Chief Learning Officer Magazine
Best Practices - Josh Bersin
Published April 2008
Building a Learning Culture
The phrase “learning culture” is used frequently by many in our field. Soon-to-be-published research on high-impact learning organizations shows that those that have fostered learning cultures achieve the highest business value. But what exactly is a learning culture? How do you know if your company has such a culture? And perhaps most importantly, how can you create one?
Performance-driven learning, which focuses on solving timely and urgent business problems, is typically the focus of most learning organizations. Ranging from training employees to using a new application to learning support for a new product rollout, performance-driven programs drive near-term, measurable business impact and potential competitive advantage.
The success of performance-driven programs depends on your organization’s ability to:
1. Clearly diagnose the problem to be solved (performance consulting).
2. Understand the audience and its learning needs (needs analysis).
3. Build interesting and engaging content (content development).
4. Deploy and manage the program effectively (program management).
5. Implement new technology where needed (e-learning, simulations, games, etc.).
6. Measure results and find areas of improvement (metrics).
Most CLOs recognize the importance of continuously improving and updating processes and skills in these six areas. However, in order to create a true learning culture, learning organizations must give equal focus to learning that helps the company grow, adapt to change, cultivate employee talent, innovate and develop strong customer relationships. Programs in this category, which we categorize as talent-driven learning, go beyond skills development. Rather, they focus on key corporate competencies, select behaviors and attitudes.
Talent-driven learning solutions take many forms. A multi-tiered leadership development program (where almost 25 percent of corporate L&D dollars now get invested) is an archetypal example. Others include comprehensive, end-to-end sales training programs, as well as corporate-wide quality and process-improvement programs.
Talent-driven programs must be integrated with career development models and performance management in order to succeed. The programs take years to build and mature, demanding long-term investments and sustained executive commitment. Talent-driven initiatives generally result in intangible benefits, such as employee satisfaction and engagement, innovation and customer loyalty.
However, while such benefits are more difficult to quantify than those from straightforward, performance-driven programs, they have profound impact on a company’s success in the long term.
The primary hallmark of a learning culture is an equal focus on both performance- and talent-driven learning. Learning cultures recognize the need for performance support and improvement, but also embrace individual and organizational learning as a component of business strategy.