Learning Culture: The 7 Organizational Learning Constructs

In previous blogs, we've talked about the importance of having a coach approach as a manager.

Beyond just coaching we need to look at leadership training programs to develop the managers and employees at your startup.

You need to develop your people to improve your overall company.

Teaching can help your employees and managers do self-education and self-learning.

When organizations design these learning development programs, they should be strategically oriented to align with the goals: the learning goals of employees, their career goals, the learning goals of that team, and the overall organization’s goals.

Learning development programs such as Unicorn Labs leadership development program is an investment in your learning and development, for example.

The thing is, training alone is not sufficient.

You put people through a course, through a training program; but it is not enough to actually enhance employee skills.

There’s a big gap between learning and doing.

If your training isn't nicely tight, and if there’s a big time space from when they train to when they actually start doing, putting in practice and getting feedback, then it's not going to stick.

It's just going to be a bunch of information that they got and forget in a couple of weeks.

So, we have to create a learning culture in order to actually help our employees and managers learn.

So what are the elements of this organizational learning culture?

Let's look at seven organizational learning culture constructs: 👇

1. Create Continuous Learning Opportunities

The first element is continuous learning opportunities.

Meaning learning designed into the work so that people can learn on the job, opportunities are provided for ongoing education and growth.

In the beginning, maybe that means teaching and shadowing, having employees join you.

Maybe they shadow several different superiors in the department to learn from them, where there are continuous learning opportunities, not just when you start a job, but one year in, two years in, three years in, how do we continue to create those opportunities.

Reward continuous learning

Sadly, even when managers understand the importance of learning — at least in theory — they are often more interested in boosting short-term results and performance, which can be an enemy of learning.

By definition, performance is highest when we are not learning.

Equally, it is hard for employees or managers to find the necessary time and space to learn when they are asked to maximize results, efficiency, and productivity ALL while learning.

A report by Bersin found that among the more than 700 organizations studied, the average employee had only 24 minutes a week for formal learning.

Note that rewarding curiosity is not just about praising and promoting those who display an effort to learn and develop; it’s also about creating a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging authority and speaking up are encouraged, even if it means creating discord.

This is particularly important if you want your team to produce something innovative.

2. Promote Inquiry and Dialogue

People gain productive reasoning skills to express their views and the capacity to listen and inquire into the views of others.

This is key.

The culture is changed to support questioning, feedback, and experimentation.

We talked about the culture of conflict, productive conflict, being able to inquire, ask questions, listen, provide feedback.

We want to encourage that.

Give meaningful and constructive feedback

In an age where many organizations focus their developmental interventions on “strengths,” and feel-good approaches to management have substituted “flaws” and “weaknesses” with the popular euphemism of “opportunities,” it is easy to forget the value of negative feedback.

However, it is hard to improve on anything when you are unaware of your limitations, fully satisfied with your potential, or unjustifiably pleased with yourself.

Although one of the best ways to improve employees’ performance is to tell them what they are doing wrong, managers often avoid difficult conversations, so they end up providing more positive than negative feedback.

This is particularly problematic when it comes to curiosity and learning, since the best way to trigger curiosity is to highlight a knowledge gap — that is, making people aware of what they don’t know, especially if that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Give your managers and employees proper feedback to improve.

3. Team Learning Through Collaboration

Work is designed to use groups to access different modes of thinking.

People like to learn as a team, doing workships as a team, doing courses, the peer-to-peer accountability when we all learn together.

As groups, we’re able to actually advance more than just learning alone.

Collaboration is valued by the culture and rewarded.

Although you're likely doing this course, maybe with a team or with some other colleagues, and it's that collaboration that allows the learning to go further.

4. Create Systems to Capture and Share Learning

Both high and low technology systems to share learning are created and integrated with work.

Whether it’s having a learning management system, or ensuring that the learning is part of the training, onboarding process and ongoing tasks.

You want to embed learning within the system and use technological tools to help you do that.

5. Empower People Toward a Collective Vision

We’ve looked at empowerment.

People are involved in setting, owning and implementing a joint vision of the company, training and the learning.

Responsibility is distributed close to decision-making.

Let them write their own lottery ticket.

What do they want to learn?

What courses have they found?

Perhaps they're interested in more training opportunities or books or group workshops.

Have them involved in the decision-making so that people are motivated to learn toward what they're choosing and improve at their role aka what they're held accountable to do.

6. Connect the Organization to its Environment

People are helped to see the effect of their work on the entire enterprise.

This way, they see how what they're learning actually affects their job and how it affects the entire organization.

People constantly scan the environment, use information to adjust their practices in their learning.

So, system connection is key to look at the community as a whole and how that learning affects it.

7. Provide Strategic Leadership for Learning

Finally, strategic leadership.

Leaders have to model, champion and support learning.

Leadership uses learning strategically for business results.

So, are your leaders also learning?

Are your managers learning continuously? Not just through a leadership course, but maybe in their own technical skillset and their strategic skillset?

Are they setting that example?

Lead by example

Another critical driver of employee learning is what your managers or leaders actually do.

Leaders’ behaviors — particularly what they routinely do — have a strong influence on the behavior and performance of their teams.

And the more senior that leaders are, the more impactful their behaviors will be on the rest of the organization.

Accordingly, if you want to nurture your team’s curiosity or unlock learning in your organization, you should practice what you preach.

For your managers: start by displaying some learning and unlocking your own curiosity.

And if you want them to question the status quo and be critical and nonconformist, then don’t be a sucker for order and rules!

Parting Thoughts

So, these are the seven dimensions of creating a learning culture.

Choose one and implement it at your company.

In an attempt to be self-reflective, ask yourself the following questions:

Is there continuous learning opportunities? Do we allow for inquiry and dialogue? Is there team learning opportunities? Do we embed it in the systems? Is it empowerment where they're choosing what they want to learn connected to their potential, their career goals? Is it connected to the playfulness, their curiosity? Is it connected to the purpose, the values that they care about? Is the learning connected to the overall organization?

Most importantly, are the leadership and the executives in the C-suite of your organization also involved in learning and in the learning process?

Additional Resources

👉 Why a Culture of Learning Should Be a Priority at Your Startup And 3 Ways to Implementing Better Learning

Marsick, V.J. and Watkins, K.E. (2003), “Demonstrating the value of an organization’s learning culture: the dimensions of the learning organization questionnaire”, Advances in Developing Human Resources, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 132-151.

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