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

One of the leading career implications of the digital revolution is a shift in demand for human expertise.

For instance, LinkedIn’s talent research shows that half of today’s most in-demand skills weren’t even on the list three years ago.

There's an actual demand for continuous change and skills.

Employees who have enhanced skills and competencies are the most vital stakeholders in your team, your business, and overall, creating a more effective organization.

See, as a result, there's a premium now on intellectual curiosity, on learnability, on your ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

The desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt are crucial for being employable and having high-performing teams.

What you know is less relevant than what you may learn.

Knowing the answer to questions is less critical than having the ability to ask the right questions in the first place.

At what rate can they learn new skills? At what rate can they grow and adapt?

That’s why creating a learning culture has become an important step towards fostering high-performing teams un Unicorn Startups.

As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the sixth and final step is to create an all-encompassing vision.

And to get there, you need to foster a culture where people can grow and learn.

These previous blogs will help you understand the concept.

👉 High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety: Here’s How You Can Create It on Your Startup Team

👉 How a growth mindset can positively impact your startup and ways to cultivate it

👉 A Manager’s Guide to Cultivate Accountability and Effective Feedback at any Startup

What is a Culture of Learning?

Organizations that embrace a culture of learning create an environment that encourages curiosity and knowledge sharing, leading to better business outcomes.

A strong learning culture can better position your organization for future needed skill shifts and primes employees to think and act more like owners when it comes to their own development needs.

Research by Bersin found that companies who effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period.

"There is a considerable consensus today that a key competitive advantage for organizations lies in their ability to learn and be responsive to challenges from both internal and external environments,” Bates and Khasawneh (2005).

An authentic learning culture is a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization.

To develop and maintain employee skills for the future and in the present environment, an organization must emphasize learning and development or, simply put, coaching and training.

Learning and Development programs are strategically oriented to the organizational process for managing the development of human resources to contribute to the organization’s overall success.

However, training alone is not sufficient to enhance employee skills and performance to a greater level because not all knowledge and skills obtained from training are properly transferred.

Thus, an organization should create a learning culture within its structure so that employees can share, acquire, and create knowledge and skills,

How can you implement better learning at your organization?

Bellow we will cover 3 Ways to Implement Better Learning.

1. Have your best performers teach

2. Celebrate thoughtful failures

3. Exploration days

1. Have your best performers teach

Your best teachers are sitting right next to you.

One effective way to promote a learning culture is through an employee-to-employee learning program.

In your organization, some people are experts on every facet of what you do, or at least expert enough that they can teach others.

By turning to that person to teach others rather than bringing in someone from the outside, you have a better teacher than your other employee and someone who understands the specific context of your company and customers.

But perhaps you don't want to have your best person teaching.

After all, shouldn't they be focusing solely on their job?

I'd argue that's a shortsighted move because individual performance scales linearly while teaching scales geometrically.

At Google, 80% of all tracked trainings are run through an employee-to-employee network called “g2g” (Googler-to-Googler).

This volunteer teaching network of over 6,000 Google employees dedicates a portion of their time to helping their peers learn and grow.

Volunteers — known internally as “g2g’ers” — can participate in a variety of ways, such as teaching courses, providing 1:1 mentoring, and designing learning materials, and they come from every department of Google.

An employee-to-employee learning program is not about “doing more with less.”

If you’re looking to save money on a training budget and mandating participation, you could end up with resentful employee teachers delivering rushed classes to confused employee learners.

Before proceeding, consider potential pitfalls.

One thing that has made the g2g program so successful at Google is that the employees participate voluntarily and are supported by a culture that values learning.

Creating a simple mentorship program where experienced leaders so offer confidential, one-to-one sessions to support team members in our organizations from various skills.

In addition to benefiting the person being advised, the advisors themselves benefit as well.

2. Don’t celebrate failures. Celebrate learning!

Bay Area public school, the Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, takes this approach to middle school math.

If a child misses a question on a math test, they can try the question again for half credit.

As their principal, Wanny Hersey, stated, "these are smart kids, but in life, they are going to hit walls once in a while. They must master geometry, algebra one, and algebra two, but it's just as important that they respond to failure by trying again instead of giving up."

In the 2012-2013 academic year, Bullis was the third-highest-ranked middle school in California.

"Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure." Chris Argyris.

We’ve all heard it before, fail fast. Celebrate failures to encourage more risk-taking.

We’ve also heard the opposite, focus on the positives and success to learn best practices.

Both failure and success are needed for learning.

Jurgen Appelo notes that we learn most when failure rates are around 50 percent.

In other words, when your experiments have a good chance of succeeding and a good chance of failing, they generate the most information for you to learn from.

We learn the most when we can’t predict whether our experiments will lead to good or bad outcomes.

"What we actually learn from the most is the experience we’ve never had before." — Jurgen Appelo.

A learning organization should not aim to minimize the amount of failure.

Reducing failure would reduce learning.

But of course, maximizing failure also makes no sense.

Appelo suggests that what we should maximize is the understanding of our problems.

In many working environments, people usually focus on fixing problems, which usually lead to a focus on failure and mistakes, which can have serious side effects of perfectionism in the long run.

It’s no wonder our team cultures feel negative when we always focus on discussing mistakes and problems.

Workers feel they are held accountable for not being perfect. Instead of having a constructive view of improvement, people end up with a defensive frame of mind.

Appelo instead suggests that we emphasize the good practices over the mistakes, because you get more of what you focus on.

If you focus on mistakes, people will make more mistakes.

If you focus on good practices, people will invent more good practices.

This introduces us the Appelo’s celebration grid.  

Instead of celebrating reckless failures, we reward thoughtful failures that were intentionally experimentative, and we celebrate the use of best practices.

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What did we do well? (by following best practices)
  2. What did we learn? (by running experiments).

3. Exploration Days

As more teams become self-organizing, the trend of self-developing or self-educating doesn’t seem to follow.

Many organizations will argue that the education of employees is not in it’s prime responsibility.

Or that the only real form of education is self-education, and that we can’t do it for them.

While it is true that you cannot educate employees, in the same way, you cannot truly motivate employees, or make someone laugh, you can create the right environment and circumstances that encourage self-education, motivation and laughter.

Here are a few strategies implemented by companies:

1. Exploration Days

Every employee is entitled to a number of education days per year (start with 12) and they are encouraged to use for self-education.

It doesn’t matter whether they spend it reading, attending a conference, experimenting a new technology or building a prototype of some crazy idea.

This idea has worked for some companies, and failed miserably for others, where employees felt they didn’t have the time to take “exploration days”.

The trick was the take company-wide exploration days.

Where everyone was off together learning — when everyone was off together, much like during holidays, the pressure to attend to other duties diminishes.

Obviously some part of the company may still need to work to ensure systems are still running smoothly — you split those teams up having different exploration days.

2.Hackathons or ShipIt Days

Once every three months Atlassian selects a day on which everyone in the company works for the entire day on an idea of their own choosing.

The requirement is that they deliver a result in just 24 hours, hence the name ShipIt Day. Facebook, Shopify, Spotify all do these internal hackathons.

At these hackathons, you can work on whatever you want, as long as it isn’t part of your regular work.

Some choose to do it alone, but it’s a lot of fun to team up.

Days like these are well known to be wild spontaneous. Though these days take a good amount of organization to prepare meetings to come up with ideas that can then be turned into projects.

ShipIt days or hack days, work well because they stimulate creativity, help solve actual problems, and increase knowledge and experience.

But also because they create great social bonds that elevate overall team dynamics.

These hackatahons increase people’s social connection and help them self-organize and increase commitment beyond the day.

Appelo says these Shipit Days work for 4 reasons:

  1. Peer pressure makes it harder for employees to claim to be too busy
  2. The commitment to present results in 24 hours creates pressure to deliver
  3. The prize recognition for the best idea adds to the motivation
  4. The potential evolution of ideas into actual products

3. Internal Crowdfunding

Some companies have discovered that leaving the selection of innovative ideas to employees is the best way to go.

They take the hackathon a step further and turn it into an innovation stock market by giving all employees a personal (virtual) budget to invest in ideas.

Employees pitch ideas and need to convince their peers to invest in them.

There is no hierarchy the crowd decides.

It is a system for internal crowdfunding.

The job of management shifts from selecting the best ideas, to creating a great system that allows for the best ideas to emerge.

The caveat here is to not leave all long-term strategic innovations up to the crowd but to balance management-initiated innovations and employee-initiated innovations.

4. Learning pods

Choose a course for your employees to all watch together and learn together.

Or create a little book club where you can all learn together and meet to talk about the book.

Perhaps download Audible for the team and have a new podcast to listen to every week.

This is great to create learning and come together and discuss that learning.

Learning pods are effective because they bring us together to reflect on and see how it is implemented in our own teams.

Food For Thought

If you want to nurture curiosity and learning in your employees, there’s no need to rely on your organization’s formal learning and development programs.

Reinforcing positive learning behaviours, giving constructive and critical feedback to align employees’ efforts with the right learning goals, showcasing your own curiosity, and hiring people with high learnability and a hungry mind are all likely to create a stronger learning culture within your team and your organization.

To create better ways of learning, to implement better learning in your organization, have your best performers teach, find out what they want to teach, get them a Friday afternoon workshop, order some pizza, order some food and have them teach each other.

Start simple.

You don't need a complete employe-to-employee network.

Celebrate thoughtful failures, celebrate learning.

At the end of every project, identify the experimentative areas where learning happen and celebrate those.

And lastly, create exploration days, whether they go on your own and learn days, whether they're learning pods, whether they're hackathons or they're crowdfunding, that is what creates better learning.

Related posts


Subscribe for your remote team management free education series.

Five lessons and five tools delivered to your inbox for the next five weeks.
No Thanks