Creating A Learning Culture: Can Workforces Be Taught To Learn?


January 19, 2017

Uncertainty, ambiguity and change in today’s global business climate requires exploration, invention, experimentation and adaptation—all of which require learning.

So writes Edward Hess in his book, 2014’s Learn or Die. But, he adds, “Organizations cannot learn unless the individuals within them learn.

He’s right. When it comes to your organization thriving, sinking or merely floating, a workforce that learns could ultimately be THE deciding factor. So, how can an organization motivate its workforce to learn? 

Your enterprise-wide learners could be divided into two camps: 1.) those who want to learn but have lost their motivation and 2.) those who simply aren’t motivated—ever.

Motivating Those Who Want to Learn

Even natural learners must be supported. If they find they are not learning within your organization, they’ll simply learn to support other interests and ambitions in life—which could eventually include a new employer.

To keep these learners motivated, the challenges and goals must be made clear.  The impact their learning has on their teams, the organization, and their own professional development must be known. Continue to challenge them. Continue to reward them. Surround them with other motivated learners. Give them access to the best tools and technology. Listen to their ideas. For it’s not about motivating an already motivated learner. It’s giving them reason to continue learning for you.

Motivating Those Who Don’t Want to Learn

Every organization has people who do well doing what they do, but they don’t much effort into learning. For so many years they’ve been able to rely on core knowledge, instinct, and a certain set of skills. Why work harder than you have to?

Often, motivating this camp means showing them how learning to benefit the organization will benefit their own careers. But, a true learning culture will also show this set of workers that their value isn’t necessarily tied to their smarts as much as their ability to get smarter. Just as a competitor will inevitably rise up out of nowhere based on the strength of its ability to learn and adapt, so will new talent.  If they don’t learn, eventually they don’t stay.

Which brings me to talent acquisition.

Here’s something I have learned: People who like to learn already know quite a bit. That’s because they’re lifetime learners. Regardless of the environment, task, or challenge, they will absorb as much as they can.

These people are easy to identity. Simply find out what they already know. Someone whose extracurricular activities include guitar, surfing and ice sculpting had to put time into learning those skills. The more you talk to a job candidate about their life, the more you pick up on how strong their desire is to learn.

And the more you populate your workforce with such lifetime learners, the more your organization will learn, and the smarter your organization will be.

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