Maximize Your Organization’s Potential By Building A Culture of Learning

By Amanda Kochirka, MPA 
Associate Consultant, Decision Associates

We’ve all heard and experienced the hardships associated with finding and keeping talent over the past few years. It’s no secret that recruitment and retention are two of the top areas of frustration for many organizations. As we prepare to move into 2024, it’s imperative for every organization, regardless of size, industry, or geographic location, to create a more purposeful approach to upskilling, reskilling, and training their workforce.  

At Decision Associates, we have noticed a trend where an increasing number of clients are recognizing the importance of providing training opportunities for their team members to combat the issues of recruitment by investing in the talent they already have working within their organization. This is encouraging because the best recruitment strategy is retention, and showing your employees you care about them enough to invest in their development through training is an excellent step to take, but it’s only part of the equation. If you don’t have a culture of learning established at your organization, it’s highly unlikely that the team members who do participate in training activities will ever get to use or share what they learned in a meaningful way that will have a lasting impact.  

So, what is the secret to unlocking the hidden potential that already exists at your organization to ensure key roles are filled, while also protecting your investment of time and financial resources? The answer is simple, yet it is frequently overlooked by well-intentioned business owners, executives, and nonprofit leaders: you must first create a culture of learning. This article outlines a few ways you can begin to build a culture of learning at your own organization.  

  1. Make Learning a Priority 

Many organizations do this by including professional development goals in their employees’ individual performance objectives each year that is ultimately tied to their variable compensation. Whether that’s participating in a certain number of training opportunities each year, or obtaining a particular credential or certification, providing financial incentive in addition to the time and resources to complete the training is an effective way to get employees engaged in the training process.  

Additionally, as with any element of company culture, it comes down from the top of the organization. If learning isn’t a priority for the company leadership, it won’t be a priority for anyone else. Are you expecting employees to implement new behaviors as a result of training, only to be stifled by the culture set by leadership? You must begin by getting buy-in from the leadership team and providing opportunities for them to lead by example, participating in training and development activities themselves and sharing what they’ve learned with the entire organization. A lack of prioritization of learning will make it extremely difficult for your team to put their newly learned skills into practice. 

2. Audit Your Culture for Barriers to Learning 

You’ve made learning a priority and that’s great! Now you have to ensure that the collective behaviors, practices, and systems within your organization (especially the behavior of the leaders on the team) model and support that focus. Take a look at how learning currently happens in your organization and address common barriers. Ensure you’re providing the time and resources for learning and regularly reinforce the value of learning. Incentivize experimentation, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing. Promote team learning over knowledge-hoarding.  

Link learning to development by establishing career pathways throughout the organization, so it’s clear to employees what it will take to get from one position level to the next and beyond. Partnerships should be established between HR and frontline employees and managers to quickly identify any new learning/training needs and to develop potential solutions. If employees can easily see a path to advance through the organization and the training and knowledge required to do that, they’ll be more likely to take advantage of those opportunities.  

3. Personalize and Socialize the Learning Experience 

Remember that not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace, so build allowances for these facts into your training and development strategies. Creating diverse types of content (written, audio, video, in person, virtual, instructor-led, self-paced) increases the likelihood of team members taking advantage of the opportunities. If they can find a training method that works for them and how they learn, it’s much more likely that they’ll follow it through to completion.  

Additionally, take the time to actually gather employee feedback on what they’d like to learn. If employees are part of the process in creating the curriculum and training opportunities, they’ll be more willing to engage in the learning process. 

4. Incorporate Experiential Learning into Your Employees’ Development 

When employees are given the opportunity to experience an authentic situation like those provided with on-the-job projects tied to new skills being learned through formal training, the learning becomes significantly more powerful. By incorporating structured, on-the-job projects, your employees will deepen their knowledge through repeatedly practicing and then reflecting on new skills being taught. Prevent another training disappointment and ensure measurable results by reflecting upon the missing link you can unlock within your organization. 

5. Measure Progress 

Finally, as we know, what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done. There’s absolutely no point to cultivating a culture of learning if you aren’t going to measure the impact it has on the team and the organization as a whole. Some metrics worth tracking as it relates to training and development are rate of completion, training engagement rate, training cost per employee, average time to training completion, training ROI, training experience satisfaction, learner drop off rate, and employee performance post-training. There could be other metrics to track based on the organization and the goals behind implementing a training and development strategy in the first place.