Zappos soon reorganized their organizational structure, decentralising power, and giving their employees and teams more freedom to self-manage. As a result, the organization was able to respond quickly to customer feedback and give their customers the experience they deserve. Zappos is a classic example of adapting to the new changes in the business landscape, a crucial element of a strong learning culture.

Provide a Safe Environment

Employees perform their best and learn when they feel safe. Safety means the freedom to make mistakes, fail and learn from it without the fear of real-world repercussions.  Companies like Coca Cola, Netflix and Amazon are the heroes of the fail fast learning culture:

  1. In 1985, the Coca Cola Company decided to reformulate its namesake drink and named the new offering as ‘New Coke’. The product was a failure and the company quickly started to lose market share. Very soon, the company brought back the original product and renamed it ‘Coca Cola Classic’, a drink we enjoy even today.
  2. When Netflix combined its DVD offerings Qwikster with on-line streaming and doubled their prices, it was met with much criticism from the users. Netflix quickly made amends and brought about better offerings for their customers.
  3. Jeff Bezos claims that Amazon’s Fire Phone was the biggest blunder he ever made. Production of the phone quickly closed once Amazon realised that nobody wanted anything beyond a Samsung Galaxy or an iPhone.

Despite such major mistakes, Coca Cola, Netflix and Amazon are some of the biggest, most profitable organizations today. They were able to move past the mistakes and move on to bigger and better things. A key reason for this is that these organizations foster a strong learning culture where employees are not judged or belittled for the slips and falls they make. Instead, employees are encouraged to fail as these organizations understand that no success is possible without a setback. Thus, failing, risk taking become an integral part of a learning culture.

Lead by example

Leaders play an important role in building a learning culture. A learning culture cascades from its leaders – their practices and belief systems need to be communicated to the organization so that the workforce can align to the core values of the company.  This is important because employees emulate the habits of their senior leaders when they see it in practice and if it is relevant to their role. It is a natural progression.  They need to be transparent in their communication of ideas, practices, vision, mission and open to dialogue and ideas across the various levels of the organization.

More important is for leaders to openly acknowledge and talk about the mistakes that they have made. This practice is a reminder to leaders and the organization alike that nobody is perfect, and mistakes do happen; It is important to take risks and experiment. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook is a strong proponent of ‘running towards mistakes’. In a note to his employees, Zuckerberg said that making mistakes is normal, what is important is learning from them, bouncing back and never giving up. The case of Cambridge Analytica privacy fiasco stands witness to Zuckerberg’s philosophy of learning from mistakes.

Reward Regularly

You have certainly heard and implemented the practice of appreciating fantastic work and celebrating when things go as planned or when they are executed well. But have you rewarded your employees for the slips, the falls, the setbacks? A strong learning culture rewards regularly for trying repeatedly, for not giving up, for the effort, for the learning that is taken from a job wrongly done or something that failed. The essential practice of a learning culture is to acknowledge both the good work and share the burden of mistakes, that helps the employees buck up and move quickly towards the right path or direction. Intuit throws failure parties and gives the best failure award. They believe that each failure is a seed for something new to pursue and explore. It promotes risk-taking and allows people to learn more.

Call out to the Curious folks

While the above practices can help in building a learning culture, this practice of hiring curious people will help sustain it. Curiosity plays an essential part to keep employees engaged and sharp at work. They are willing to learn, experiment, take ownership, and are self- motivated. In a study by Gallup International, it has been revealed that curious employees bring to the table new ideas and practices that may not have been explored or thought about in the ‘business as usual’ scenario. They proactively take decisions that helps the organizations to scale. For instance, an employee at Influence and Co. was asked to track the click rates of their articles, her curiosity to understand why certain articles did well over the others led to a discovery of rich insights. Those were later used to improve the quality of their newsletter and improve the business.

Empowering employees through such practices of learning culture not only allows them to excel in their current roles but makes them confident enough to deal with any unforeseen challenges or issues that may come their way. #LearningCultureAllTheWay


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