8 Ways to Create a Corporate Learning Culture

Learning Culture

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”Abigail Adams

Our world is changing, and so are the ways we learn–especially in the workplace. Where once the corporate mindset was all about providing employee training, an increasing number of companies today are working to establish a culture of learning.

“An organization with a learning culture encourages continuous learning and believes that systems influence each other,” writes Tala A. Nabong, for Training Industry. Since constant learning elevates an individual as a worker and as a person, it opens opportunities for the establishment to transform continuously for the better,” she states.

“Workers no longer need to make, fix, or sell things or provide basic services. However, they do have to be smarter, more agile, and more innovative than ever, writes Stephen Gill, for the Association for Talent Development (ATD.) “As automation and robotics improve, the demand for globalization increases, and our workplaces become more multigenerational and diverse, an organization’s competitive advantage will be in the application of its collective knowledge and expertise…”

Establishing a culture of learning takes time, dedication, and focus. It also takes buy-in from the C-Suite and middle management.

Here are eight powerful tactics you can use to start building a culture of learning within your company.

1. Advocate for a culture of learning to your leaders. Your management team knows that experienced, skilled talent is hard to find and challenging to retain. Today’s job candidates are searching for positions in companies that demonstrate an investment in learning. In fact, the single most common complaint for new hires is that they’re not learning fast enough. The most efficient way to up-level skills and create top talent is to provide learning programs.

2. Involve your marketing and communications departments. Relay powerful messages about learning programs and offers. Get key stakeholders to message the importance of learning across the organization. CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, has been extremely effective in doing this and talks about “…the excitement that was felt company-wide as the vision quickly became more than a dream but part of an operational reality.”

3. Change the way your company talks about training. Language is powerful. Start to use words like learning, growing, or mentoring, so employees understand training and coaching as a gift, not something mandatory or a drag.

4. Mix up the tools you offer. Try different, fun, and engaging forms of learning like gamification, microlearning, and theater improv. Offer online videos and other on-demand resources so employees can access learning when it’s most convenient for them. The future of corporate learning will be on-demand, all the time, access.

5. Emphasize results. Measure the effects of learning programs. Use elevated NPS scores, evaluations on 360s, or stories about personal and professional change to prove the value of training and coaching. Promote these numbers and stories throughout the organization.

6. Instill a sense of competition. By consistently benchmarking against what other companies in your industry are doing, your executives will want to beat the competition. Apply for awards, become known for your learning platform.

7. Empower managers. Everyone knows its up to individual leaders to support flex time. But it might be important to create a company policy with “days off for learning.” Encourage the idea of putting out-of-office on for workshops and learning experiences. Make sure there are no adverse repercussions for taking the time to learn. We need critical thinking as a skill.

8. Make sure content is learner-centric. The more employees are involved in their own learning and training outcomes the more they’ll buy in to training and coaching, and even get excited about it.

I like to refer to my learning programs as “spa days” and tell participants that they can pamper themselves, shut out the world, relax, and enjoy being totally selfish in taking care of themselves and their own learning needs.

Use these eight tactics to establish your organization’s culture of learning. You’ll start to see evidence of increased productivity and profits–as well as higher levels of engagement and a decrease in employee turnover. Your company’s workforce will find it easier to adapt to change, exhibit a more positive mindset, and display more accountability at work.

Need help getting a culture of learning started in your firm? Contact me.

A version of this post published on Inc.com.

10 Tips for Men to Communicate Better with Female Coworkers

Gender Cooperation Workshops

It may surprise you – as it did me –that there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. There’s always work to talk about, right? But many men feel they can’t connect with women like they can with other guys, by inviting them for an after-work beer or talking about last night’s football game.

Often they’re afraid of their approach being misconstrued or that other colleagues might look askance on them for mentoring emerging female leaders. As a result, some professional relationships suffer and the team doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it could. Men and women both miss out on opportunities to build advantageous new connections in their industries.

If that sounds familiar, here are ten tips to help men connect with female colleagues:

  1. Be authentic in every interaction. Nothing creates “awkward” like a coworker who thinks you’re trying to be something you’re not.
  2. Listen. Ask more questions in conversations, and comment to show you’re engaged and interested.
  3. Identify topics to talk about – like world news, culture and industry trends – rather than relying on typical small talk about work and sports.
  4. Family is always a safe area. Parents love to talk about their kids and this can provide you with common ground to bond over.
  5. Don’t view attractive female colleagues as something to be avoided. Think of them as sisters or girls you grew up with and treat them like anyone else.
  6. Don’t worry about how you’re being perceived by others. Focus on learning from your coworkers and collaborating to create the best possible results.
  7. Come up with networking goals before conferences and events. For instance, decide you’re going to meet three new professionals in your industry and learn three specific facts about their background and current position.
  8. Praise coworkers on their professional abilities or share a technique that’s brought you success. Remember tip 2 – listen more than talk.
  9. Don’t stick to your clique at work. Attend some of the social team-building events to meet new coworkers at all levels and build genuine connections.
  10. Don’t assume your new female contact is less accomplished or educated, or needs your assistance. What you might view as “help” might be perceived as condescension. Get to know her background and treat her as a peer, not a subordinate.

Remember, most of your coworkers want to minimize awkward moments, too. Authentic and positive work relationships benefit everyone – and if you reach out to women in your workplace and industry in a respectful way, that’s exactly what you’ll build.

We’re Not in High School Anymore: Moving From the “In Crowd” to Inclusive

Inclusive

The workplace can feel exactly like high school. You have the class brain that has the right answer in every meeting. The bored employee who likes to sit in the back, play with their phone and hope they don’t get called on. The social butterflies who are on every committee, organizing baby showers and charity events.  And of course, you also have the jocks.

Ah yes, the jocks. Let’s think about their role in high school. Usually they’re the most visible of all the students, eclipsing even the valedictorian and the troublemakers. They attract a lot of attention from fellow students, teachers and even people around town who come to their games. As such, they usually have the confidence to express themselves openly and they tend to launch trends or set cultural norms, like how to dress, act, or even how to greet each other. (e.g. “Hey man, how’d it go last night?”) While some students resent the jock’s popularity, others admire and emulate their behavior.

And of course, many jocks – accidentally or on purpose — intimidate or exclude those who don’t conform. The outsiders who don’t comply with the code of popularity often feel marginalized or even bullied.

That about sums up the jock archetype, right? I think we can admit that we’ve all seen these dynamics play out in the workplace as well.

Here’s the thing, though. In some ways, those high school jocks are as invisible as the class wallflowers. No, really. The jock archetype is so defined and well known, the spotlight so intense, that all the other traits are often lost in the shadows. This doesn’t always become visible until after graduation. I realized this when I thought about the athletes I knew in school; one went on to be a famous animation designer, while another followed a spiritual calling and became a pastor. And another jock started a hair salon.

These classmates went off the prescribed jock trajectory  – and it makes me wonder if they too felt limited or silenced in high school by the one-dimensional stereotypes assigned to them. It’s quite possible they didn’t feel able to express their true interests. Which makes me wonder if the workplace is just as limiting. Would our “jock-like” colleagues (or any colleagues for that matter) appreciate the ability to expand and exhibit other qualities? Are we too quick to assign roles to our coworkers and exclude or interpret accordingly?

For instance, if we view our project manager as the humorless “class brain” who never stops working, we may exclude that person from team-building happy hours. Or if we think of the sales team as a bunch of gregarious socializers, we might dismiss a complex product idea that comes out of that corner. It’s all too easy to quickly label an employee’s strengths and cast them into an eternal role, instead of encouraging growth and allowing for multi-dimensional interests. Let’s take the case for gender in the workplace, women may not always fit into the male-dominated jock culture (even if they were jocks themselves) and that can foster misperception, create a culture that makes women feel excluded, and ultimately lead to a lack of diverse leadership within an organization.

And it doesn’t only apply to gender. When one strong culture prevails in a workplace, everyone may feel obligated to play the same role, instead of exhibiting his or her own unique gifts and contributions. This article by Jim Dougherty explores how one office came to be dominated by “jock culture” and performed poorly. It wasn’t because workplace jocks are inherently bad; it was because the one-note focus on a certain interest (in this case, sports) created a damaging insularity that drove outsiders to disengage or leave the company. Eventually, the team performance withered without diverse points of view.

Groupthink is the opposite of innovation. Don’t get me wrong, cliques spring up in every big workplace. But when a good portion of your team feels disregarded because they don’t fit in with the prevailing vibe – or when they feel they must stifle parts of themselves to be accepted — productivity suffers. That wonderful synergy that comes from professionals of different backgrounds and interests blending their efforts never gets the chance to happen.

Take a look at your workplace and the roles your colleagues are playing. Maybe some of them would like to expand those roles, make surprising contributions or explore new development areas. So often when we think about talent, we think about finding the right people – but all too often there’s an untapped goldmine waiting right in our own office.