Learning Culture and Organizational Performance

Learning Culture and Organizational Performance

With the current expansion in the global economy and the fast-changing evolution of technology and innovation, organizations are facing an ongoing need for employees’ learning and development. As knowledge becomes increasingly a key factor for productivity, it has also become a currency for the competitive success. The learning culture in the organization contributes to the organizational learning and the transfer of knowledge to the workplace.  Hence, the learning culture has a very important role to play in the performance of the organization.

A learning culture moves beyond compliance by encouraging the employees to develop self-correcting mechanisms and internal practices which use knowledge to examine failures and weaknesses to make programmatic and operational changes. Further, a learning culture minimizes barriers to learning and knowledge and rewards and encourages knowledge driven practices, making learning and continuous improvement the rule, not the exception. Fig 1 provides the transition from a compliance culture to learning culture in the organization.

Fig 1 Transition from a compliance culture to learning culture in the organization

Creating a learning culture within the organisation makes the employees to take one step beyond just acquiring the skills which they need to deliver the products and services. Learning culture empowers the employees to achieve dramatically improved results compared to the organization having no positive learning culture.

The learning culture in the organization enhances the ability of the organization to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly and thus provides the organization the ultimate competitive advantage. It enables the employees to (i) easily adapt to change, (ii) actually anticipate the change, (iii) be more responsive to the market requirements, and (iv) grow through innovation. It also generates more energetic, loyal and goal oriented employees.

A learning culture makes an organization a learning organisation. A learning organization is to accept a set of attitudes, values and practices which support the process of continuous learning within the organization. Training is a key element in the strategy of the organization dedicated to continuous learning.

Through learning, employees can re-interpret the work and the workplace and their relationship to these. A true learning culture continuously challenges its own methods and ways of doing things. This ensures continuous improvement and the capacity to change.

There are five identified disciplines of a learning culture which contribute to building a robust learning organization. These disciplines are (i) personal mastery since it creates an environment which encourages personal and organizational goals to be developed and realized in partnership, (ii) mental development which helps the employees to know the ‘internal’ picture of their environment which shapes their decisions and behaviour, (iii) shared vision which builds a sense of group commitment by developing shared images of the future, (iv) team learning which transform conversational and collective thinking skills, so that the group’s capacity to reliably develop intelligence and ability is greater than the sum of its individual member’s talents, and (v) system thinking which develops the ability to see the ‘big picture’ within an organization and understand how changes in one area affect the whole system.

A learning culture is a collection of those organizational conventions, values, practices and processes which encourage employees and the organization to develop knowledge and competence. Th e organization having a learning culture encourages continuous learning and believes that systems influence each other. Since constant learning elevates an employee both as a worker and as a person, it opens opportunities for the establishment to transform continuously for the better.

Tab 1 Quality features of the organizations with and without learning culture

Organization with learning cultureOrganization without learning culture
Employees at all the levels ask questions and share the events of successes and failures, and what they have learned.Managers share information on a need-to-know basis. Employees are not open and hide things while describing how events really happened.
All the employees in the organization create, keep, and propagate cases of employees who have improved their own processes.All the employees in the organization believe that they know what to do, and they proceed on this assumption.
Employees are recruited / promoted on the basis of their capacity for learning and adapting changes in the environment.Employees are recruited / promoted on the basis of their technical expertise as visible in their qualifications.
Employees’ performance reviews include what they have learned.Employees’ performance reviews focus solely on what they have done.
Employees spend some time to reflect on what has happened and what can happen.Little time or attention is given for understanding the lessons learned from the events.
Employees are treated as complex persons.Employees are treated like any other resource without considering their individuality.
Managers believe in their own learning and take interest in developing capacity for learning new things, and the learning in the employees.Managers think that they know all what is needed to be known and that the employees under them do not have the capacity to learn much.
Management believes that learning provides energy to the employees for their and organizational growing.Management believes that energy comes from ‘success of the organization’.
Management encourages continuous experimentation.Employees proceed with work only when they feel certain of the outcome.
Senior management involves itself in training programmes designed for new or high-potential employees.Senior management only appears for starting the training and development programs.
Senior management is willing to explore their basic values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations.Senior management is defensive and unwilling to explore their basic values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations.
Conversations in management meetings constantly explore the values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations underlying proposals and problems.Conversations tend to move quickly to blaming and finding scapegoat with little attention to the process which led to the problem or how to avoid it in the future.
Customer feedback is sought, actively examined, and included in the planning process.Customer feedback is not sought and is normally ignored when it comes on its own.

The learning culture in the organization reinforces employees’ performance, and transmission of knowledge to the system and thus improves the organizational performance. In fact, there is a positive correlation between the levels of learning and the organizational performance.

Today the learning culture in an organization is the rule and not the exception where the management must remove the barriers to learning and reward behaviours which facilitates learning among the employees.

The employee’s workplace, in which learning is a valued way of life, knowledge is readily shared, and performance improves at both the individual and organizational levels, is the vision which drives the organization to establish and expand the learning culture. Organization is more competitive, agile and engaged when knowledge is constantly and freely shared.

Learning is a mindset and a lifestyle, and in an organization it is a key differentiator. If an employee is an individual contributor in the organization, he is responsible for his learning all the time, every day. This is called the learning culture in the organization.

Features of a learning culture in the organization include (i) active knowledge sharing saturates the organization, (ii) learning is a promoted organizational value, (iii) employees at all the levels are involved in teaching others and reinforcing importance of learning, (iv) learning is reinforced in recruitment as well as in the employees’ development, (v) the effectiveness of the learning is measured in the organization, (vi) employees are encouraged though a reward system for agility and development.

In a culture of learning in the organization, there are four agencies which are accountable. These are (i) the organization, (ii) the learner, (iii) the management, and (iv) the employee.

The characteristics of a learning culture in the organization include (i) learning strategies are closely aligned with the organizational strategies, (ii) organizational values specifically mention to the importance of learning and development, (iii) The function of learning in the organization is carried out by the employees who are not only qualified in the learning function but also believe in the importance of learning, (iv) learning function in the organization is an integral part of the talent and knowledge management in the organization, (v) opportunities of learning are available when and where they are required, (vi) communication in the organization reinforces the importance of learning, (vii) sufficient budget is provided in the organization to meets the present as well future needs of the learning, (vii) organization has departments which not only looks after the learning needs of the organization but also designs and delivers different programmes of learning, (vii) the technologies available in the organization support effective designs and delivery of the learning, and (viii) the function of learning is having the support of the top management and the departments of learning is headed by a senior and responsible executive.

The three most important features for a learning culture in a high performing organization are (i) adequate budget for learning function, (ii) dedicated learning function, and (ii) responsibility of learning is exercised at the senior management level with sufficient delegated powers.

An organization scores low on the extent of the learning culture in the organization in case (i) if it assesses every employee for his need for the knowledge and skill, (ii) learning programmes are planned with specific, measurable performance results in mind, (iii) learning function measures alignment of learning strategy to organization’s business strategy, (iv) Learning measurement tracks impact on operational results such as revenues, and sales etc., (v) engagement level of the learner is assessed before and after the learning programme, (vi) learning measures gauge the role of learning in employee’s achievements, and (vii) employee retention is assessed before and after the process of learning.

The learning culture of the organization can enhance employees’ job satisfaction and this influences the organizational performance. Organization which has prioritized learning and development finds that there are increases in employees’ job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability. The learning culture in the organization is viewed as the one which has capacity for integrating the employees and the structure to move the organization in the direction of continuous learning and change.

Requirements for the development of effective learning culture

For an effective learning culture in the organization, the knowledge which is to be encouraged is to be related to the field in which organization is operating. Also, individual employees in the organization are to work together for the knowledge enhancement rather than learning individually. Shared learning enables the employees to solve the problems quicker and more efficiently. The management is required to find and implements ways of developing a learning culture within the organization based on the following for improving the organizational performance.

Commitment of the top management – Learning culture in the organization cannot be developed without the commitment and a deep involvement from the top management. It is to be top down in the organization. It flows in the organization when it is stated as one of the key performance indicator of the organization and included in the organizational annual objectives. Learning is needed to be imbibed in the work culture and the employees are to live and breathe learning culture with the management being seen to encourage macro-management and empowerment to the employees.

Learning culture as part of business plan – The training and development programmes in the organization are to be part of the business plan and are to ensure that they are inspiring the learning in the organization. Management is to make the employees aware that learning is aligned to the business plan. Managers are to regularly talk with the employees under them about the issues and problems they are facing and enable the employees to find solutions through the learning process. Thus ensures that learning is imbibed in the organization to address the organizational needs and is extremely relevant for the organizational performance.

Setting of clear objectives – The organization is to set clear and firm goals and objectives which are to be achieved. Learning culture is to be part of the corporate goal and it is to be stated at the highest level of objectives so that it flows down the organization and becomes a part of the employees’ personal goals. The strategic nature of the job is required to be reflected through development plans. Best plans are developed not in isolation but through joint involvement of employees, customers, and other stakeholders of the organization. The use of appreciative Inquiry in the creation of strategic visions and plans is an excellent tool. The organizational objectives are set after a thorough inquiry with all the stake holders to target the learning culture amongst the employees and the best strategies are to be adopted for the development of the employees.

Personalized learning – In performing organization, learning is work and work is learning. The learning content is to be appropriate and timely for every employee. The learning content as well as outcome and objective need to be customized for each employee. The learning needs can be identified through performance appraisals or competency based assessments. Employees are to be made to analyze their learning needs in relation to their performance for achieving the organizational objectives. Employees can be encouraged to work in teams, share information, learning and gaining knowledge through team learning process. The peer group networks are to be encouraged so that employees can learn from their colleagues in the teams.

Creation of an environment for learning -A learning environment is needed in the organization for building a learning culture. It is essential to cultivate active learners by creating a learner centric environment in the organization. Employees are to be provided with necessary tools and the relevant content to become self-learners. Refining the employees’ approach to learning is needed for the continuous development of a learning culture in the organization. It is possible to refine learning approach after getting feedback from the employees. The refined learning approach can be implemented by piloting learning programmes. After assessing the success of the pilot learning programmes, the learning approach can be implemented in the organization. Attention to the preferred learning styles of the employees is to be considered so as to create a variety of learning methods to suit the needs of different employees.

Developing learning as part of employment – In developing a learning culture, the employees are expected to play a role in their career development. The ownership and accountability for learning is also to be on the employees. As a part of their employment, the employees are to be clear about what is expected from them towards continuous learning. The learning can be self-learning, learning on the job, or learning arranged through training and development programmes depending on the situations. The main objective is to create a clear learning strategy in the organization and to communicate the same to the employees. This helps in getting the tacit commitment of the employees for the learning process to achieve the goals of the organization.

Removing barriers in learning -The main feature in self-learning is that the learner does not tolerate any obstacle. The obstacles, if any, existing in the organization are to be removed and the working environment is to become hassle free for the employees to embrace the process of learning. The learning process is to be intuitive and the materials for learning are to be available readily and are to be easily accessible. As the learning is important, cost is not to be a hurdle in implementing a learning culture.

Building of learning culture in the organization – Management may come across many barriers particularly the reluctance of employees to change their behaviour. These barriers can be removed by developing coaches and mentors in the organization to help the employees’ development. Coaches and mentors need to be rewarded for their services. The coaches and mentors are motivated to perform the tasks when they find personalized rewards available to them for the tasks. In building of a learning culture in the organization, the work culture is important. The coaches and mentors are to be assessed about their attitudes. The learning culture cannot be built in the environment of command and control. The organization, in order to have a positive learning culture, needs to invest and provide resources for learning.

Encourage the mindset which promotes experiments – Employees are to be encouraged to experiment with new ideas and to take calculated risks. The organization is required to encourage employees to take advantage of changes taking place in the environment. In fact, employees are required to be able to foresee changes and be prepared to conquer the changes. Employees are required to be encouraged to try new things at their workplace and within the situation in which the organization is functioning. Employees who are innovative, creative, and experimental are to be motivated with rewards.

Listen to the feedback – The management is to listen to and consider the feedback from the learners about the effectiveness of the learning process practiced in the organization. It is better to have an online assessment tool and conduct surveys to find out the employees views on the learning process and build an improvement plan based on the feed-back.

Benefits of learning culture

The organization which has a good learning culture facilitates the career enhancement of the employees. The good learning culture in the organization (i) improves employees’ engagement, (ii) makes the talented employees available in the organization for filling senior positions, (iii) helps in retaining of the talented employees, (iv) helps in meeting the present and the future needs of the talent  and skills in the organization, (v) equips the employees better for the changes in the environment in which the organization is functioning, (vi) improves the performance of the employees, and (vii) increases the overall performance of the organization. The good learning culture in the organization makes the employees understand better how their work improves the performance of the organization and this in turn keeps them motivated towards their work.

There are many benefits of a cultivated learning culture in the organization. These include, but are not limited to (i) increased efficiency, productivity and profit, (ii) increased employee satisfaction and decreased turnover, (iii) an improvement in the mindset of the employees, (iv) a developed sense of ownership and accountability, (v) ease in succession/transition, (vi) a culture of knowledge inquiry and sharing, and (viii) availability of committed and result-focused employees with greater ability to deal with change.

The implementation of a learning culture in the organization results into (i) superior performance, (ii) better quality of product and services, and (iii) better customer satisfaction. 

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