Published on 2012/02/22
Time To Get Cultured
It’s time for learning to become ingrained in our corporate culture. Image by Visual Artist Frank Bonilla.

The biggest workplace hurdle to identifying and assessing development and training needs is lack of a “learning culture.” Organizational culture is defined as the values, assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, and norms of the enterprise, sometimes referred to as the organization’s DNA. Culture influences priorities, decisions, performance management, incentives (praise, reward, promotion, etc.), allocation of time and effort, morale, and engagement. If learning is not valued within the culture of an organization, if learning is not woven into the fabric of the workplace, then learning needs will not be identified and addressed in a way that helps the organization achieve its goals.

In most organizations today the training and development function is marginalized. Responsibility for learning is given to a department (HR, Training, CLO, etc.). Managers assume that anything employees need to learn will be provided by someone else; someone assigned to the training role. Assessment of need typically occurs when there is new equipment, new procedures, or new strategies and the organization’s training professionals are made aware of these changes. Or, in many cases, training and development are opportunistic activities based on no assessment at all, occurring only when the timing and cost of an event fits the availability of an employee.  Assessment, when it does occur, is not strategic. It is not aligned with the business goals of the organization and, therefore, has limited value.

In a truly learning culture, learning and performance improvement are valued and supported throughout the organization. In this kind of organization, learning and performance improvement are frequent topics of leaders’ speeches and writing. Employees at all levels are given the time and resources to acquire new knowledge and skills that will contribute to performance improvement. Employees are recognized and rewarded for learning and using that learning to achieve important business results for the organization. Leaders are recognized and rewarded for supporting the learning of their direct reports.

Leaders need to ask themselves, “Does our culture support learning? Do we have every-day processes and procedures in place to ensure that learning and change are embedded in the way we work together? Do our top leaders make continuous learning a priority and communicate this throughout the organization?”

Assessment in this kind of culture identifies what individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole need to learn in order to achieve the goals of the enterprise. Assessment in this kind of culture determines how best to help people attain this knowledge and develop these competencies. Assessment in this kind of culture brings to awareness the support system that will help employees apply their learning on the job and improve their performance. Assessment in this kind of culture gives the organization feedback on its readiness for change.

It is this “learning culture” for which organizations should be striving. The periodic assessment of needs by a training department is not enough. Training events (workshops, courses (classroom or elearning), seminars, conferences, etc.) have never been particularly effective at improving performance by themselves. Estimates are that only 10% to 50% of learners continue to apply new knowledge and skills to their jobs after training. This has been true even while the quality of the content and delivery of training events have improved markedly. Therefore, needs assessment should examine all of the factors in an organization’s culture that are barriers to learning and performance improvement. In this time of economic contraction all resources must be used efficiently and effectively. We need to focus on developing a learning culture, not on deciding which training events to deliver.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2012/02/22 at 2:23 pm

If we’re not setting up a culture of learning, we might as well give up altogether.

We’re at a point where we need everyone, from children to adults, to be engaged with their learning in order to move forward. The world and technology are constantly changing – if we’re not on top of it, we’re going to fall behind.

Stephen J. Gill 2012/03/06 at 8:51 pm

You are absolutely right, WA. It is impossible for an instructor to keep up with the pace of change. Subject content is constantly changing. Methods of instruction are constantly changing. Technology for learning is constantly changing. We must create an environment that supports continuous learner learning and learning how to learn.

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