Your company already has a learning culture whether you’ve thought about it or not. The way forward, therefore, won’t require you to create something out of nothing. You can breathe a sigh of relief. What it does involve is gaining an understanding of the learning culture already in place, and then shaping it, guiding it, developing it, according to the vision you want as a company.
Building A Learning System
Developing a learning culture requires a systems mindset in which learning and work are seen as integrated. There are four elements of the system:
- Shared Vision.
- Shared Assumptions.
- Shared Stories.
- Shared Experiences.
A Shared Vision is an answer to the question, what do we want to create? As a company. As a culture. As a way of going about our work. A Shared Vision is a vivid picture of the future you want to create together. It is more than an idea. It’s a force in people’s hearts. It’s aspirational and compelling enough to acquire the support of people inside and outside the organization. It’s palpable. People begin to see it as if it already exists.
Shared Assumptions are invented, discovered, or developed by a group of people as a set of norms for how to act. The work of developing a learning culture involves gaining an understanding of what assumptions you already make as a company. An example of an assumption could be “it is ok to speak my mind when I disagree with someone”.
The unique Shared Assumptions of your company reflect your status quo. Your Shared Vision is your shining future state. The gap between these two is your Learning Journey.
This is where Shared Stories come in. As humans, we are natural-born storytellers. We resonate at our core with stories. Shared Stories in the context of your learning culture represent the positioning, framing, and narratives that foster commitment rather than compliance. Shared Stories inspire action.
Shared Experiences are the arenas in which the action takes place. Teams are the fundamental learning units in companies. We need each other to act. We need each other to learn. Shared Experiences bring people together intentionally to engage in dialogue (which is different from discussion) around common challenges, using a common language. Shared Experiences are CLXs.
The Cornerstone Role of CLXs
Cohort Learning Experiences are the cornerstone of any learning culture. They provide the link between the present and the future. The link between Shared Assumptions and the Shared Vision. The learning and upskilling that takes place in a CLX is a critical component of future-proofing any business.
CLX’s have 6 core features that make them so impactful.
- Build trust.
- Encourage reflection.
- Empower individuals to take action.
- Enable cross-functional knowledge sharing.
- Demonstrate and celebrate learning’s value.
- Formalize learning as a journey, not a destination.
Practical examples of best practices for making CLXs work include:
- Employees who learn new knowledge and skills are valued and rewarded.
- Employees take active responsibility for their own personal development.
- Employees consider it part of their jobs to help others learn.
- Learning in teams is regarded as the best way to learn.
- Asking questions is encouraged.
The best part of CLXs is once you set them up and run them, participants fall in love with them. You suddenly find yourself with irresistible demand for them. Your job then becomes about perfecting and scaling them. For that, you need a team.
The New L&D Team
The New L&D Team is led by a Learning Culture Officer.
The Learning Culture Officer ties together rewards, incentives, rules, and programs for knowledge sharing using agile design and delivery principles.
They innovate around employee experience, talent attraction, hybrid work, and multigenerational career paths.
They build and upskill a new learning team, with roles that include:
- Content manager – responsible for curating content to create a common language.
- Community manager – responsible for engaging employees, communicating and ensuring inclusiveness across the population.
- Knowledge manager – responsible for identifying experts internally and externally and organizing institutional knowledge.
- Ecosystem manager – responsible for designing the technology ecosystem to enable a learning culture.
- Data manager – responsible for measurement and ROI calculations.
But this team can’t do everything.
Responsibility for change sits not only with L&D but with leadership and line management too. Everyone takes ownership.
Leaders Learn By Example
Leadership buy-in to the learning culture shows that learning is valued.
Leaders reward forms of learning and participate and teach in learning opportunities. They embrace shared authority. They prioritize time to think over urgent, but not important, tasks. They value activity that may not translate into immediate, measurable results.
Strategic planning for the year accounts for the people component, allocating sufficient resources and time for learning.
Leaders reserve a seat at the table for the New L&D Team, led by the Learning Culture Officer sitting side-by-side with the CEO.
The Shining Culture On A Hill
The cultivation of a culture that supports learning achieves the holy grail for the L&D team: the continuous investment in people and impact on real business outcomes.
With learning agility as a competitive advantage, learning organizations outperform their peers. 2017 research by Bersin Deloitte showed that companies with strong learning cultures had a 107% higher 3-Year Ave Earnings Per Share (EPS) and a 59% higher 3-Year Ave share price.
Companies create new, better products and services and improve internal processes by surfacing ideas in cohorts and encouraging risk-taking and learning. They level up thanks to the collective ideas and collaboration of their people.
Response time to market changes and new opportunities is greatly reduced, as learning agility translates into execution agility. When people have a place to share ideas, challenges and troubleshoot collectively, examples of what good looks like spread rapidly.
Customer response time is reduced as cross-functional knowledge sharing gives everyone a deep understanding of the needs of the customer and captures needs at the moment they arise. Customers whose problems are solved according to (and beyond) their expectations are happy customers. Happy customers tell others.
Employees are able to do more with less, realizing productivity gains previously inconceivable. They’re able to free up time for thinking, and perhaps more importantly, rest and recovery.
Employees become specialists and experts, alleviating the need to hire external consultants and further developing the people they mentor. The internal talent pool grows.
Investment in training content is amplified through the discussions that take place in cohorts. Instead of investing in more content, learning organizations spend more time integrating learning with work.
Cost structures are reimagined thanks to the productivity gains, cost reductions, and savings mentioned.
The Learning Culture Officer is responsible for and able to measure these outcomes thanks to a relentless focus on designing, installing, and monitoring systems for learning.
Systems result in the true unification of knowledge across all functions. Systems create their own momentum and continue operating with less and less tinkering needed. As one of the greatest systems-thinkers, Donella Meadows, said:
“A truly profound and different insight is the way you begin to see that the system causes its own behavior.”
As a Learning Culture Officer with a system for learning and oversight of HR’s Center of Excellence for Skills, you immediately raise your profile in your company. You’re driving real business outcomes after all.
Being able to demonstrate ROI on your efforts, you put yourself in a position of leverage. You’re able to negotiate promotions or better packages. You’ll be on the radar of the top high-growth companies looking to develop their competitive advantage through the transformation of their learning culture.
You’ll build a community around you, allowing you to amplify your impact. You’ll be seen as a mentor to many. You’ll be seen as a leader wherever you choose to apply your talents in cultivating a high-performing learning culture.
👉 Join the movement by becoming a part of The Learning Culture Experience community.
This article is part of a 4-part series exploring the future of learning and development inside companies.
Here is the full series:
- part 1 – Something Needs To Change
- part 2 – What The Future Looks Like
- part 3 – The Times, They Are ‘A Changing
- part 4 – The Shining Culture On A Hill