Continuous learning - a prerequisite for a successful organization!
Updated: May 20, 2021
How do we create an organization where continuous learning becomes a reality?
Promoting a culture that puts learning at the very center gives an organization the strength and adaptability needed to be competitive in our rapidly changing world. Today, the “half-life” of our knowledge is 5-10 years, i.e. half of our knowledge becomes obsolete within 5-10 years. This means that we can’t live on old knowledge but constantly need to learn new things. For more on this, please read about the competence shift in my colleague Johan Skoglöf’s article “Are you ready for the competence shift” and watch the film “The new realities of work” from Deloitte.
Continuous learning will be one of our most important competencies in the future. Jacob Morgan of thefutureorganisation.com describes it as the shift from “Knowledge Workers” to “Learning Workers”. We simply need to learn to learn.
Our career is no longer the end product of an education. Instead, the career itself is a single long education
We need to move from a culture of prior education to a culture of continuous learning. This requires that learning develops into a “lifestyle” that comes naturally in daily life and is incorporated directly into the workflow. John Bersin calls it “Learning in the flow of work”. To create these conditions and for learning to take place, we need to change cultures, leadership and processes. We need to increase employees' ability to learn and also ensure that we have the necessary digital support. In the article “Making Learning a Part of Everyday Work” in the Harvard Business Review, Josh Bersin gives good tips for enabling learning in everyday work.
What do you need to do to create the conditions for continuous learning in your organization?
The two most significant factors are an individual’s learning ability and the culture of the organization. These two factors go hand in hand, and I have summarized them below:
Learning ability (individual)
Develop a habit of continual learning and improve the ability to learn.
Develop a growth mindset.
People need to understand that they do not always know the best way of solving a problem or a task and have to find out new ways of working or discover new solutions.
Change mindset to value both giving and taking feedback and asking for help.
Learning culture (organizational)
Empower a culture in which the people take responsibility for their own learning.
Empower a culture in which the people are allowed to try, learn and modify, in order to find the best way to solve a task. Managers empower and guide their staff instead of controlling them.
Empower a culture in which the people help each other and are open to collaboration.
The result is an organization where employees are more flexible and perform better, collaboration increases, and the organization becomes more innovative, responsive and fast moving. The employees build up their ability to be “intellectually curious” and take control of their learning. This in turn gives employees that thrive, feel good and - most importantly – stay at the organization.
The organization’s innovative power and thus its ability to compete increases.
Individuals takes responsibility for their own learning
The focus shifts from the training department's control, using formal training and certifications, to allowing individuals to take responsibility and pursue their own learning (and thus develop as creative critical thinkers).
Employees “own” their own development, which contributes to them performing better and feeling better.
John Spencer describe the shift in the video The Shift from Engaging Students to Empowering Learners.
How should you go about creating the conditions for continuous learning?
To create a learning culture where continuous learning becomes the norm, you (or the training department/ L&D) need to have a clear strategy and a well-developed and well-established action plan.
Below, we list five areas that you should include in your strategy and action plan.
Technology - Get a learning platform where everyone wants to go every day. Provide tools that support continuous learning by delivering, collecting, filtering, curating and sharing content. More on this can be found in my previous article “Does your Learning platform support a learning organization”.
Leadership – Encourage learning, and development and create time for learning. Management and managers need to create space for innovation by encouraging and challenging employees to find new and better ways of delivering/performing their work. Managers need to stop controlling and instead support and guide the employee in their development. Managers also need to encourage employees to find time for professional development and ensure that learning becomes part of the employee's everyday life.
Ability to learn – Create insight into lifelong learning, learn how to learn and how to use what you learn at work. Every individual needs to see continuous learning as a lifestyle and also become better at developing new knowledge and taking responsibility for their learning. If I as an individual know what is expected of me, I will be more motivated to learn. Many employees also do not have the ability (or habit) to apply new knowledge and skills that they acquire. One way to train the ability to learn is to link concrete tasks directly to learning. In the event that you have a formal education, for example, there must always be practical tasks linked to the work as part of this education.
Collaboration Culture – Encourage social learning, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Encourage and entice employees to participate in discussions via social forums, e.g. how to solve a certain task in the best way. Create places - physical and/or digital - where people help each other in their learning. For this to work, all employees should be aware that the organization values a culture of collaboration, where they help each other (and this should also be rewarded in different ways).
Curated Content – Collect and share relevant content for the target group in order to facilitate learning. Appoint people/experts who are responsible for curating and sharing content that is relevant to the target group. Curated content must be adapted for different roles, so that each employee receives what is relevant to them.
Creating a learning organization is a journey in itself: it requires commitment, perseverance and will from both management, managers and employees. But the results are worth all the effort - Who doesn’t want to contribute to and work in an organization that is mobile, innovative and successful and where employees thrive and stay?