The Importance of a Learning Culture

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz on August 24, 2017

“Culture will eat strategy any day of the week.” That’s a quote by management guru Peter Drucker quoted by another leadership expert: Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer of i4cp and our 2017 tuX keynote speaker. See his entire presentation here.

At the event in May 2017, Kevin went on to say, “Unless your culture supports your strategy, your strategy is not going to execute at all. It's going to implode. What does it take to really drive culture? You need leadership behaviors that exemplify the culture. It’s the leader behaviors at the executive level, but most importantly at the mid-level and front line leader level, that make the biggest difference.”

Sadly, there is often a disconnect in those leader behaviors. Kevin calls it the intention execution gap: leadership talks the learning culture talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

In fact only one-third (31%) of organizations have a culture of learning, according to research by i4cp. There is plenty of opportunity — and incentive — to join that group. Those high-performing, agile companies are extremely “tuned in to where the business is going in the next two to three years” which helps them stay ahead of the competition.

So what are the traits of a learning culture? Kevin outlined them in his presentation, highlighting some “next practices,” which he describes as “those practices that very few high performers are doing but statistically, the correlation is off the chart when it comes to market performance.”

1. Active knowledge sharing. The “next practice” in this area is around social learning. For instance, TELUS, a telecommunications company in Canada created Buzz, which is like an internal Twitter feed. Kevin said that they are running virtual classrooms and webinars for executives to present from the field. “They're pointing each other to where they can find resources and sharing stories. People in virtual areas are learning from each other using this type of technology.” (And he notes that crowdsourcing seems to quickly correct any misinformation posted.)

2. Espoused organizational value. Companies must go beyond just posting their values on their websites. Leaders must lead by example. “Do your leaders consider themselves know-it-alls or learn-it-alls?” Kevin asked.

3. Leaders (at all levels) are teaching. “At the highest performance organizations, the line leaders are fully accountable for developing talent and that's the way it ought to be,” said Kevin. The programs that work best are formal where people are chosen to be leaders as teachers, there's a qualification program and they're selected for it.

4. Reinforced in hiring & development. Learning at high-performance organizations is embedded and is used to recruit people. These companies want people to know: “We're investing in you so you invest in us.” Kevin said, “Instead of giving financial rewards they're rewarding people with development opportunities.”

5. Measure learning’s effectiveness. High-performance companies are measuring things like time to productivity: How quickly can we get someone on board and actually produce what we need them to produce? Most organizations right now are not able to measure learning’s effectiveness. High-performance companies do and are seeing the benefits on the bottom line.

6. Managers rewarded for mobility and development. Learners as developers of talent is an important next practice. Do you have individual development plans in place for front line workers? Are your workers accountable for that or the managers accountable for it or both? They both should be, according to Kevin. “It should be driven by the workers and should be rewarded on the manager’s side. Lastly, there should be non-financial rewards.” He told the story of Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan coach, who rewarded the winning team during spring drills…with extra sprints. The coach told his confused team: “Winners deserve the right to get better. Hard work winners are going to be rewarded with hard work.” Kevin summed it up like this: “Those who are investing out there, those who are performing better, invest more in them.”

A robust culture of learning is a hallmark of organizations that consistently produce the best business results. These companies lead the world’s markets in revenue growth, profitability, market share, and customer satisfaction. So based on these traits, think about how your organization can reinforce learning as a valued way of life, and create an environment where knowledge is readily shared and performance steadily improves.



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