Building an “always learning” culture

“No matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve” Barack Obama

One of my favourite questions to ask of potential new employees is “what is something in your area expertise would you’d like to learn more about”

When looking to future employees I’m looking for not only someone who can, and, is willing to learn something new, but someone with enough self awareness to understand there is ALWAYS something to learn.

I’m about to bang on now about how the workforce is changing and how entrenching a culture of continuous learning is a must for attracting and retaining not just younger employees (16 – 37 year old demographic), but any employee who values their position within an organisation and wants to bring as much value as they can to their role. In other words, the type of employee you’d be lucky to score.

So lets start with my favourite subject – the changing landscape of the workplace

Learning is no longer just for students or apprentices & trainees. Technological advances, such as AI and automation, are creating an environment of almost constant change – not just at work, in every aspect of our lives. Businesses that don’t encourage and enable their employees to adapt to the changes will lose their competitive edge.

Traditional employee learning and development strategies are based on a stable and predictable environment. That, for better or worse, no longer exists.

On a small scale we are talking about minor changes to internal processes; ie: the requirement for handover notes or incident reports to be completed online meaning all employees need some level of computer competency, for a big picture example, thanks to technology a multitude of businesses can now operate in a digital & global space that just wasn’t conceivable for them 20 years ago.

It’s also no longer enough to employ someone and expect them to remain stagnant in their nominated field of work. Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends’ report found 42 per cent of millennials are likely to leave their organisations because they’re not learning fast enough. That number is astounding, especially when 75 per cent of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025.

What’s needed for organisations to survive and thrive in this new world is education; creating a culture of continuous learning that helps older staff shift into this new, fast changing era, and to satisfy the younger workforce’s desire to learn.

It requires a change in mindset, but the rewards are positive. Leaders who embrace the concept of a learning culture understand that learning is a natural process, that people yearn to grow. These organisations cultivate employee potential through learning opportunities and experiences.

And now onto my next point – thanks to technology workplace learning is now easier than ever.

Thanks to applications such as Zoom & Skype workplaces can access coaching, webinars and structured training right from their desks.

TAFE’s around Australia have been delivering course content 100% online for some years now.

Depending on your industry, there may be an industry specific LMS system available for you to join in order to access learning modules for your employees.

And finally the *most* important factor in building a culture of continuous learning within your organisation – senior employees & leaders who possess the skills to coach employees.

Most people within a leadership position was probably bought up through the ranks by what’s known as a “Command & Control” leader, defined by traits such as; I’m the manager, so I make the rules; Your job is to do what I say; If you mess up, I’ll let you know about it; If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing fine; You’d better be careful not to make a mistake, or cross me!; I make the policies, and you follow them.

If this was your boss how willing do you think you’d be to try something new? Not very; you’d be terrified of getting in trouble.

Growth and innovation comes from trying new things; stepping outside of your comfort zone; not being afraid to fail. It requires a collaborative and innovative leader.

When people think of coaching employees to learn something new, they think in terms of just showing them what to do. “First we do this” “If this happens you need to do that”

Coaching is about providing your employees the tools and capacity to discover the solutions for themselves as opposed to the how and when to complete a task. The leader still makes decisions but the conversation in getting there is two way.

It’s about developing your employees by providing regular support & feedback to allow their careers to progress to where they aspire to be. The ongoing dialogue of coaching communication guarantees that employees know what is expected of them and how their work fits into a larger vision or strategy of the organisation. 

The unfortunate reality is most people in leadership roles do not coach or develop their employees — ever.

Organisations with neglected learning cultures experience high talent turnover, struggle to keep customers, and ultimately fall behind competitors. These organisations may be profitable in the short term, but they ultimately fail.

On a scale of thriving to failure, where would you rather be?

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Simone Pickering | The People & Culture Office