Create a learning culture in your organisation

by External29 Apr 2013

How can your organisation learn better and faster? Justine La Roche provides three practical steps for fostering a learning culture.

Succeeding in today’s business world requires the ability to innovate, connect across boundaries and adapt to unparalleled change, with the truly relevant organisations remaining ahead of their customers, rather than responding to them. Against this backdrop, a common goal of many of our clients is to learn better and faster – articulated as the desire to become a ‘learning organisation’.

This is easier said than done. If employees don’t experiment for fear of making mistakes, if it’s not possible to challenge ideas based on their merit, or if silos stifle the sharing of best practice, a significant cultural shift may be required. Having said this, we find that three practical steps can be taken to kick start an organisation’s learning culture journey.

The first step is obvious but often overlooked - give employees permission to learn. It’s not uncommon to hear that employees feel that learning is not viewed as a valid part of their job and that they would be negatively judged if they took time out to read a topical article, undertake internet research or reflect on a challenging meeting they’d just had. With cost cuts and efficiency drives demanding people ‘do more with less’ learning in this context is considered a luxury, not a route to competitive advantage. Regardless of whether the ‘no time to learn’ barrier is real or perceived, the result is the same - a vicious cycle of busy mediocrity.

One way to address this issue is by detailing the roles and responsibilities of employees, their managers and the organisation overall, highlighting that ongoing learning is not only encouraged but expected. We have assisted a large state government department to do just this, by designing and implementing a ‘learning accountability matrix’ that explicitly calls out what is required in terms of ensuring learning opportunities are accessible, relevant and aligned to business goals, and that learning is resourced, managed and evaluated effectively. Given the compliance focused nature of the Department, it found that formalising these accountabilities helped to create the necessary authorising environment for learning to take place.

Another practical step is to ensure that employees have access to appropriate resources to identify, plan, execute and reflect on learning opportunities. This is particularly important as organisations move away from viewing learning as purely a classroom activity. While selecting a training course, getting manager approval and attending the course is relatively straightforward, carving out a learning experience while participating in a cross-functional project team or leading a critical negotiation can be a lot trickier to navigate. We recently partnered with an organisation with presence throughout regional Victoria to counteract this challenge through the creation of a user-friendly ‘Learning Toolkit’. This toolkit was designed to demystify the popular ‘70:20:10 learning principle’ by providing ‘how to’ pointers for a range of development options including stretch experiences within a current role, job shadowing, secondments, networking, mentoring and coaching. The toolkit also included a learning needs self-assessment, tips for requesting and giving feedback, checklists for effective development conversations, guidance on applying the organisation’s capability framework and a template for keeping a learning journal.

Even the best learning tools will fail to have an impact if they remain on the shelf. A third practical step to becoming a learning organisation is ensuring employees know where and when to access available resources and how to apply them.  One way to achieve this is through “Learning Roadshows” to introduce development resources and provide the space for employees to understand how these may be leveraged on the job. Such roadshows further serve as valuable engagement opportunities when senior leaders are able to attend to share their own career development stories. Also critical to implementation is educating managers on the important role they play in supporting the development of their teams and role modelling a learning orientation. With this in mind, we have supported numerous organisations to design and deliver manager workshops that build coaching skills and competence in conducting development conversations.

While a culture of continuous learning cannot be created overnight, the key is not to put off starting the journey. Instead, focus on the quick wins that will make immediate inroads. This is where these three steps may prove useful, given that most people want to be in charge of their own careers, but have not always had the organisational authorisation, information or tools to do so.


About the author

Justine La Roche is a registered psychologist and Senior Consultant with Curve Group, a business improvement consultancy with expertise in people, culture and change. Justine has assisted a broad range of organisations with their talent management strategies and leadership development efforts including NAB, Orica, The CBH Group, Australia Post and BP.

For more information visit or feel free to get in touch with Justine directly