Companies always look for high levels of knowledge and skill during their hiring process. Oddly, though, relatively few employers do much to provide ongoing development opportunities for existing employees. Why should learning stop when someone joins your payroll?
Your workforce is increasingly diverse, in background, culture and age. Fostering a companywide learning culture encourages and facilitates understanding one another as well as increasing your employees’ factual knowledge and work-related skills. Companies that consider learning a daily activity and expect employees to embrace this philosophy have seen results that include:
- Stronger sense of ownership among employees that leads to higher job satisfaction
- Greater sense of accountability that leads to higher work quality
- Greater efficiency and productivity
- More effective succession and transition planning and results
- Increased interest in creative inquiry and collaboration
- Positive attitudes toward change
- Increased profitability
Oxford Economics and SuccessFactors conducted a global study of executives and employees, called Workforce 2020. Their findings, released in 2014, were concerning:
- Barely a fifth of employees said their company values self-directed learning
- 41% said their company offers growth opportunities
- Fewer than 40% of employers offer job shadowing or job rotation opportunities
- Slightly more than half of them have formal mentoring programs
- 23% of companies offer education opportunities to boost retention
- 25% of execs said workforce issues are an afterthought in their strategic thinking process
Learning as a strategy
In 2013, the Harvard Business Review surveyed 10,000 senior executives. Nearly all of them (97%) said strategic thinking is the most crucial leadership skill for organizational success. Strategic thinking is big-picture thinking – the ability to understand the correlation between decisions and their consequences throughout the company and perhaps beyond.
No company can grow and thrive without developing leaders within their ranks. But how can you cultivate leadership if you don’t simultaneously cultivate learning? Leaders must be learners.
From an employer’s standpoint, learning should focus on those things which will directly benefit the company in some way. But executives have long since learned that encouraging and supporting personal development also benefits the company. In most instances, people work with people – internally as well as with external vendors and customers. Employees who are adept at understanding and working with others strengthen your company’s relationships and reputation.
An effective learning culture supports both individual professional development but also brings employees together to learn in groups. That teaches them to collaborate, using each person’s unique skill set, experience and perspective. The more brainpower your company brings to bear on problem-solving and decision-making, the better your results will be.
But how can employees contribute to the big picture if they cannot see it? By now, employers know people are more motivated to work hard and do their best when they understand how they fit in. Knowing company goals also enables people to work together more effectively.
Each one teach one
Learning doesn’t come only from educational materials and training sessions. It comes from colleagues. Mentoring for employees at every level is part of a sustainable culture of learning. Mentors show the way and help nurture others so they can grow with your company. For many companies, mentoring presents a beneficial by-product — helping uncover natural leaders.
You can’t afford to ignore the importance of learning
Your competitors are already working to instill a culture of learning within their organizations. If you don’t join them in this, they will outstrip you. If they haven’t gotten the message yet, your efforts to promote learning will secure your company’s position as an industry leader. Either way, you cannot separate learning from your bottom line.
A learning culture can transform your workforce, making them more knowledgeable, more capable and more willing to think strategically about the future.