By Karmen Blackwood
What is a learning culture and why is it important?
A learning culture is one with organizational values, systems and practices that support and encourage both individuals, and the organization, to increase knowledge, competence and performance levels on an ongoing basis. This, in turn, promotes continuous improvement and supports the achievement of business goals, innovation and the ability to deal with change.
Peter Senge, renowned management thought leader, faculty at MIT Sloane School of Management and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization identified five interrelated disciplines of a learning culture:
1) Personal Mastery: personal capacity-building; encouraging personal and organizational goals to be developed and realized together.
2) Mental Models: challenging and changing our way of thinking about the world around us
3) Shared Vision: Building a shared vision and sense of collective commitment as to where we want to go as an organization and how to achieve that goal
4) Team Learning: Building a team’s capacity to learn together and develop intelligence and ability together that is greater than the sum of it individual member’s talents
5) Systems Thinking: developing the ability to see the ‘big picture’ and understanding how changes in one area of the organization affect the system as a whole – it is the overall recognition of the interdependence of, and interrelationships between, the parts of the system and how to leverage and drive change throughout the system as a whole
A true organizational learning culture enables employees to challenge the status quo, think critically, and ensures that the team doesn’t become stuck in “this is the way it has always been done here” thinking, and instead, creates the capacity and adaptability needed for change.
Benefits of a learning culture
There are many benefits to creating a strong organizational learning culture, including:
- Efficiency gains
- Increased productivity
- Increased profit
- Decreased employee turnover, as employee satisfaction levels rise and loyalty and commitment is increased
- Raising the bar by creating a continuous improvement mindset, shared ownership for projects and shared accountability for results
- Developing leaders at all levels, which helps with succession planning
- Creating a culture of inquiry, adaptive capacity, and knowledge sharing (vs. knowledge hoarding)
- Enhanced ability for individuals and teams to embrace and adapt to change.
Tips for creating a sustainable organizational learning culture
A learning organization breaks-down traditional silos, and enables all areas to work together towards a common vision.
Actions you can take to create a learning culture include:
- Start by evaluating where you are at your organization by conducting a self-audit or assessment of your organization – this will help you pinpoint what kind of learning culture you currently have, identify the gaps, and ascertain your organization’s readiness for change. As an organization, you should ask yourselves, where do we want to be and how will we get there?
- Lead by example, and start at the top with senior leadership – make learning and development essential to your organization’s success by making it part of your strategy and culture and make it highly visible and transparent
- Develop a shared strategy for your learning culture where there is shared accountability across the organization
- Make learning a habitual (not optional) behaviour with all employees at all levels
- Ensure there is consistency and alignment of values and behavior around learning
- Encourage the sharing of learning, skills and knowledge, and encourage coaching and mentoring across the organization
- Give employees the time they need for both formal and informal learning
- Develop and deploy key learning events that are directly linked to the strategic goals of the organization
- Allow for recognition of individual and team learning and remember to celebrate successes
- Learn from your mistakes. Instead of playing the blame game, look at what happened, why it happened, and how it could be done better and/or differently in the future, and share that learning
- Debrief projects, identify key learnings and share them across the team
Organizational learning is an ongoing, dynamic process, and should become part of the organization’s DNA. A learning culture supports a community of learners, as a total organization, where everyone teaches, everyone learns, everyone shares knowledge. Individual and collective learning is encouraged and rewarded. And those companies that embrace these values will be able to gain and sustain competitive advantage over competitors who do not.
Our team at Capilano University Executive Education can support you as you develop your learning culture and can help you navigate through choices of public, open-enrolment courses and custom in-house training programs.