Creating a culture of continuous learning

Today businesses are aware of the need to encourage learning and enhance their company culture. A genuine culture of education and growth will indirectly benefit a business because it strengthens and supports both employers and employees.

But establishing a real cultural shift takes more than creating a new training program, organizing a few goals, or skimming the most recent listicle. Culture change takes time, especially when it involves something as important as attitudes about learning. Leaders must care about their employees and have a sincere desire to provide real value.

At MangoApps, we help companies collaborate and learn together every day. Here, we’ve outlined a few of the ways we’ve seen organizations cut through the corporate nonsense and build something successful.

Avoid ulterior motives

A company culture of continuous learning seems like the perfect way to improve productivity, boost creative thinking, and strengthen an array of profitable business practices. While those outcomes often do result, learning incentives influenced by ulterior motives are doomed to fail before they even begin. A genuine and lasting environment of learning can only be built on honest intentions.

Employers should promote education within their industry because learning is an integral part of their company mission, personality, and culture. A culture of continuous learning is the best atmosphere for your business and is valuable in and of itself. Any business benefits created through increased education are only bonuses.    

Workers will never feel inspired to participate in programs or invest in their own education without this honest effort. And as much as supervisors might think they can fake it, employees always know the difference.

In a 2016 study of global employees, only 46 percent felt they could trust their current employer. Why? Among the reasons were a lack of transparency and open communication. To foster a community of genuine learning, employers must set aside secrecy and show employees they care about investing in their personal growth.

Embrace vulnerability

Creating an effective learning environment also means being vulnerable. A vulnerable leader isn’t weak or easily swayed, but rather embraces honesty and has the courage to be sincere. Learning and growth require participants to admit their shortcomings. By breaking the facade of the leader who has every answer and always knows exactly what to do, you set the example of learning and improving at every stage.

Your example also reassures employees that learning isn’t just a corporate initiative meant for everyone outside of leadership. It truly is a part of the company’s core.

You directly influence the culture of your team and employees; make it one of open, honest, and straightforward communication. Teach your employees by example to embrace the unknown and be open to exploring new opportunities. Have the courage to be yourself and help employees do the same.

Establishing an honest and vulnerable learning environment is a company’s greatest tool to strengthen teams throughout the organization. While employees often feel pressure to appear perfect, their attempts actually produce the opposite effect. Trust and open communication don’t diminish effective, straightforward, and decisive leadership; they enhance it.

Encourage genuine effort  

Astro Teller, director of the secretive Google X, describes discovering new ideas as being similar to sending out scouts. Just because you don’t find what you’re looking for, doesn’t mean you didn’t look. When employees try something new, learn a new skill, or take on an unusual project, employers need to understand that they might not always be successful, or as successful as you’d like.

That doesn’t mean employers should open the floor to any idea or ignore employee performance, but employees need to know that supervisors are on their side. That kind of trust and understanding is essential for creating genuine employee engagement and a continuous learning environment.

When employees know their effort will be recognized, regardless of the outcome, they won’t hesitate to try something new, voice a concern, or entertain a new idea. Similarly, they won’t hold onto useless or unproductive projects out of a fear of failure.

Celebrating effort gives employees the freedom, within reason, to make their own decisions, learn from their efforts, and honestly assess outcomes. This not only encourages career-long learning and success but promotes trust, team building, and healthy communication.

Invest in career development

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for an active learning environment, you have to actually put forth the effort to develop it. Create opportunities for additional learning: establish online courses, take your team on a field trip, break up the slow season with cross training or seminars, and most important, set aside time for learning to actually happen.

A work and organization study recently reported that while 61 percent of U.S. employees say their companies offer development opportunities, about half of those employees feel they don’t have the time to participate in them. Employees need to have regularly scheduled time set aside from their everyday responsibilities to engage in educational or career growth activities. Expecting employees to add learning to their already busy work schedule, especially in a judgmental or unsupportive work culture, is essentially impossible.

When employees, especially hard-working and career-driven ones, don’t have time or opportunities to learn and progress inside their company, they turn elsewhere for career development. In fact, Gallup found in 2015 that an amazing 93 percent of Americans advance their careers by taking a job at another company. How many employees could have been retained if supervisors and employers had only made the effort to set aside time for career growth within their organization? And how many businesses could have benefited? 

Effective learning environments need to be about more than just promoting productivity or increasing company metrics. When businesses approach continuous learning with a sincere desire for employee success, they will grow beyond secondary business benefits and create a genuinely healthy, progressive, and caring work environment.

As the lead copywriter for MangoApps, April Thomas spends much of her time writing about business practices, collaboration tools, and communication success. When she isn’t writing April enjoys swimming, photography, and convincing herself that this time her plants will actually stay alive.

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