Old school content marketing, on a shelf

6 ways to create a learning culture at work

It’s easy to get so involved with actually doing your job that you forget about your own and your teams’ personal development.

Deadlines shout loudly and you can find yourself going through the motions while stuck in a motivational rut.

Not only are you suffering from this, but your team isn’t developing their skills or being as innovative as they could be.

Adopting a learning culture goes a long way to amend this, but where do you start?

1 | Understand the benefits of a learning culture

The first step to becoming a team or organisation that embraces learning culture is recognising the benefits that personal development brings to yourself, your team and the wider company.

When a learning culture is at the heart of your team, you will each find ways to improve and enhance your individual and collective knowledge – leading to a greater level of performance, innovation and workplace happiness.

What can make your job as line manager easier than a high performing team who love what they do?

If you are not finding ways to improve your skills and knowledge, you run the risk of simply treading water and falling behind your competitors.

It doesn’t need to take a lot of effort either. It can be as simple as sharing blogs with each other or spending time each week, as a team, to look at examples of best practice, then work out ways you improve your own projects.

2 | Lead from the top down – become a learning organisation

Practicing what you preach is a very apt saying here. As a manager, head of department or CEO, you need to encourage learning at all levels of your business.

Google has long hailed the benefits of its 20% time and in a letter, from way back in 2004, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin commented “we encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google”.

Whether or not Google still adopt this approach is questionable, but it did bring the world Google Maps, Gmail and Adsense – not too shabby a list.

None of this would have been possible without an ingrained learning culture that was promoted from the very top of the organisation.

3 | Freedom to succeed – own your own piece of land

Google’s 20% time is all about empowerment. While I don’t think it’s necessary to say to my team that we can spend 20% of our time on work of our own choosing, I do think its key for us to work in new areas and test out new ideas.

People don’t like to feel they are penned in too tightly and, in my experience, work better when given the freedom to succeed. I say succeed as I’m fed up hearing about ‘freedom to fail’ – far too negative for my liking…

If you marry up freedom with the goal of development through innovation, you can create the perfect situation where an individual is working in synergy with their passions and your companies objectives.

4 | Challenge yourself

A key aspect of creating a learning culture at the Learning People was challenging ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zone.

It would have been easy for us to stick to what we know and are comfortable with, but we would not have grown as a team in the same way or enjoyed the same results. The talks I do at conferences are a great example of this.

I’ve spent a lot of time DJ’ing over the last 20 years, but I had a set of turntables and a sound system to hide behind. Doing a talk at a conference meant it was just myself on stage with a set of slides.

Talk about feeling exposed…

However, this was a new skill that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do and do it well. I used the fear of messing up my lines on stage and the fear of not doing myself justice as a motivator, which created a kind of nervous energy.

Nervous energy that was still there as I stood backstage doing a wonder woman power pose – to boost testosterone levels and lower the stress hormone, cortisone – and still there as I walked on stage – thanks to Amy Cuddy’s great Ted Talk on body language for that bit of inspiration.

Once I finished my first line, the energy had turned positive and any negative thoughts were gone.

5 | Learn from your results

This point could feel like it should be tagged “no shit, Sherlock”, but I do think it’s worth highlighting that it’s not enough to undertake a new project if you don’t learn from it. Even if all you learn is to never do it again.

As a marketing team, we see marketing as a science where our answers lie within the data. Numbers don’t lie and have disproven many assertions that had been made on one subject or another.

It took us two years to get rid of a shade of green from our call to actions. I hated it, but every alternative we AB tested didn’t perform as well.

Thankfully, I was able to banish it to the bin when we introduced a complete rebrand at the end of 2014.

6 | Share success and celebrate

The most important thing to remember with a learning culture is that everybody likes to know they are doing a good job and progressing, so make sure you tell them. A little ego boost goes a long way.

Virgin are great pioneers of sharing success with after-hours parties being used to solidify a family atmosphere alongside a fun loving and free spirited corporate culture.

Rewards shouldn’t be solely financial as there is a lot of benefit for you, your team and your company when rewards are more inventive. One of the best team days I’ve run involved speed boating down the Thames, Thai curry and trip up the Shard in London.

Although, simple gestures – like a bonus day off – go a long way too.

Learning culture is a key aspect of success and if you’ve started along this journey, well done. But, if you haven’t yet, don’t fret as it’s not too late to start and it doesn’t take much to kick off.

Take baby steps if you have to, but just make sure you do.

Steve Linney
[email protected]

I've been a marketer for the last twenty years, covering a wide number of areas. Including e-learning, the music industry, and corporate responsibility.