Transforming Your Learning Culture (Step-by-Step Tutorial)

List with bullet points for a tutorial
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This post builds on my cornerstone piece on How Great Companies Become Ultimate Learning Machines. Go read that first to learn how I discovered our approach for reverse-engineering a healthy learning culture.

In this post, we’re going to walk through that approach. If you follow the steps below, you will be able to start the learning flywheel at your own company. If you do, get in touch and let me know how it goes.

Let’s get into it.

Start With The Learner

Your journey starts and ends with the learner: the human at the center of the transformation.

There are two ways to identify a cohort of learners:

  1. Horizontally –  a leadership or management tier. 
  2. Vertically – a function, department, role, or even a specific team.

Start small — pilot with a subset of one of the groups above. Choose between six and 12 people you know will bring their A-game to group learning. 

Articulate A Vision

Sit down with anyone invested in the success of this role: business leads, high-performers in the role, new hires, or leaders in charge of development or enablement. 

The goal is to articulate a vision for what a high-performing version of this role looks like. 

Don’t worry about creating the perfect vision at this point because your ultimate Shared Vision will come from this work and the personal visions of the learners themselves. 

Refer to the prompts I shared in How Great Companies Become Ultimate Learning Machines for inspiration when outlining your draft vision.

Diagnose Basic Assumptions

Next, determine how this role currently does its job. 

If this starts to feel like a needs analysis, stop. Your goal is not to find out what people think they need to learn. Your goal is to diagnose what people are currently doing. How are they interacting with each other? How do they make decisions? How do they build client relationships and deliver client projects? 

To perform this well, it’s usually best to engage an independent party with experience distinguishing between what people say they do and what they actually do. 

Map The Learning Journey 

You now have the two critical milestones for a learning journey. 

Tying together the VASE Framework
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This learning journey is your curriculum and will inform the remaining steps. 

It’s time now for the Shared Stories and Shared Experiences that expand and spread the Learning Culture.

Collect Stories

Refer back to my prompts in How Great Companies Become Ultimate Learning Machines for ideas on how to collect stories that provide examples of high performance in this role. How will you find these stories? What kind of stories are you looking for?

Collect as many as you can and know that this is an ongoing process. Build a library of as many stories as possible that show what success looks like.

Design Shared Experiences (CLXs)

While you’re collecting stories, you can start on the most visible piece of the puzzle that will ultimately unlock success for your program and your company: the Shared Experiences or CLXs. 

Cohort Learning Experiences
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Start with the content you’ll use to create a common language for people. Create a matrix like this:

Content planning grid
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Pick your top five topics to address the challenges faced by this role. List them in the left-hand column. Next, pick your top five delivery formats (e.g., videos, podcasts, articles, eLearning). List them in the top row. Finally, prioritize your topic-format combinations by numbering them. For example, “1” is your highest leverage topic in the proper format, “2” is your next priority, etc.

Remember, less is more. 

Next up: designing the live session. This is the most important step in CLXs. How will you create a safe learning environment? How will you promote vulnerability and emphasize that learning is an ongoing process that includes failure? 

Here are some additional prompts for designing live sessions:

  • How will you empower autonomy, the sense that everyone can direct their learning?
  • How will you promote competence, the sense that “I’ve got this” in each individual?
  • How will you foster relatedness, the sense that everyone is in it together?

Finally: practice and reflection. 

Design specific prompts to action and prompts for reflection that will help people do two things:

  1. Create their own case studies based on real challenges to discuss in live sessions. 
  2. Create plans of action to implement what they’ve learned after live sessions.

With all the pieces for a great CLX, all you have to do is arrange them in the correct order

  1. Introduce mental models and frameworks with easy-to-consume content.
  2. Prompt people to reflect on what they’ve learned.
  3. Prompt people to identify a real-world challenge they can apply their learning to. 
  4. Create a workbook for people to organize their learning over time (like a journal).
  5. Design live sessions around discussing real-world challenges. 
  6. Empower people to problem-solve their own challenges, and ideate their own solutions. 
  7. Give people time and space to create individual action plans for achieving their goals. 

Set Yourself Up For Success

I want you to be successful. 

Here are three things we found critical to have in your program:

  1. Leadership buy-in – embracing failure as a learning opportunity and viewing learning as a lifelong journey is easier when leaders model this behavior. 
  2. A course manager – running CLXs involves a lot of moving parts. Dedicate someone to operations, logistics, and scheduling. 
  3. Career development integration – if you can connect what you’re doing to each individual’s career aspirations, you’ll have alignment with their ‘why’ and a fast track to strengthening the Shared Vision of your program. 

Keep Learning

If you follow the steps outlined above you should have your very first Cohort Learning Experience up and running.

To keep the momentum going, here’s a collection of next steps for your journey:

  1. Step 1 – download The Learning Culture Officer eBook for a map of what’s ahead.
  2. Step 2 – subscribe to get one email a week with my latest writing on the topic (👈 this is by far the most important step).
  3. Step 3 – read about our learning culture at Curious Lion.
  4. Step 4 – read about famous cultures of learning at other companies.
  5. Step 5 – subscribe to The Learning Culture Podcast to hear from industry experts.

Finally, as I mentioned above, if you get a Cohort Learning Experience up and running, let me know. Get in touch on LinkedIn. 

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