Technology is disrupting every industry and area of life, especially how we work. The digital revolution has placed a premium on intellectual curiosity and learnability, the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable. What you know is less relevant than what you may learn.
“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture,” says Josh Bersin, principle and found of Bersin by Deloitte in Oakland, California, citing findings from a 2010 Bersin & Associates research report, High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating and Empowered Enterprise.
Like most things, creating a learning culture is easier said than done. Fortunately, it can be taught.
True learning cultures, defined by Corporate Executive Board (CEB) as “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization,” are still the exception rather than the norm. According to CEB research. And only 20 percent of employees show effective learning behaviors.
On the plus side, workers today have much more control over their own development. That’s largely due to the ubiquity of online learning courses, webinars and social networks. Given a choice, people generally prefer to learn online at their own pace.
Learning is taking place, but are employees learning what they need to? Does the organization support their efforts with a learning culture?
Here are four science-based recommendations to help create a learning culture on your team or in your organization.
Reward continuous learning. A formal reward system entices the changes you desire, and even then there is no guarantee unless the rewards are effective. It is more than simply praising and promoting efforts to learn; it’s about creating a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging authority and speaking up is encouraged, even if it means creating discord. This is particularly important to foster innovation.
Giving meaningful and constructive feedback. The focus on “strengths” and feel-good approaches to management tends to minimize the value of negative feedback. It is hard to improve on anything when you are unaware of your limitations. Positive reinforcement is motivating, but we all have blind spots. Negative feedback provided in a constructive and delicate way—it is a true art—can also help team members to improve.
Lead by example. What you, as a leader, actually do is a critical driver of employee learning. As illustrated by the leadership value chain model, leaders’ behaviors—particularly what they routinely do—have a strong influence on the behavior and performance of their teams. Nurturing your team’s curiosity and learning, then means practicing what you preach. Start by displaying some learning and unlocking your own curiosity. Learn a new skill or enhance an existing one. Read a book and share what you learned.
Hire curious people. It’s far easier to prevent and predict than to fix and change. When selection works, there’s less need for training and development. Hiring people that are naturally curious you won’t have to worry so much about their willingness to learn. But how do you identify an individual’s propensity to learn and be curious? There is well-established science to predicting a person’s probability of displaying such traits (for example, openness to new experience, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness). The screening and hiring process can include questions and other methods to uncover these desirable traits.
Reinforcing positive learning behaviors, giving constructive and critical feedback, showcasing your own curiosity, and hiring people with high learnability are all likely to create a stronger learning culture within your team and organization.