illustration of a laptop with a graduation hat and textbooks for benefits of a culture of learning

A Culture Of Learning Has Two Enormous Organizational Benefits

If you work in the employee training and development space, no phrase is as vexing as “a culture of learning”. 

It remains the holy grail of the industry—talked about at learning conferences, webinars, roundtables, and by thousands of sales folks selling learning management systems—and yet so few have actually accomplished the feat itself. In fact, in LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, 42% of L&D leaders surveyed labeled “building a culture of learning” as their top challenge.

I see this everyday as I work with my customers at LinkedIn Learning. They want a culture of learning, they tell me. It’s their goal for the year ahead. 

But what does that mean?

In most cases, these leaders want to know that their work is creating something bigger than “corporate training”, which falls short of really developing employees and organizational talent. 

What they want to see is that an employee’s learning matters and that growth—in talent, in personal development, in skills—is embedded in their company culture.

There’s a reason this “culture of learning” state is tough to get to, and it’s tough to confirm you’ve reached that state once you’re there. This is true for companies of all sizes. And yet everyday L&D leaders push for it.

Because the benefits of a learning culture are numerous and important, I’ll mention a few here as well as some signs you may or may not have a budding culture of learning right now. And lastly, I’ll cover what you can do if you find yourself absent of a space to grow at your organization. 

The Financial Benefit Of A Culture Of Learning

According to LinkedIn’s data, the hold-ups that most organizations face when increasing their learning efforts are either costs or resources. This is understandable, but quickly becoming a vulnerability for workplace culture and employee productivity. And, worse, companies’ bottom lines.

Simply put, there’s enough evidence now to show that companies that promote a culture of learning amongst employees perform better.

In fact, according to this LinkedIn Learning course (quoting from a McKinsey report), companies that offer comprehensive training programs have higher income per employee by as much as 200%

They also perform better in sales when sales training is brought to the table, and customer service scores in NPS and other satisfaction metrics shoot up when proper training is provided. 

The effect isn’t only on employee productivity either. When looking at budgets from learning-forward organizations, those that spent more on corporate education also spent less on managerial supervision. This helps with the financial outlook of stocking your organization with middle managers, but it also opens managers’ time up for creative solutions for their team members.

The Financial Picture Of Learning Cultures After COVID-19

Building a learning culture is as imperative now as it has ever been. Because of changes to organizational dynamics brought on by COVID 19, 56% of L&D leaders believe that their culture of learning is stronger than it was in before March 2020. 

In fact, LinkedIn’s Leading with Learning Report is chock-full of important points about the changes COVID brought to this idea of fostering a learning culture in 2020. 

On the financial side, the investment in employee development is going up fast. For a successful business, the investment here makes sense—both from a competitive standpoint (see below) and from an economic one. 

graphic showing that 60% of L&D pros expect to spend more on online learning than in 2019
Source: LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2020.

This is less intuitive than you’d think, however. COVID has opened the floodgates for virtual and e-learning — both of which were generally seen as being more cost-effective (ways to lower budgets). 

But what that misses out is the necessity of making the investment in employee upskilling. Because that’s becoming more of a priority than ever.

graphic of a pie chart showing the breakdown of L&D pros according to whether they are prioritizing reskilling
LinkedIn’s Leading with Learning Report shows a majority of L&D professionals see reskilling as an emerging priority in 2020.

Simply put, to stay competitive in the new decade, companies need to be thinking of the adaptability of employees, ensuring they’re ready for the workplace changes ahead.

The Competitive Benefit Of A Culture Of Learning

The investment in becoming a learning organization is not just about the bottom line, of course. The benefits your employees will see will help build you a more competitive business—certainly from a talent perspective.

According to the LinkedIn Learning course The Future of Workplace Learning, each year more employees say their learning opportunities are important metrics in employee satisfaction.

For millennials, learning opportunities at a company is now the top metric in their likelihood to stay at a company. A PwC study found the same, that “the current workforce is more motivated by personal and professional growth than they are by earning more money.”

This idea of learning cultures as a piece of your employee engagement and employee retention strategy is not fiction. The research shows this is an absolute correlation. 

Why is this? Perhaps employees themselves see the need for re-skilling. We know that experts are telling us that many core job skills will need to be adjusted in just two short years. That’s not even mentioning the deluge of new technology we see every month.

Simply put: employees who aren’t getting the help they need to build new skills are ready to step out the door. 

This shows up in employee engagement research, usually through employee voice surveys or something similar. And companies keen on understanding their own talent and skills gaps are taking notice—another reason we at LinkedIn Learning work so closely with Glint, another LinkedIn acquisition.

As a leader, you can increase an employee’s learning time with far less cost than it would take to replace that person. In fact, according to ATD, surveyed organizations only spent about $1,100 per employee on their learning activity for a year.

Here’s the breakdown by size. 

graphic with a bar graph showing the average direct expenditure per employee by organization size
Source: ATD’s 2020 State of the Industry Report.

Interestingly, the larger a company gets the less they spend an employee’s education and continuous learning.

This is a product of their ability to scale programs like employee mentorship or expert speaker sessions, but also one that may help smaller orgs in competitive landscapes.

If you can truly lean in to educate your team, to build skill sets faster than your larger peers, you may find that translating into market share. 

Certainly we know that through more education, you can increase employee retention—and when competing with bigger players for top talent, this is the competitive edge your recruiters can use. 

Building Your Learning Culture

No matter where you sit in your organization, you can be part of the move toward a learning culture. Everyone can—you need not wait for an HR strategy launch. 

Your first step is realizing where you stand in terms of your culture and learning opportunities at scale. This is often measured in a “maturity level” of your organization’s learning culture—you can learn more about that in Chapter Three here.

Signs You May Have A Culture Of Learning (Or Not)

  • You have a learning newsletter
  • You run learning challenges or seasonal promotions
  • You have questions on an employee engagement survey specifically about workforce learning
  • Leaders regularly meet with learning teams and learning vendors to get the most ROI
  • Employees have a specific place to share their newest learnings, like Microsoft Teams or Slack

If you don’t have anything above listed, consider starting one. See what kind of appetite those around you have for a newsletter or place to share learnings—that too will be a sign of where you’re at as an organization.

What To Do Right Now If You’re Without A Culture Of Learning

Well, there’s a lot of work to do if you’re trying to make this happen today. 

My advice? Don’t start at the top like some will tell you. It may be too hard to get an executive to pivot their belief or perspective to a learning culture when that has yet to happen. 

Start first with your manager or your own team if you are a manager. Set the example. If you can show progress on a small scale, you can grow it larger. And besides, managers are the single most effective piece in an employee’s learning journey. 

Here’s a breakdown of where employees are getting most of their learning “content” from according to ATD’s 2020 State of the Learning Industry report:

graphic showing a bar graph of the the average percentage of learning content by content area
Source: ATD’s 2020 State of the Industry Report.

And don’t stop there. Managers need to be setting a learning example themselves. This trend should continue.

graphic showing that managers are spending more time learning
Source: LinkedIn’s Leading With Learning 2020 Report.

Want one more immediate step? Make learning matter. If you have any sway in hiring, promoting, or even highlighting employees at your organization, make their own personal learning journeys part of the consideration process. 

As an example, I was talking to a client the other day, a learning leader at a large manufacturing company, and he was reviewing dozens of applications for a high potential leadership development program. He was going to choose about 10% of the applicants.

The first thing he did in order to weed candidates out was see what learning they had done in the last year. He asked them about impactful learning experiences on the application.

Those that didn’t have any meaningful learning activity to share didn’t get through. Now, that’s how you build a culture of learning. You make it your first priority. 

Conclusion

Building a true learning culture is a difficult task, particularly for those companies finding their developmental practices already in silos. The work will be an adaptation, taken on by employees, managers, and, eventually, top leaders.

But, as we go into a new decade, the rapid evolution of skills and our service economy requires knowledge workers to be agile generalists. They’ll need to learn quickly and to have learning processes agile enough to allow for that. 

Don’t get left behind. If you see where your organization is behind, the work needs to start today. 

As one might suggest here, the best place to start is learning yourself. Follow some of the leading blogs in the space: LinkedIn Learning, Josh Bersin, ATD—just to name a few. Of course, the People Managing People newsletter will continue to deliver insights you’ll love.

Happy Learning!

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