Learning Culture
Training & Learning

7 Ways to Build a Learning Culture That Extends Beyond Training Programs

You pour everything you’ve got into a training program or series. It checks the right boxes, engages your employees, and provides them with knowledge. And then they go back to work, and that learning and growing... stops? Ideally not, especially when 94% of employees would likely stay longer at companies dedicated to career growth.

It’s easy for companies to see training as a one-and-done activity, especially when many workers are only learning five minutes each day. This view ends up hurting the company. They miss out on making their team stronger, and they lose employees in various positions, which is exactly why you need a learning culture.

A learning culture is an everyday experience, not a one-off event saved for training sessions. By building a learning culture, you’re creating an environment where all employees are eager to learn, free to ask questions, and rewarded for taking risks. A learning culture even helps those in leadership roles; managers with the resources they need to grow are three times as likely to stay at a company for at least two years.

Your organization will benefit by nurturing a learning culture. You’ll need to take some key steps to ensure your company approaches this learning philosophy in a way that sticks. We outline the seven most important, below—or you can cut right to the chase and download our ebook on how to become a Learning Organization:

Learning Organization cta

1. Create and share a learning culture mission statement

With an objective learning mission statement, you tell employees, "when you show how your behavior, time, or effort fulfills this objective, you're working toward our learning mission." Basically, you give the entire company something concrete to work toward, together.

Your team will have a difficult time figuring out learning successes and failures without a clear mission statement. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your learning culture, how will you know if you accomplished anything?

Give your team direction, and make your mission statement as clear as possible. Use specific language, decide what you want to achieve, and state how you’re going to achieve it.

  • Bad: “At Dunder Mifflin, we will embrace learning in everything we do.”
  • Good: “At Dunder Mifflin, we prioritize learning and growth by ensuring every employee has deadline-driven learning goals, the tools they need to complete them—including an accessible LMS—and quarterly learning performance reviews.”

The bad example is vague much like a motivational speech from The Office’s Michael Scott. Don’t be a Michael or a Toby Flenderson. Instead, use clear and actionable terms in your mission statement. The good example is specific. It calls out what they’re doing—prioritizing learning and growth—and how they’re going to do it—ensure every employee has learning-oriented goals and the tools they need to achieve them.

2. Reward experimentation

Most learning happens through experimentation and discovery, and experimentation comes with the risk of failure. Encourage trial and error by rewarding it and building a culture that values controlled risk-taking.

  • Whenever someone wants to run an experiment, ensure they take ownership of the experiment itself and gather the results.
  • Reward those who take risks and run experiments, even if the experiment fails. A simple shout-out on Slack or a bonus is a great way to deliver positive feedback.
  • Remind everyone that failure is a part of the process. If an experiment fails, celebrate the bravery behind the test and see what the group can learn.

Weigh the risks of any experiment proposed by your team, and encourage them every step of the way. If you reject an experiment, explain why and help them come up with a new angle. Over time, experimentation can become second nature.

An example of our experimentation mindset on Trello
Here’s an example of an experimentation template we use on the marketing team.

3. Make conversations public (when appropriate)

If your company uses Slack or another communication platform, have open forums around work-related topics, company culture, new processes, and anything else that’s not sensitive. Open forums and public conversations turn closed-off learning situations into open-ended ones in which others can learn from the outcome.

How we share knowledge on Trello
At 360Learning, we use Trello to share tips, learnings, and advice. Here’s an example of how we share knowledge on the marketing team (by creating a Trello card accessible to anyone, where colleagues can comments, ask questions, or continue the discussion).

When all conversations are private, potential learning opportunities are missed. If two people are privately discussing an issue with a process or a client, no one else is able to share their knowledge. This also prevents anyone from seeing the outcome and from learning from that experience.

Public conversations allow every employee to learn from a discussion, ask questions and feel included. Rather than having people send direct messages to each other, have them use Slack threads (unless the topic is personal or sensitive in nature).

Experts agree transparency naturally leads to better communication in the workplace. If your management team openly asks questions about new clients or industry trends, other employees may be inspired to ask questions as well.

4. Set deadline-driven goals for learning

It’s one thing to talk about learning; it’s another to make it a priority. Have people work with their managers to set quantifiable objectives and key results (OKRs) around learning. Turn soft goals into time-sensitive objectives so employees know to prioritize them.

Without deadline-driven goals around learning, it’s easy to neglect the learning process. Deadlines create urgency and let employees know they’re responsible for learning. They also let employees know they won’t get in trouble for spending time on learning, as it’s a company priority.

Deadline-driven learning goals give your team tangible learning objectives with a realistic time frame built in. It’s also helpful to break up larger learning goals, like mastering a new piece of software, into smaller micro-goals.

For example, rather than setting the goal, “Master Adobe Photoshop,” your can set up smaller goals like, “Complete course on light levels and curves,” and “Successfully use blending to combine two images.” These smaller goals work toward the overall goal but are far more tangible and easier to assign a deadline to.

Related: Microlearning Examples and Techniques to Improve Employee Learning Outcomes

5. Evaluate performance based on learning

Having set the deadline-driven learning goals, you need to determine how to evaluate performance. This requires clear-cut criteria, much like you’d use to evaluate any other type of business performance.

You need evidence an employee is growing, for their sake and to ensure your company is meeting its learning culture mission statement. Creating performance-based evaluations helps you gather that evidence.

Once goals are set, measure the employee’s performance in relation to those goals. While learning should be a fun, rewarding experience, you can still measure learning progress by examining a few key areas:

  • Goals completed: Simply put, measure if the person is completing goals. Avoid comparing the number of goals completed between employees, as goals vary in size and individuals move at their own pace.
  • Goal cancellation: Look at the number of goals an employee has canceled. If they’ve canceled or changed any goals, try to determine if there’s a common thread.
  • Deadlines met: Along with the number of goals completed, see if the person is also meeting deadlines. If they’re frequently completing goals after deadlines, attempt to determine if goals are too lofty or if another issue exists.
  • Work improvements: If you can, track or notice any work-related performance improvements as a result of goals. If someone made it a goal to master a certain tool, and now their output is faster because of that tool, celebrate that!

Measuring performance as it pertains to learning also helps cement learning as important, not just a one-and-done event. Much like experimentation, make sure the employee feels celebrated for accomplishing their goals.

6. Encourage employees to look for external learning opportunities

Your company is brimming with knowledge, both documented and undocumented. Sharing institutional knowledge helps this information get out into your company. It’s still important you and your team find outside learning opportunities as well.

Virtually every industry experiences growth and change. Without any outside sources of knowledge, your company will only ever be as smart as the knowledge within it. Outside knowledge, whether something small like a book or something large like a paid course, can help you stay competitive.

Set aside a budget for outside learning opportunities such as books, classes, and other resources needed to learn a particular skill. Be sure to update your onboarding to reflect this learning stipend so new hires are aware.

Next, create a standardized way for employees to request these resources or funds. Have them justify their need against the company’s mission statement and their own learning goals. This will help ensure the budget is used wisely. In many cases, learning stipend use cases can also be tied to the person’s learning goals.

Here’s an example of how we organize this:

Performance Review

7. Facilitate connections that wouldn’t otherwise happen

No matter the size of your company, there’s always a chance people won’t have an opportunity to get to know each other. You may need to create opportunities for people to connect, chat, and share knowledge.

Let’s say you have someone in marketing who’s great with website copy. Meanwhile, someone on the product team excels at explaining the product in a succinct, convincing manner. Giving the two the opportunity to chat, whether in an informal watercooler setting or a formal co-working session, provides them the chance to share knowledge and talk about their methods. As a result, you have a marketer who’s better at describing the product and a product person who understands how marketing materials engage the customer.

Create opportunities for collaboration: onboarding buddy partnerships, co-working sessions, mentorship programs, and informal watercooler chats. Coupled with the transparent conversations happening in Slack, your team will have numerous opportunities to connect and swap knowledge.

Related: Why Collaboration Skills Offer a Major Competitive Advantage (Plus 10 Ways to Unleash Them)

Transform a learning culture into a Learning Organization

A learning culture will help you develop a team that embraces learning by establishing productive practices around continual growth. This is a great way to get your team onboard with continual growth, and there’s more you can do.

Take things a step further and become a Learning Organization. A Learning Organization makes education and growth the foundation of their company and is unafraid to change the direction of their company or positioning when discoveries are made. Learn how you can become a Learning Organization with our free ebook download here.