When you’re running a business, it’s very easy to become absorbed in quantitative metrics as a key indicator of success. When it comes to developing a culture that will encourage employees to be open and learn, though, the typical measurement indicators are of little use. That’s part of the reason why so many executives have problems changing course and working towards building a learning culture within their organizations. Despite the challenges involved though, instilling a deeply-rooted learning culture throughout an organization should be seen by executives as not only a positive development but also a mission-critical one.
The major issue that seems to stand in the way for many executives is an ingrained feeling that a rigid, top-down hierarchy is the right way to structure a business and that it leaves little room for positive, two-way communication channels. To create a learning culture, however, often requires executive leaders to leave their comfort zones and alter the way that they relate to those beneath them in the business hierarchy. Taking that kind of risk and sticking with it is the only way to change the way the individuals involved relate to one another, and to instil both a lasting desire for knowledge and a willingness to admit deficiencies. For executives trying to create such a change, here are the four most important things to do.
Although the saying may seem trite, the first rule for executives trying to create a learning culture is to embody the change that they wish to see in others. That means that it is crucial to devote a significant portion of their time to learning, as well. Learning new skills and trying out new ideas, and then sharing them with the rest of the team sends a powerful signal throughout the organization that not only is innovation acceptable, but that it’s expected, even at the highest levels of the organization. Doing so will help unleash creativity and a desire for learning up and down the employment ladder.
One of the biggest impediments to the creation of a learning culture is dishonesty. In many workplaces, admitting that you don’t know how to do something is something akin to failure, and is avoided at all costs. Of course, that’s the very antithesis of a learning culture, and it must be stopped at all costs. That’s exactly what the leadership team at this DUI defense attorney Springfield office did to foster a learning culture. Starting at the top, they instituted a policy of radical honesty among the staff, which is now evident in the work they produce. It’s a pull-no-punches approach that encourages personal growth and a willingness to admit when help is needed.
It’s a commonly reinforced dogma around the world that curiosity isn’t something that should be encouraged. That exact sentiment is embodied in the phrase “curiosity killed the cat”. It has deep-rooted origins, too. Similar ideas are found as far back as the year 397 when Saint Augustine wrote that “He (God) fashioned hell for the inquisitive”. Despite the implied risk of courting eternal damnation though, curiosity should be encouraged and rewarded throughout an organization. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Research has indicated that curiosity chemically prepares the human brain to learn, so it’s a critical underpinning of any successful learning culture.
The most difficult part of effecting any lasting cultural change is accepting that it will take a considerable amount of time and effort, and that failure is always possible. The fact is, it isn’t always easy for a single individual to change, so it’s unrealistic to expect that entire groups of individuals can be reliably expected to. In reality, studies show that lasting change could take repeated efforts and stretch into periods of 5 years or more. Unfortunately, many high-level executives, particularly CEOs, don’t last that long, short-circuiting efforts to create the desired learning culture. The good news is that suffering multiple failures along the way is another opportunity to learn, and if an organization can embrace that process, there’s no reason to fear failure to begin with.
The one thing that all of these steps on the path to a learning culture have in common is that they run counter to what most believe to be good business instincts. After all, failure is frightening, admitting weakness is difficult, and embracing learning takes a dedication that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. That, of course, is why establishing a learning culture where none exists is so challenging – but it’s well worth the risk. A well-established learning culture will not only help to improve key performance indicators like productivity and overall output but will also increase employee engagement and retention as well. While the journey to a learning culture may not be smooth or easy, the destination is one that holds the promise of unleashed business success – and isn’t that the goal of every good executive?
To read more on topics like this, check out the Leadership category.