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7 Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture for Learning… and Why They Should

It has been said that learning is the operating system of the 21st century. Successful organizations have strong learning cultures. In fact, Gallup and other organizations have found that a strong culture of learning has the following benefits:

  • Employee engagement increases
  • Productivity increases
  • Staff retention is improved
  • Staff are better able to help meet organizational goals and objectives

The Society of Human Resources Management defines culture as “the glue that holds an organization together; a silent code of conduct.” Culture is influenced by the actions that leaders and team members take. Supporting training budgets and attendance is important. However, leaders must also find creative and effective ways to support the implementation of that learning. Creating a culture that supports people trying new things is critical.

Below are seven actions you can take to build a stronger culture of learning.

  1. Make learning a team sport – Learning together has many benefits. It builds positive relationships on a team, helps learning “stick” and helps engage individuals. Get creative about how to make learning and development a team sport. Encourage individuals to share and teach what they recently learned at a training during a staff meeting.  Share an interesting article and discuss together what people gleaned and can apply. Set group training goals so everyone is motivated to learn and put into practice what they have learned.
  2. Align learning goals with organizational goals – Support your organization and team in being intentional and strategic about building a culture for learning that aligns with organizational goals and objectives. Give individuals a lot of latitude with their learning while ensuring that the learning ties to the purpose of the organization as well as their interests.
  3. Provide coaching support after learning and training events – Research consistently supports that coaching increases a learner’s ability to achieve new behaviors. Many organizations have identified coaching as a critical leadership and management skill and competency. Develop your own coaching skills to contribute to a culture that supports learning.
  4. Embrase mistrakes… (see what I did there?) – Everyone makes mistakes. Work to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Yes, I know you have heard this before – but I hope you really look at this. What are you actually doing to help others try new things and learn from their mistakes? Do you own mistakes you have made when trying something new? Do you try to inject some humor to ease stress during awkward mistakes? The important part of failing is the learning the comes from it. Learning from our failures is a critical part of creating cultures of learning.
  5. Incentivize and recognize learning – Find ways to recognize and reward learning and practice in action. Don’t wait until an annual review to give feedback when you see a learned improvement. Rather, do it when others are trying out a new skill or behavior. Praise frequently. If someone is given a promotion, use the opportunity to highlight a few things that person did to further develop themselves, so others see that learning and performance improvements are valued.
  6. Support others’ learning preferences – Everyone learns differently.  Some of us prefer to do self-directed online learning. Others prefer in-person and intimate events. Some of us prefer reading a book. Others are excited to return to the pre-COVID world of big, loud conferences with thousands of people. Understand your team’s preferred learning styles and support them in pursuing those methods of learning as much as you are able to do so. There is a vast ecosystem of blended, in-person and online learning opportunities out there. Use it!
  7. Develop and expand yourself – Lastly, practice what you preach! Be authentic about your own learning and development and model the behaviors and actions you want to see in those around you. Leaders sometimes feel they are too busy and stop investing in themselves. If you need ideas for where you can grow, talk to trusted staff and colleagues for ideas. Or consider hiring a coach to excavate new interests and develop some new goals for your own expansion.

Traci Warnberg-Lemm is the owner of Social Motion, a training, coaching and consulting company that energizes civic, policy and community-based solutions and supports leaders that drive them. Traci has over 20 years of experience working with and within government in the U.S. and internationally. She specializes in interagency and cross-sector projects and all things related to learning, collaboration, leadership and collective impact. Traci is a trained facilitator, social innovator, instructional designer and coach working with government leaders.

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