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5 Signs Your Organization Has a Healthy Learning Culture

Does your organization have a culture of learning? That’s the question i4cp and ATD (the Association for Talent Development) asked more than 830 business and learning leaders for the new study, Building a Culture of Learning: The Foundation of a Successful Organization. Fewer than a third of those leaders claimed robust learning cultures were alive and well in their companies.

Many business leaders would agree that defining culture can be tricky, a vacillating intangible that can vary from one organization to the next--maybe even from one day to the next. So just what is a culture of learning? For the study, i4cp and ATD defined it this way:

A culture of learning, or learning culture, is one in which employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve individual and organizational performance. The importance of the pursuit and application of learning is expressed in organizational values and permeates all aspects of organizational life.

How can you tell if your organization is one of the lucky one in three where learning “permeates all aspects of organizational life?” Using the definition as a starting point, we identified a handful of traits that help bring the idea of a learning culture to life.

You know your company has built a healthy learning culture when:

  1. Your organizational values put it in writing, referencing the importance of learning and development
  2. Your company provides every employee a safe haven for open communication
  3. Your organization’s learning leaders participate in strategic planning to ensure that business goals include consideration of the training and skills your workforce will need to achieve those objectives
  4. Your employees look for opportunities to share knowledge with their colleagues
  5. Your employees become learning junkies who seek out new knowledge and find ways to apply it to improve your organization’s performance

Chances are, if you see your company in that list of traits, you’ll also find it among the market leaders that i4cp designates high-performance organizations. All the learning-culture characteristics were highly correlated not only with market performance, but with excellence in organizational learning, too. They were far more likely to be present in companies that outstrip the competition in revenue growth, market share, profitability and customer satisfaction over time--high-performance organizations.

If yours is among the majority of companies where a culture of learning remains more aspiration than reality, the research revealed some concrete steps you can take toward improvement. A white paper based on the full study is now available to i4cp members and offers a few get-out-of-the-starting-gate suggestions:

  • Make time for learning
  • Personalize development plans for employees
  • Create accountability for learning
  • Use your learning culture to attract top talent

“Leveraging the full power of an organization comes about through optimizing a culture of learning and development,” said Renee Romulus, CLO and VP of Learning and Development at Booz Allen Hamilton and a participant in the study. Isn’t it time to power up your organization?

Don’t miss ATD’s April 28 webinar exploring more Building a Culture of Learning findings. Detailed strategies for leaders, employees, organizations and learning functions are described in the full study available for purchase from ATD.

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Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.