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The 'Cult' Of Learning... And The 3 C’s To A Learning Culture

The 'Cult' Of Learning... And The 3 C’s To A Learning Culture
Summary: Cult. A word that sends shivers down the spine of most people. It's more ambiguous when the word ‘learning’ comes before ‘culture’. But ask those leading ‘learning cultures’, and they'll say it's never about learning; it's about the contribution learning makes to results.

The 3 C’s And Ways To Develop A Learning Culture

For many, ‘cult’ doesn't have a positive association. We even incorporate sayings like, ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’, to reinforce this negative perception. But the word ‘cult’ is derivative from the word culture and changes people’s perception in this context.

When taken within the context of organizational culture, there is more acceptance to be part of the ‘cult’. Fundamentally, most people agree with the fact that culture is what usually makes or breaks an organization. Even the leading management thinker and author, the late Peter Drucker, coined the phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

Organizational culture is a highly discussed and debated topic. It's both seen as central to success while often put aside when the time comes to implement one. Also, leaders often claim they don’t have a culture; every organization has a culture. The real question is whether you have the culture you want for your organization.

What Does Culture Have To Do With Learning?

What surprises many learning practitioners is that organizational leaders are desperate to foster a learning organization. But becoming a learning organization requires embracing a learning culture. Peter Senge, the author of The Fifth Discipline, defines a learning organization as a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. A pretty generic description, but you get the point.

Now, it's foolish to believe that business leaders want to develop a learning culture because it's a noble move. They do it out of their business need. In simple words, they must keep up with significant competitive pressures. It’s no longer about the products and services they offer since every company offers something similar. It's mainly about what it contributes to and differentiates offerings within a generic market place.

This is great news for learning. Opportunities abound from fostering innovative product development to the reduction in defects and complaints along with so much more. But it also comes with a downside, which is accountability. Stagnant and, at times, arrogant beliefs about learning not having to be accountable are long gone. Those within learning organizations consider learning fully accountable for their success.

What Does It Take?

Culture is a subject of vigorous discussion. Its intangibility makes it difficult to define and second, not one person ever defines it the same way. Even the common, accepted definition being, ‘the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization’, is vague.

This is an issue. Without a clear definition, it's foolish to believe everyone will agree on what culture really is.

This article does not pretend to solve the culture definition dilemma. That remains up for debate. There are, however, 3 elements, or what we refer to as the three C’s, to help you develop a learning culture.

1. The First C Is About Obtaining Commitment

Commitment is about gaining support from operational leaders and decision-makers. How? By building a relevant business case for the need learning will address.

It’s not about simply proposing another training program. It's more than that. It requires a paradigm shift in the role Learning and Development is expected to play.

Commitment is found when you are able to communicate learning outcomes into business results. In addition to the following points, we encourage you to read the articles we've written on gaining leadership support on eLearning Industry by clicking on my name above.

2. The Second C Is About Discovering Connections

The most effective way for you to gain commitment is to identify precise performance connections. This requires analyzing the organization’s performance framework. Within the framework, you'll discover cause-and-effect relationships among primary operational activities.

Each activity will have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) operational leaders are expected to meet. Applying your skills, and conducting a needs and skills assessment precisely identifies areas requiring learning support improving operational performance, which will ultimately grow into a learning culture.

3. The Last C Is About Demonstrating Conclusions

Corporate learning is solely about contributing to business results, no more, no less. Leaders see learning as a means to an end and not the end in itself, whereas, learning practitioners continue to believe it's about learning itself.

Regretfully, too much ‘academic’ mentality exists among corporate learning practitioners and those organizations supporting them. For some unexplainable reason, they desperately hold on to this perception that has no place within a business environment. This is one reason why learning continues to be seen as an ineffective support activity for the business. It never arrives at a conclusion, or the results, operational leaders expect for what they pay for.

Demonstrating a conclusion is about showing a positive correlation between the learning effort and expected business result. This requires learning practitioners to have a results-oriented mindset for a learning culture to take hold. Your learning efforts must deliver the performance results operational leaders expect otherwise you add no value.

As mentioned under ‘connections’, the ‘conclusions’ are right under every learning practitioners’ collective noses. These are the explicitly stated Key Performance Indicators. These KPIs are the performance objectives preoccupying the minds of operational leaders. Develop learning initiatives that contribute to moving, or improving, these KPIs and you are on your way to instilling a learning culture.

Final Thoughts On Culture

We cannot hope to fully appreciate how a learning culture connects to key organizational elements. Nor is there one way to sustain a learning culture. Rather we must embrace that learning cultures are about shared, collective values. It ingrains itself through leadership commitment and grows by focusing on attending to relevant performance outcomes, not every outcome.

Stop desperately seeking validation from leaders. Validation comes through by getting people to apply what they learn, not what they actually learn. This will get leaders to take notice and eventually see the value a learning culture delivers to improving business outcomes.

If what you like what you’ve read, please, contact us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts and who knows? It may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. And, please, check out my LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility. Remember, #alwaysbelearning!