Developing a Learning Culture

Put learning at the heart of your organisation. In the workplace, a learning culture places high importance on continuous learning across the organisation. It encourages individuals to be curious and continually self-develop, both professionally and holistically. At Moorhouse we are passionate about nurturing our culture of learning and recognise the importance of embedding learning values and practices across organisations. 

The Importance of a Learning Culture

A learning culture is vital to promote continuous improvement across organisations, achieve their business objectives and keep up with the pace of change. In an era where organisations are in a race to implement cutting-edge technologies in the interest of improving operational efficiency and the customer offer; a learning culture is recognition of an organisations most important asset – its people. We believe it equips people with the evolving skills required at work but also increases engagement and enjoyment levels. A study from Bersin & Associates, called ‘High-Impact Learning Culture’ shows that organisations that have a strong learning foundation in place tend to significantly outperform their peers in several areas.They are 32%  more likely to be first to market; display 37% greater employee productivity and 34% better response to customer needs.

We have identified four specific reasons why we believe that a learning culture is important.

  1. The Generation Gap

The concept of a 9-5 job for life is one that feels increasingly alien to many of those in the world of work. Whilst previous generations will refer to their traditional career paths, those entering the workplace today find themselves shaping an entirely different landscape . Many of those in their first few years of work have already held more jobs than their parents and grandparents combined, the average tenure is closer to 3 years than 10 or 20, and a greater proportion of people are joining the gig economy than ever before- contracting or working freelance to gain new experience and skills.

  2. The Pace of Change

The pace of workplace change is relentless, the average half-life of a skill has fallen from 20 to 5 years and will continue to fall. For people to meet this challenge both their focus and the organisation’s focus on continuous learning and development is imperative.

  3. Satisfying Human Instinct

Learning is one of the most natural human instincts – we continually learn from the minute we are born. As we get older, we can develop a fear of trying new things and the potential ramifications of failure. This is particularly evident in the workplace where we might fear taking on new projects in case of failure in front of our colleagues – thus we can get stuck in a comfort zone where learning stalls and progression slows. Therefore, access to learning in a ‘safe-space’ via learning and development programmes at work is vital to satisfy our innate curiosity and desire to learn.

  4. Combatting Employee Disengagement

In addition to this there are increasingly alarming statistics about employee disengagement. According to Forbes 70% of employees are actively disengaged. Learning and development programmes are a vital mechanism for actively engaging and stimulating employees. When people are intensely engaged in learning new things, their well-being and happiness improves.  

So not only will a learning culture ensure the organisation thrives, demonstrates agility and moves at pace; it will also increase employee engagement and satisfaction. Looking back at the falling half-life of skills, those people working in an organisation with a learning culture are 58% more likely to have the skills required to meet future demand.  

How do you instil a learning culture?

Make Feedback part of the Furniture. Employees need to know how they’re doing and how they can progress. This can’t be done meaningfully through a fixed performance cycle but needs to be part of the regular dialogue colleagues are having.  Feedforward is a valuable tool for getting ideas and input from others about how you as an individual are able to constantly improve, grow and develop. Providing and receiving feedback should be seen as a daily ritual. Feedback shouldn’t just be a top down process but peer to peer and upwards through techniques such as reverse mentoring; leaders can demonstrate a drive to learn by learning from their teams.

Curiosity won’t kill the Cat.  Bring curious people into your organisation who show an active interest in developing; maintaining a high recruitment bar also ensures you bring in people that others can learn from. Humility is an important trait to look for when recruiting – you want people who do not see ‘knowledge as power’ but are keen to share and learn in equal measure. Bringing up others develops the entire organisation. Challenge yourself as to how you promote a learning culture – leaders need to learn too and this should be visible to your people.  Finally explore opportunities for cross-grade training so that people learn from others regardless of their grade.  Inevitably this will help build relationships across the organisation and research shows that people learn more from others and from experience than formalised training. Learning is much broader than training and offers such as coaching, mentoring and buddying can be hugely beneficial. 

‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’. Encourage good ‘learns’ with open conversations in the workplace. Don’t punish employees when they get things wrong but help them to learn and encourage them to share their learning with others so that everyone is not having to make the same mistake- which is ultimately costly to the business. Examples of this taking place should be shared, celebrated and rewarded. There are a number of ways you can embed this in ways of working including the use of simple techniques like win, learn, change where you bring your teams together every week (even as part of a short stand-up) and everyone shares their wins, learns and changes they would make next time.  These can then be discussed in a way that the team is learning through the experience of others.  Applying a feedback loop mentality and demonstrating a drive for continued improvement will inevitably contribute to the openness and transparency required for a genuine learning culture. 

Reward and recognise from the top. Reward employees who develop and invest in their Learning. Provide them with a clear path for progression, regular feedback and continued opportunities for development. What leaders in the organisation say is important, and how they act even more so as it filters down and becomes learned behaviour. Are you demonstrating the value of learning in your interactions with others? Do your people understand what is meant by a learning culture? Demonstrating your investment in learning and making this a core part of your employee value proposition will ensure you attract those keen to learn and this in turn will self-perpetuate throughout the organisation. 

Celebrate diversity because ‘If you are thinking like everyone else then you are not thinking’ Appreciate the need for different styles in L&D provision, through differentiating your offer. Encourage the development of career development plans and the articulation of the learning opportunities required to progress. What works for one individual will not necessarily work for others, we use a tool called TetraMap to help individuals understand their preferred ways of working. Give people the chance to lead their learning and develop their own learning pathway.  Diversity can be provided in learning programmes through a number of mediums including self-selected online videos, structured learning, qualifications and interactive outside the box training (e.g. RADA Business). 

There isn’t an overnight fix or an off-the-shelf solution when it comes to instilling a learning culture. It takes time and it takes commitment to realise the benefits of both enabling and equipping people to be the very best that they can be. The value that this creates in terms of goodwill and how this ultimately flows down to the bottom line will increasingly become a competitive advantage. If you would like a discussion about how you can embed a learning culture in your organisation please get in touch with Helen Richardson


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Helen joined Moorhouse in 2014 with previous consulting experience in process excellence and change enablement.

Helen Richardson Principal

Kevin has ten years’ experience of delivering large-scale complex transformation Programmes for Public and Private sector clients. His experience includes Portfolio and Programme Management, Change Management, Target Operating Model and Performance Improvement.

Kevin Clarke Principal