February 7, 2022

How to Build a Learning Culture at Your Company

Marie Krebs, People Operations Manager

People (especially millennials 👋) value development opportunities. These opportunities enable growth through personal and career development, enabling people to lead more fulfilling and productive lives within the work environment (and beyond!).

A culture which has learning and wellbeing at its core does not only allow for a fulfilling professional experience from the individual's perspective; it also positively impacts attraction, retention & engagement for the business.

Last time, we talked about how we built our learning culture at Learnerbly: why we care, which initiatives we launched, how we did it. This time, it's your turn!


Table of content with emojis, from me to you:

🌱 Ground work

🦉 Psychological safety

🤳 Influencers back up

💪 Getting started

🌎Know where you stand

👯‍♀️ Gather feedback

🔩Build and MVP

🚀 Launch

🌟 Engagement

⭕️Fail, learn, repeat

😘 Bonus

🐰 That's all, folks (aka key ideas recap)

🌱 Ground Work

Before you start to build your learning culture, you'll need to prepare an environment in which your initiatives can flourish.

🦉 Psychological safety

You need to gather feedback to understand your people's needs and make real-time adjustments on your strategy.

People will only make their voice heard if they feel safe. To foster psychological safety, it's key to keep development and performance distinct from each other even if they're ultimately part of the same spectrum (see graph below). It allows people to explore, progress and develop beyond performance-related skills at their own pace.

For example, if someone needs to build up the skill of, say, public speaking:

  • The long-term, personal take-away is a confidence and assertiveness boost. To help achieve the goal of building up confidence, many steps may help which are not directly linked to public speaking.
  • In the middle, building this skill against professional expectations will help the person progress. Getting there implies for traversal goals to be achieved: clear communications, expectations management and setting expectations in the first place.
  • The short-term, the desired outcome is to be a great workshop facilitator, and the performance-related goal is to be a great workshop facilitator in a work context.

Approaching skills-building in this order, starting with confidence and non-business-critical output will allow people to confidently approach business-critical projects with the capacity to build upwards. Some of the initiatives could be workshops with other learners during an evening class, voice exercises or role-play with a coach, giving a presentation with someone's help, even indirect confidence-inducing initiatives (stepping up in a community you're part of, for instance).

To build psychological safety within your learning culture and business, start with showing how you care. Building psychological safety is quite nuanced and could probably use an article of its own, but it's crucial to show people that they're being heard. Be deliberately inclusive, communicate new initiatives and their impact, link them back to the initial feedback people gave which triggered changes. One way to identify when people feel safe is if they feel comfortable enough to make jokes!

🤳 Influencers back up

Leaders inspire and guide people: if your leadership team makes time for their own development and encourage their team to dedicate time to theirs, chances are that development-focused behaviours will trickle down across the company effectively. By understanding the importance of a learning culture, leaders will inspire everyone to have confidence to build their own Personal Development Plan and engage with your L&D offering.

Champions and early adopters model behaviours which support and encourage everyone to take ownership of their development and propels the learning culture forward. By proactively spreading the love and taking the lead on best practice, people transform strategic initiatives into tangible impact.

Identify who your engagement champions are and empower them to embed a learning culture at all levels.

How? People who seem keen, resonate with your narrative or show appreciation over your initiatives. People who ask for updates, proactively share suggestions and ask you to go further.

And how could I help someone become a Champion if the overall engagement isn't particularly high? Think about it this way: you're the OG champion. If someone shows interest, you show double. To solidify your bond prefer face to face meetings but keep them hyper-focused with clear desired outcomes and agenda points.

Once you have an in-depth understanding of what they want and what they respond to, empower them to model behaviours which support and encourage the rest of the community. Do. Not. Drop. The. Ball. Rhythm is key to keeping up engagement.

Involving everyone will naturally drive engagement because everyone contributes to culture. It’s the same case when it involves a culture of learning. People will be open about their needs if they feel safe and heard, and by observing engaged influencers, others will gradually build the confidence to engage themselves.

Give them the space and autonomy —in short, the trust— to lead on their own initiatives too, it's a win-win!

💪 Getting started

To build and embed a learning culture you need to be a facilitator and a driving force, not a specialist (you'll progressively become one, and your strongest specialty will be —drumroll— your facilitation skills and your drive 😉)

We're sharing tips based on our experience. These steps will help you build a tailored learning culture, not a one-size-fits-all because we all sometimes wish it did but... it doesn't exist. What sticks for us might not for you: your team knows best. The job of a great development facilitator is to empower, guide & support people with the best opportunities (that's why these principles are at the forefront of everything we build at Learnerbly — starting with how we design our platform!).

Obviously 😎, allocating individual budgets is an excellent start to giving people the freedom to own their development and get what they need outside of your company. It will also free your time to focus on tailoring your internal offer. Learning cultures can benefit from tools that make L&D effortless.

Obviously 😎, Learnerbly supports its users to invest their time and budget wisely and purchases requests, working out any admin headache so that you and your people can focus on what really matters — learning and development.

🌏 Know where you stand

First, figure out what you're working with and where you're starting from. Map out the landscape of learning and development initiatives you are inheriting. It will be easier for your team to share feedback on specific material, and that will help you get a sense of what they need. You may find that a semblance of a learning culture already exists or maybe you’ll need to help one blossom from the ground up.

👯‍♀️ Gather feedback

Ask your team. Send out a survey, chat to people.

People have different mindsets and perspectives, shaped by different experiences, and they have probably tried out different L&D initiatives already! Leverage their creativity, collect their suggestions and gauge their expectations.

Ask what's worked historically, what works now? What stopped working? What causes friction, what can be improved? What are people's suggestions and thoughts? It may even be helpful to directly ask what type of learning culture they would like to see — after all they may come from a company that had one. Gather knowledge, it will be your base for the next step.

🔩 Build an MVP, it makes you da real MVP

🏀 The Minimum Viable Product is your Most Valuable Player

It will allow you to figure out what has the most impact in the least amount of time, so you can make the most important adjustments to your learning culture ASAP based on feedback round #2.

Take your map, your feedback, and play "kiss, marry or kill", the professional version: your options are "start, keep, tweak or stop". Even if you have many fantastic initiatives (check you out!) ultimately, your goal is to enable people to take ownership of their development, so an MVP will also avoid overcrowding them with information.

You can introduce new tools during your L&D launch, but we suggest that you schedule a follow-up, in-depth session later, so your people can give it their full attention and engage with the new tool straight from its own launch session. If, for example (a random one) it's the Learnerbly platform (great choice), the Learnerbly Customer Success team will come in to handle the whole launch, answer questions, and ensure early engagement and tailored content — zero worries, 💯 success. Learning culture, boom!

🤝 But getting there's all team work.

It's dangerous to go alone! Take colleagues with you and gather feedback on your journey. With the data you've collected, kick off a quick brainstorm: what could work? Give it your best guess.

At Learnerbly, we focussed on building momentum around initiatives we already had which weren't given enough TLC to stick anymore — and a new way to manage said momentum: a re-launch session, engaged champions, leadership involvement — and tying every initiative back to the impact it can have on people's development. 

Once that was solid, we expanded our offering. Check out what we have under Development & Learning now (yes we're proud of our work so far, but we keep working at it!)

🚀 Launch

Hear, hear, gather 'round! Launch in person: dedicated time creates a special space that allows people to fully focus and engage more effortlessly.

At Learnerbly, we launched in the form of a workshop because we love a good participative session where everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts. Wink wink: giving everyone space helps build trust, too. Our workshop's structure was:

  1. The facilitator gives context and presents the strategy and its desired impact: why we decided to dedicate time to this project (can you say ‘a bomb learning culture’?), how L&D benefits everyone, and most importantly the impact we're building towards.
  2. Ok, ok. We do have an unfair advantage being a deliberately developmental organisation. That means Learnerbly is one of the companies which are "organised around the simple but radical conviction that organisations will best prosper when they are more deeply aligned with people's strongest motive, which is to grow. This means going (...) fashioning an organizational culture in which support of people's development is woven into the daily fabric of working life and the company's regular operations, daily routines, and conversations. [Making it] An Everyone Culture" as defined in the eponymous book. If you want content to understand the benefits of bottom-up L&D better, you can follow us on LinkedIn or read our blog posts.
  3. Once everyone's on the same page, we asked people to:
  • Map out the initiatives we came up with and give their definition for each one
  • Suggest new initiatives or new ways to carry out initiatives
  • Share feedback on what they anticipate will work or not, ask questions

Looking back, we would probably have harnessed more momentum by giving special attention to our top 3 initiatives (an MVP, if you please) and having a follow-up session presenting more initiatives into more detail. A re-launch is a lot to chew on! Mind the pace.

🌟 Make it happen

Now that you've introduced your L&D initiatives, everyone needs to engage to keep them rolling. Learning can and should be exciting. To create a learning culture you have to be willing to get yourself and your people excited for it. Genuine excitement is contagious and an undervalued tool when it comes to continuous learning. Make sure people not only need but also want to engage with L&D, and that's the part where you need to be the most creative.

How do you build a scalable, flexible process that accounts for idiosyncrasies? It's challenging because people have different interests and motivations, as well as ways of learning.

The answer is: you don't. There's no one-size-fits-all umbrella that will save you. You need to know your colleagues; ask them what they like and don't and what they suggest through surveys, chat, a reflective workshop and more.

Like we explained in "How we built our learning culture":

Learnerbly is central to developing and creating a learning culture of our own. Our product values are to empower, guide and support. Following our own advice, we give each employee a learning budget so they can use Learnerbly like any other user to request what they need.

To cater to everyone's specific needs and learning styles, have a broad offering of L&D initiatives covering a range of modalities. As you can see under our Employee Guide's L&D offering, initiatives have varying degrees of structure, autonomy, guidance, playfulness, and even gamification.

To nurture momentum of your learning culture, build a solid communication strategy. You're the driving force, so even tailored, gamified initiatives have a chance to fall flat if you don't breathe life into them regularly!

⭕️ Fail, learn, repeat

You didn't think building a learning culture would be so simple as to follow my nonetheless excellent advice, did you? 😉

Company needs evolve fast, and so do people's needs. Your strategy needs the same qualities: adaptable, flexible, resilient. To account for that means constantly gathering feedback through chats, surveys, an annual reflective workshop and more. It means adapting and learning every time your strategy fails (and it will fail, and that's great, because you'll learn from it). It means iterating on new versions, testing them, asking people for input, measuring engagement and introducing new things on a regular basis.

Remember it's not a full-circle:
it builds upwards every time you repeat it
(it just turns out it's really difficult to draw that 😅).

😘 Bonus

Are these steps looking familiar? Here's a graph of the iteration cycle based on The Lean Startup

Krebsy's interdisciplinary must-haves:They're not just words, go out there and ask those team members to mentor you!

  • Strategise with design thinking like you're a Designer
  • Build an MVP like you're a Product Manager
  • Measure what matters like you're leading Marketing
  • Engage people like you're from Sales
  • Involve everyone in L&D like they're the People Partner

PS: If you found this article on how to build a learning culture useful, you might be interested in joining the People Community we ("the author et al") recently launched with other amazing People People People.

🐰 That's all, folks

First, this advice won't work unless your workplace culture enables the level of psychological safety required for people to be radically candid, so you can build something that truly fills their needs. Within a culture of trust, leaders inspire and guide people. That creates traction for L&D champions to get involved and gradually involve everyone, like a waterfall! 🌊 Remember, creating a learning culture takes time and concentrated effort. 

To get started, all you need is an intrapreneurial mindset, facilitation skills and commitment to becoming a driving force for your L&D initiatives. The rest will follow.

Start by mapping out what's already there to know where you stand, gather feedback to know what people think about where you stand, and build your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) based off that information for maximum impact and assessment using minimum resources.

The key aspect of an MVP is that saving on time and energy allows you to re-invest it towards real-time adjustments: agility 💯!

Launch in person, focussing on the high-level message to avoid overcrowding people's attention span. Start small and gradually work your way through your initiatives, one step at a time.

To keep engagement levels up there's no one-size-fits-all answer, only knowing your colleagues, being creative and iterating until it sticks 🥍

Which leads us to another key principle: fail, learn, repeat. Your projects need the same qualities as everyone who works with you: flexibility, adaptability, and resilience. You'll learn a great deal each time you fail, so remember to frame each failure as an opportunity to do better next time.

Finally: learn from others not only through feedback, but by full-on appropriating role-specific secret weapons.

Hopefully, these steps will support you to build a lifelong culture of learning. What would you like to learn about next? Get in touch with us to share your feedback and suggestions at hello@learnerbly.com ✌

PPS. If you want to level up your self managed learning then head over to this page - learnerbly.com/articles/heutagogy-and-self-managed-learning

Don’t forget to share this post!

Continue reading