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How to create a culture of continuous learning

Moving forward, the hybrid workspace is going to see an increased demand for new skills. As Microsoft details in its e-Book, ‘Embracing the New World of Work’, over the next five years it’s estimated there will be approximately 149 million new tech jobs. So, it’s crucial that businesses start thinking today about the skills they might need tomorrow.

What is a culture of continuous learning?

A continuous learning culture is an ongoing process to encourage individuals to embed new skills and knowledge, performance, and innovation practice across an organisation. We must also recognise that this can also take effect at an individual level too, as people embed learning in their personal lives, undertaking life-long learning, or annual learning challenges.

Learning can take many forms and we are all familiar with the tactics, from taking formal courses to more bite-sized approaches of casual learning. However, a culture of continuous learning requires a strategic approach, underpinned by systems, processes and technology to be of best effect.

For employees in an organisation that implements a continuous learning strategy, that might mean you are in an environment where you are regularly and actively learning new skills and increasing your knowledge as well as reviewing, refining, and improving existing processes, methods, policies, and practices.

Why does it matter?

Most recently, we have seen a vast number of changes and speed required of organisations to adapt to the changing circumstances borne out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The speed of technological change, constant digital augmentation and digital disruption charges organisations to adapt at speed. More than that, new solutions need to be sought. The common adage ‘what got us here, won’t get us there’ is evermore true. We need new solutions, thinking, processes and approaches to solve many of the real-world problems that face society and industries today.

Moving forward, the hybrid workspace is going to see an increased demand for new skills. As Microsoft details in its e-Book, ‘Embracing the New World of Work’, over the next five years it’s estimated there will be approximately 149 million new tech jobs. So, it’s crucial that businesses start thinking today about the skills they might need tomorrow.

We know that to embrace this new world of work, organisations must create a learning environment that can arm its employees with the skills they need to thrive within this new hybrid and digital workplace. As Nick Hedderman, Modern Work and Security Lead at Microsoft UK says, “an effective culture not only gives people what they need to work in the here and now, but also the power to innovate, adapt, and progress for the future”.

Continuous learning affords people in an organisation a constant method to continually adapt. The world and our industries do not stand still, and the ability to proactively change to remain relevant and competitive is essential in our world today.

How do I start, what learning models are there?

There are a few building blocks, different approaches and learning models for organisations to create a culture of continuous learning and I wanted to share a few of the most common and effective ones.

The most successful organisations will be the ones that transform both technically and culturally, equipping their people with the skills and knowledge to become the best competitive asset they have. Ideally, an organisation wholly invested in continuous learning adopts all of, or elements of, each of these approaches.

Learning Organisation – this is where all employees are learning and growing. The organisation is investing in employee learning as embedded principles and processes. This type of organisation excels at investigating, creating, and transferring knowledge whilst updating its own practices alongside to integrate new findings and insights. The organisation has a clear strong shared vision and operates on a whole ‘systems thinking’ premise.

Continuous Improvement – this is a focus on process improvement that is underpinned by Kaizen and Lean model approaches. An approach that focuses on systematic, continuous process and product improvement. Adopting a problem-solving culture focusses attention on the ability to solve customer pain points better than competitors.

Innovation Culture – this is an overarching culture encouraging employees to explore and implement creative ideas. The approach to the speed of digital disruption cannot be tackled by an innovation approach but can be tackled by an innovation culture. The whole organisation needs to support and drive curiosity, creative and contrary thinking and constantly challenge the status quo. To enable this culture, an organisation must adopt, and be comfortable with, risk-taking and embed the necessary coaching, mentoring, formal training and approach to intrapreneurship and creative thinking processes.

What are the key steps to building a culture of continuous learning?

Identifying skills gaps

Interestingly, 69 percent of UK business leaders recently reported to Microsoft a persistent digital skills gap in their organisation.

As Microsoft details in the eBook, the most effective first step towards the goal of creating a continuous learning culture is to identify your organisation’s skills gap. Having a clear vision of outcomes and an understanding of what skills teams have currently is the basis of defining your organisation’s approach to a skills framework. You can read more about how to embed digital skills in an organisation in another article I have written here.

Leadership Commitment

It’s critical that business leaders are supportive of a continuous learning culture or it will not even get off the ground to start with. The leaders are responsible for setting the tone of the organisation to enable employees to thrive.

Specifically, leaders should demonstrate their own continuous learning journey to inspire and motivate employees to do so as well. This models acceptance, as well as an expectation of people to learn within company time and shows that learning is encouraged, celebrated and rewarded.

Learning Planning

Expose employees to the different ways in which they can learn and the support facilities available in terms or processes, technology, and structure for learning. Considering investing in a platform that integrates learning and provides everyone with a central location to discover, share, assign and learn.

Actively support individuals and teams to set out learning plans whether mapped to business goals or as independent development. Giving autonomy for self-directed learning is appropriate, but structure and support will help to embed it as a practice.

Give them time, make minimum learning mandatory

Some of the key barriers to actively learning in a work environment is the capacity and workload of employees, together with active learning in work time seen as permissible and unnecessary. Set minimum times that people should be actively learning for each week as one clear way of denoting commitment to the continuous learning culture. Make learning culturally acceptable.

Personalisation and fiscal support

Having a personalised learning experience, tailored to individual needs is much more likely to be embraced and has a higher success rate of people continuing with learning, as well as it being funded by the organisation.

Be brave and demonstrate bravery

Encouraging employees to be curious, entrepreneurial, exploratory, inventive, innovative, with informed risk-taking requires the organisation to also live these values and demonstrate them.

Types of Learning

Within a working environment there are many different opportunities to bring learning into your workplace culture, listed here from a lighter touch to more intricate. The more specialist the learning the more it will resonate than more general subjects.

  • Lunch and learn
  • Job aids
  • Webinars
  • Access to professional resources, memberships, or subscriptions
  • Job swaps (in house)
  • Self-paced courses
  • Live tutored workshops and events
  • Career pathways
  • Community of practice
  • Mentorship
  • Coaching
  • Job swaps (external)
  • Job shadowing and modelling
  • Secondment
  • Topic taskforces
  • Intrapreneurial timebound competitions and challenges

Overall, organisations that strive to help their people to learn and adapt are better equipped to face the speed of change, unplanned incidents and ultimately survive and thrive in the longer term whilst enjoying the journey along the way.

You can read more about how to create a culture of continuous learning in Microsoft’s e-Book, ‘Embracing the New World of Work’, here.

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