How to Identify a Culture of Learning

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You're ready for the next challenge in your career, but do you work for a company that can help you meet those challenges? It is if the organization has committed itself to a culture of learning — a culture that encourages employees to develop and share knowledge and competencies.

You want an employer that allows you to take part in continual learning and to incorporate those lessons into its business systems and practices. The question is, how do you know if you're working for such a company?

Why a culture of learning is important

A culture of learning has become vital to the success of any business today.

Several studies show that companies that make continuous learning a core component of their culture are able to adapt faster to changing environments and be more competitive over a longer period of time. These companies are constantly updating existing products and developing new products to meet market needs and demands. All this requires employees with quick thinking, creativity, and adaptability skills who can adjust to ever-changing demands on the fly.

Next, a culture of learning fosters innovation and drives business expansion. Employees who are on the front lines and eager to learn and listen are more likely to discover key insights from customer interactions, leading to new services, practices and products. On the contrary, those companies that don't foster a culture of learning and listen to their employees' collective wisdom end up being the Betamax distributors watching VHS players fly off the shelves.

Finally, companies that embrace a culture of learning allow employees to grow in their positions rather than stagnate and become less productive, or grow bored and look for new opportunities. A culture of learning encourages employee retention — especially a company's best and brightest workers, whose talent is a key component to a successful business.

How to identify a culture of learning

So, how do you know is your organization has a culture of learning? Here are a few signs to look for:

Buy in from top executives

A company's leaders must set the example and model learning behaviors. Just being smart isn't enough for them — they, and thus their employees, must be critical thinkers, motivated learners and effective collaborators.

Self-starters are valued

This means the company actively seeks workers who'll fit a culture of learning in the hiring process. Managers look for candidates who are willing to figure things out on their own and get things done without a lot of hand-holding, then share what they learned with co-workers so the entire company benefits from that experience.

How and why take precedence

Yes, companies have established practices for getting the job done, but in businesses committed to a culture of learning, if an employee finds a better way to build the mousetrap and can show why it's better, the business celebrates the innovation rather than discouraging it for “the way things are always done.”

Risk-taking is encouraged

If that same employee tries building the better mousetrap but fails in their effort, leaders should appreciate the effort and encourage them to try again.

Learning is incentivized

Companies with a culture of learning reward employees who are risk-takers, as well as those who seek learning opportunities that they then share with their co-workers. They build these incentives into performance reviews, placing as much emphasis on learning as on accomplishments. 

These tips should help you determine for yourself whether your company is one that embraces a culture of learning. If it doesn't, perhaps you should talk with your manager about why it's important for your company to create a culture of learning.

Explain that in order to stay competitive in today's market and attract the best employees, a culture of learning is vital to its success. If that doesn't work? Then perhaps it's time to take your talents somewhere else.

About the Author

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Rene Ferran has spent more than 25 years providing quality content to a variety of online and print publications. He spent 15 years as the lead high school sportswriter for the Tri-City Herald, where he honed his deadline writing skills and ability to quickly assess situations to produce clear, concise and compelling copy.

When he's not slumped over a keyboard, you can probably find him officiating a youth sports event or spending time with his wife and two teenage children.

Business LeadershipRene Ferran