Robust cultures of learning are distinct hallmarks of organizations that consistently produce the best business results.
by Ryann K. Ellis
Evidence suggests that organizations are more competitive, agile, and engaged when employees freely and consistently share knowledge. In other words, these high-performing companies have an established culture of learning. Despite the obvious benefits, only 31 percent of organizations have well-developed learning cultures, according to Building a Culture of Learning: The Foundation of a Successful Organization, a new report from ATD Research and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).
Strategic alignment is a key trait of learning culture
To find out how organizations define a learning culture, ATD Research and i4cp surveyed 832 talent development leaders from around the world. Survey findings were augmented by in-depth interviews with leaders representing a variety of organizations that are recognized for both market performance and excellence in learning and talent development.
The study reveals that the most essential element of a learning culture is a close alignment between learning strategies and business strategies. Other critical characteristics include a learning function that is staffed by qualified professionals, an adequate learning budget, and inclusion of learning leaders in the overall talent management processes. Here’s a breakdown of key traits survey participants believe establish a learning culture (ranked high or very high extent):
- Learning strategies are closely aligned with business strategies (71 percent).
- Organizational values specifically refer to the importance of learning and development (68 percent).
- Learning function is staffed by qualified learning professionals (68 percent).
- Learning is an integral component of organizational talent management (65 percent).
- Learning is delivered when and where it is needed (64 percent).
- Organizational communications reinforce the importance of learning (63 percent).
- Learning budget is adequate to address both current learning needs and preparations to meet future learning needs (57 percent).
- Organizational technologies support effective design and delivery of learning (54 percent).
- Chief learning officer or other C-level position is responsible for learning (47 percent).
Learning culture and high performance go hand in hand
Building a Culture of Learning reports that high performers—companies that lead in revenue growth, profitability, market share, and customer satisfaction—are five times more likely than their low-performing counterparts to indicate that their organization had a culture of learning. Further, high performers are nearly two times more apt to say their learning functions help meet business goals.
What’s more, employees in high-performing businesses share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in lower-performing firms. The
study identifies three strategies organizations can put in place to create and support a culture of learning among employees:
- Every employee should have a regularly updated personalized learning and development plan.
- There should be employee accountability for the learning that is specified in the individual development plan.
- Companies should give nonfinancial rewards and other types of recognition or awards to further encourage employee learning.
Interestingly, learning cultures are even rooted in the hiring process at high-performing companies. They are more likely to discuss their commitment to ongoing talent development during prehire interviews with potential candidates, and they are six times more likely to use their culture of learning as a recruiting tool.
Establishing a learning culture starts at the top
Why are some organizations better than others at nurturing a learning culture? The answer lies with company leaders. “Leading by example goes a long way when it comes to the actions senior executives can take to help build and expand cultures of learning,” the study states.
No surprise, leaders in high-performing companies are charged with sharing knowledge and supporting learning. Survey data confirm that high performers are three times more likely than low performers to hold leaders at all levels accountable for actively demonstrating the importance of learning, but only 27 percent of organizations insist on leader accountability.
Building a Culture of Learning outlines a few ways leaders can visibly reinforce a culture of learning:
- Nominate employees for specific learning programs.
- Participate in learning events, demonstrating hands-on application of skills.
- Provide ongoing coaching and feedback, both positive and constructive. (Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.)
A note from ATD - This publication delivers exclusive insights from chief talent development officers and other C-suite leaders who oversee the development and execution of learning strategies, visions, and goals. Because these leaders have a unique role, this resource provides the strategic and long-term views that will help all talent development professionals understand the trends and ideas that will shape the field and, by extension, the work that happens in organizations.