In 2010, Bersin by Deloitte published a massive research report analyzing human resources and corporate training practices. The goal was to identify “which practices, processes, structures, and systems drive the greatest business impact.” What did they identify was the most significant element driving business impact, out of the 100+ they studied? Learning culture.

Now keep in mind, that was five years ago — before BYOD, before lifelong learning was being called a trend, before MOOCs and the countless other learning technologies that have fundamentally changed how we view education, not just in the training world but in society as a whole. Even back then, the number one factor was “the strength of the organization’s learning culture.” Today, as the training world is adapting to these changes, having a strong learning culture is even more important for companies’ success.

But the opposite is also true — the lack of a strong learning culture can actively harm companies. This post explores what a learning culture is and several different ways not having one can spell an organization’s demise.

What is a learning culture?

Essentially, a learning culture is a corporate culture that views learning as important. In a learning culture, all forms of workforce education (formal training, informal learning, self-directed learning, etc.) are considered valuable ways of increasing the knowledge, skills, and job performance of individuals and of the organization as a whole.

In a learning culture, the goal of training isn’t just regulatory or industry compliance, or ticking off the right checkboxes or putting enough “butts in seats.” The goal, as J. Wood puts it on the Motivated and Competent blog, stems from “a desire to improve performance, morale, explore human potential, attract, develop, and retain talent, create a learning, questioning culture and drive innovation.” This goal gives us a pretty good idea of what can happen when a company doesn’t have a strong learning culture.

3 ways your lack of a learning culture is killing your company

Learning culture isn’t something to take lightly. It is something executives and managers need to actively cultivate. Here is what can happen if you fail to establish and cultivate a learning culture in your organization.

Your training won’t mean much.

Non-learning organizations see training as a requirement for employees to work through a certain number of learning modules or put in a certain amount of time. They offer training only once every year or two, usually via a series of lectures or elearning modules, and their primary means of assessment is an attendance record or a happy sheet. The focus is on the delivery of training, not on the actual learning.

Learning organizations seek to provide meaningful learning experiences. They offer training all of the time — formal training, informal training, performance support. They see training as something that is integrated into, rather than separated from, the daily work experience. They develop training programs that are active and interactive, that use real-world problems, and that give learners the opportunity to practice. The focus here is on the learning, and several delivery methods are used to ensure that learning takes place.

If you want your training to be meaningful, for your employees as individuals and for your organization as a whole, your organization must embrace, not silo, the learning process.

You won’t be able to attract and retain talent.

With skills gaps currently affecting nearly every industry and the shortages predicted to continue, the ability to attract and retain the right people is more crucial than ever. And what is today’s top talent looking for? Learning.

From the Big Think blog:

“Why do people work at a company like Google? Good salary. Check. Good benefits. Check. But it turns out that one of the most compelling reasons to work at Google is to learn.”

Of course, not every company can have the cachet of Google, but every company can support employees’ learning endeavors in a many ways, like offering a wide variety of training courses, recognizing self-directed learning efforts, and reimbursing employees for earning verified MOOC certificates. Your employees want to learn, they want to gain new knowledge and skills — it’s up to you to create an environment where they can do that.

You won’t be able to innovate.

Survey after survey has shown that while CEOs recognize innovation as a top driver of growth, many don’t think their companies innovate very successfully. And what are the most important keys to innovation? More than 90% of senior executives say people and culture.

In an article for Innovation Excellence, Bradley Bendle outlines the relationship between learning cultures and innovation. He identifies three core innovation competencies that organizations with learning cultures have:

  • Information Continually seeking and obtaining an array of input and feedback
  • Interpretation — Thorough and deep understanding of what the information does and does not mean
  • Initiation — Leveraging information and interpretation to develop and launch new businesses, products, and/or services

Without a learning culture — without values that encourage exploration and experimentation, and even that accept failure — companies have difficulty gathering, interpreting, and using information to innovate effectively.

Meaningful training, the ability to attract talent, innovation — these are three of the top factors that drive organizational success today. And they all start with having a strong learning culture.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.