Learning culture matters. Regular readers of this column have heard about Bersin & Associates’ recent research that shows a significant correlation between learning culture — the collective practices that encourage sharing of information and all forms of people development — and measurable business outcomes.
Organizations with strong learning culture have 37 percent greater employee productivity, are 32 percent more likely to be first to market and are 17 percent more likely to be market leaders in their segment, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2010 study High Impact Learning Culture.
The same research shows that most companies do not understand this area well, despite the opportunity to drive tremendous performance improvements with almost no additional expense.
The challenge is that a company’s learning culture isn’t “owned” by any one organization — not learning and development, not HR, not a specific business leader. The research shows, however, that leadership and management play a major role in influencing culture. Thirty-two of the top 40 best practices are directly owned by executives or line managers, not L&D.
To give you an example of how this plays out, consider the No. 1 high-impact practice: “Leaders are open to bad news.” Think about what this means: When leaders take time to listen and discuss problems, everyone spends more time sharing information and talking about how things can improve.
As we’ve presented this research to learning and HR executives over the past few months, some common questions have emerged: How do we coach top executives to improve the organization’s learning culture? What specific steps can managers take to improve culture on a daily basis? What role do L&D and HR play in diagnosing and strengthening the learning environment?
How to Talk About Learning Culture
Most likely, your president or COO will zone out in 30 seconds if you frame a conversation around learning. Stick to the business terms that resonate with your leaders and focus in particular on desired business outcomes. Consider starting with one or two specific areas that are known pain points and are sure to get the immediate attention of executives.
For instance, if cost containment is a hot-button issue for your company, think about a conversation like this: “We all know that we need to get better at containing costs across the company. To do so, we must be able to learn from the successes and mistakes related to spending. How can you let your employees speak openly about waste and areas of inefficiency? Can you find a way to empower your employees to save costs in their own jobs on a daily basis?” This type of conversation can easily be turned into a role-play, teaching managers how to empower people to take ownership and learn from each other.
How to Facilitate Engagement
Once you get agreement on the need for improvement in a particular area, then you can offer specific recommendations on how you and your team can assist in developing a constructive approach.
For instance, if we were to extend the example of cost containment, you could continue the conversation as follows: “We can help managers and professionals at all levels perform healthy and productive evaluations of spending successes and mistakes.”
Your Role: Partner and Influencer
Learning and HR organizations can never control a company’s learning culture. Successful change requires business managers and leaders to own the changes and the overall cultural climate. Our role is to be the consummate influencer and partner.
Therefore, in your conversations, end with a request for partnership: “In order to successfully put these plans into action, we need your help.”
High-performing companies rapidly respond to market, customer and environmental changes. Business leaders play a major role in creating, reinforcing and improving organizational learning. As learning leaders, our job is twofold: We must assist, facilitate and guide management in making required changes, and we must incorporate into leadership development the training for skills that lead to empowerment, continuous employee development and open discussion.
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