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10 Tips for Crafting a Culture of Learning

Updated: Jun 21, 2018

While building a culture of learning may seem superfluous to business operations, implementing a culture of learning is a key element to successful growth of your organization. It promotes positive morale, retention, and innovation.

Use the ten tips below to integrate learning into your organizational culture.

1. Believe everyone has something to teach. Embracing a culture of learning means acknowledging not just the gaps, but the strengths of the people in your organization, whether they're employees, students, or peers. It means that CEOs can learn from interns, and network engineers can learn from graphic artists. Everyone has something of value to share if only you're listening. Plus, crossing hierarchical and disciplinary boundaries can help connect seemingly disconnected ideas in new ways, fostering innovation.

2. Believe everyone is capable of learning. Carol Dweck calls the notion that intelligence and ability are fluid a "growth mindset." On the other hand, the belief that one only has a fixed amount of potential a "fixed mindset." The former is the key to progress. When people feel that they are capable of learning, they engage more deeply and work harder to achieve their learning goals. Promote the idea that with time, practice, feedback, and the right learning solution, everyone is capable of learning, and you will see more capable learners.

3. Provide timely feedback that demonstrates genuine response. As Gerard R. Griffin, CFO of Zynga, reminds us: "people work for people." That means when people feel their ideas are being considered by other people, they work harder. A lack of feedback has the potential to impact engagement and performance. This is also true of generic feedback that shows no actual interaction with the work. Feedback doesn't always have to be positive, but it does have to show an actual human connection to the work. Bonus points for empathetic responses.

4. Ask for input. As a leader, it's important that you assess the learning taking place at your organization. Are current learning initiatives effective? Are people growing? A simple survey with the right questions can give you great insight into what's working, what's not, and what you simply need more of.

5. Respond to feedback, even the bad stuff. Nothing creates mistrust like silence. Treat your learners like adults. Give them the information they need to make decisions on their own. Doing so will empower them to make decisions. Additionally, responding to feedback models transparency, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and a problem-solving attitude-- all of which are essential to learning.

6. Teach everyone to be a coach. This is something I have always believed. When I taught college writing classes, I believed it was my job to teach students how to communicate their ideas and give good feedback to others. Researchers also find that teaching is one of the best ways to deeply learn something. Later, I found that this concept was also being carried out by L&D experts at Google and Mindvalley, who saw vast improvements in employee retention and satisfaction as a result.

7. Have a place to share learning objects. While onboarding and formal lessons are great jumpstarters, most of us need refreshers and resources to help us once we gets hands-on. Having a dedicated, organized space for learning objects (how-to videos, curated content, manuals, etc.) can be a game changer. It provides learners on-demand, just-in-time content. It enables people to dabble in areas of interest without devoting large chunks of time. It also has the potential to reduces the amount of time supervisors spend answering the same questions and empower employees to find answers on their own.

8. Allow time for learning. This is a big one. If you say you want a culture of learning, but leave no time for learning, then you will not have a culture of learning. Even brainhackers find that learning takes time. You can start by dedicating one hour of the work week to employee (or student) self-improvement through self-guided learning, mentoring, or teaching opportunities.

9. Create spaces where learning is not tied to evaluation. In Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior, Jonah Berger discusses the ways in which others impact our learning. When you're learning a difficult skill, knowing that others are watching often leads to poorer performance. People need time to master skills before they're expected to demonstrate them. If they have the constant stress of evaluation looming, they will simply only learn skills that are within their comfort zone. To create true growth, empower people to make explore, practice, and make mistakes in a low-risk environment. Let them learn about stuff that seems unrelated to the job. If you want them to be innovative, you've got to allow them to experiment.

10. Lead by example; be a learner. If people think learning is unimportant to you, they will not prioritize learning. It's that simple. On the other hand, if they see people who they admire working towards growth, that's what they want to do, as well. Choose wisely.

So, how are you doing?

Where do you see your organization succeeding in promoting a culture of learning? Where do you think you could use some improvement?

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