Business Strategy

Leadership tips – Developing a learning culture

Leadership tips – Developing a learning culture.

Company culture is invisible and intangible, but it's actually the loudest element of a company. It's what separates a so-so company and a great organization.And it's the most unambiguous indication of good leadership.

Learning culture vs. get-through-the-day culture

Picture this scene. A group of corporate professionals enters a conference hall for a guest speaker. The room quickly fills up, and people are eager to find a seat in the front. Everyone is excited.

Now picture this. At another company also with a guest speaker scheduled, employees file in and avoid the front rows—minimal interactions between colleagues. Silence fills the room.

Which company do you want to work for? Which culture at work will inspire learning?

Learning culture and productivity

Companies with a strong learning culture where people are excited to continuously learn and share their knowledge outperform competing companies, according to a 2010 Bersin by Deloitte study.

These organizations showed a 37% greater employee productivity and are 17% more likely to be the leaders of their respective market.

Behavior first

A humongous glass plaque hangs at the lobby, spelling out the company's mission and values. Organizations often seek to create company culture through messaging and hoping that a behavioral shift will follow.

However, in practice, nurturing a desirable culture at work is more about doing than talking. Behavior is tangible, repeatable, measurable, and in turn, more impactful.

First and foremost, as a leader, identify the type of culture that aligns with the overall company strategy and begin personally practicing supporting behaviors. Be the person that you want your colleagues to be. And only after that can you execute plans to streamline processes and optimize the working environment.

Here are a few examples:

You want your team to be proactive with learning new skills to help with their job? 

On a personal level, you can read books on related topics and share what you've learned with the team. Then, you can also set aside a budget to subsidize colleagues to take relevant courses.

Or if you want to foster a collaborative environment? Be more open-minded. Encourage others to speak up and share their ideas. Then adopt a new software platform that can facilitate discussions and cooperation across various functional departments.

We humans act their way into believing a particular habit. Change behavior first, and true mindset shift will follow.

Start with the few critical behaviors

I'm not talking about Kegger Fridays or company softball teams. Begin by focusing on 2 or 3 critical behaviors that will bring the biggest bang for the buck to affect company culture.

Let's say you're an electronics retailer that wants consumer-facing employees to be excited to learn about the latest products. Kick things off with one behavior.

Perhaps change how product training is conducted. Do it over pizza lunches or make the training session more interactive and hands-on. Get feedback from trainees about the new approach and make sure they feel good about it. Then translate these new "behaviors" into repeatable and measurable processes. Next, identify the employees that have the personality traits to help advocate new processes.

Nudge the company closer to a learning culture one behavior at a time.

People with the right personality traits

As a leader, you have to recognize these people. As an employee looking to self improve, you should aim to become one of them.

These are informal leaders. Nothing to do with job titles, but they are the key stakeholders of learning culture development.

Motivators can be found anywhere in the corporate structure. They understand colleagues' motivations, what makes them tick, and how to bring out positive behaviors.

Role models possess the skills and knowledge that people admire and respect, and others instinctively follow their lead. They are influencers.

Communicators know and have good relations with people across job functions and departments. If you want a culture-building behavior to spread within the company, these are the people to recruit.

Enthusiasts are full of curiosity. They are willing to learn and adopt new technologies and methods. Involve them early in the behavior-changing initiatives to gain culture-changing momentum.

Be the right leader of a learning culture

The truth is a company doesn't just happen to have a learning culture. It takes hiring the right people, implementing the right training program, and investing in the right supporting technology and processes.

And it all starts from the top. Nothing impedes culture development than letting company leaders off the hook. Someone decides to go against culture-building initiatives because he has seniority or a fancy title.

Last but definitely not least, to become a leader who can create a learning culture, make sure you practice what you preach.

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