For a company to be always learning (about its changing market, customer, competition, technology, and everything else that is always changing), it needs its employees to always be learning.
There are a number of employee traits that might correlate with company success, including hard work, tenacity, intelligence, and creativity. I’d put ‘always learning’ up there against any trait. The employees who are always hungry for learning are usually the ones I’ve seen be most successful. Really, who’s more likely to innovate within your company than this type of person who is never content in the status quo of their learning?
Organizations that can help ‘feed’ that hunger for learning (in a way that aligns with their business objectives) are more likely to engage those employees and set them (and the company) up for success.
Here are 5 ways to create a culture of always learning:
- Hire people that are already committed to always learning. During the interview process, make sure that there is evidence of this. Do they follow the relevant trends? Do they read the trades? Do they have relevant certifications or training? What have they learned recently? What proof is there that they have applied something they’ve learned recently to their work?
This is also an important trait in people that are going to be hiring managers. If they aren’t committed to always learning, they won’t be as proactive in hiring around that trait. And they won’t do the things as managers that are necessary to ensure their direct reports are always learning.
- Make learning a formal part of the job. Employees should spend some percent of time each week learning. Maybe it’s reading relevant white papers, blogs, eBooks, or watching relevant tutorials. Maybe it’s attending a relevant conference or teaching others in the group/company something relevant. Which gets to number three.
- Ensure there is ‘system of knowledge transfer’ from one person/group to other relevant people/groups, on relevant topics. I’ve seen a lot of companies fail at this. Maybe there is a session on a particular topic that would definitely be of strong interest to a few different groups, but it’s only offered to one group. (This is the opposite of knowledge transfer). Even worse, maybe there is no knowledge transfer at all. If we don’t share knowledge, we just end up forever reinventing the wheel and never learning from mistakes and successes made.
- Get management buy-in. If your company has a mission, then something about ‘always learning’ should probably be in there. The CEO and other senior management should live and breath always learning, where they are showing everyone else in the company the importance. Importantly, they need to continually reinforce how vital it is. It’s easy to lose sight and focus on the day-to-day fire drills that we are all fighting. But if that’s all we are ever doing, we’ll never learn what’s causing the fires, how to prevent them, how others are successful treating them, and so on.
- Make programming relevant to your organization. Every company is different, so it will look different based on your needs. But every company should have some specific programming that fits the mission/objectives/brand/employees of your company. For example, Airbnb has Fireside Chats (that perfectly fits their brand, right?) where industry leaders are brought in to share their expertise on relevant topics.
Or my company, TTA, decided to create its own learning conference that is specifically for learning and development leaders and their teams, to help them be better in their roles. We want L&D leaders to be able to learn from each other, in an intimate and approachable (i.e., just one day) manner. We didn’t see programming out there like that, so we decided to create this event ourselves, so we could all learn from each other.
I believe that if your employees are always learning, they are more likely to stay with you a long time and will be better equipped to help your company with all the challenges coming down the pike.