Reinforcing a “learning culture” in today’s fast-paced working environment is critical to drive better problem-solving, stronger engagement, and a greater sense of belonging, an L&D specialist says.
Though learning and development has “always been important”, many employers haven’t paid it much attention until now, says Tracey Ezard.
“The pandemic’s given us a great lived experience of having to learn on the spot, having to learn in the moment,” she tells HR Daily.
“Now, we know the world is not slowing down anytime soon. So, our ability to be learners, and our ability to be learners together creates cultures of innovation, change, transformation, and cultures where we’re willing to prick and prod at the status quo, rather than saying, ‘this is the way we do it, this is the way we’ve always done it’.”
When those cultures are built effectively, employees feel they have a voice, therefore boosting morale and increasing their sense of value and belonging, says Ezard.
“We see people contributing more, and so, often we see that people are stepping more into promotions, putting their hands up for taking initiative and moving into leadership, because it is now an environment where they’re thriving, not that they’re just surviving.”
She also says organisations with a learning culture are far more responsive to their clients’ needs, because employees become better problem-solvers and are more innovative.
But in a world of work that is now constantly changing and adapting to new contexts, Ezard warns that operating without a learning culture can damage an organisation’s morale.
“[It’s about] being really mindful about, ‘what’s the environment we’re creating with each other?’ I often will say to people, if emotions are contagious – [and] emotions are contagious, we know that – what ‘infection’ do we spread to other people?
“What do I bring to the table, and how do I spread an environment where people are compelled to come and work with me, not repelled?”
Three pillars of a learning culture
A collective growth mindset, compelling environment, and authentic dialogue form the three “pillars” of a successful learning culture, says Ezard.
She calls it “the mind, the moment, and the mouth”.
“When they all come together in just a beautiful melting pot – I call it the ‘master stock’ of an organisation or a team – it’s a great combination of hot, sweet, salty, sour. It allows us to have really good, rich debate, rich conversations.
“When we get all three pillars really working together, we create environments of really strong psychological safety to be able to take risks and push the status quo and explore with each other where we could do things differently.”
Ezard says a collective growth mindset refers to the approach employees and leaders alike have when it comes to working and learning together.
Similarly, she says when an organisation has a compelling environment, it will make a collective mindset “even better”.
“People are warm and open to influence, they listen deeply to each other, we have meetings that are purposeful, and the conversation is curious and open and discussing possibilities, rather than all the things that are stopping us.”
And authentic dialogue ensures teams are talking about “the right stuff” as they learn, says Ezard.
“Quite often, what we do when we get together in meetings or we get together to collaborate with each other is we don’t actually hit the mark of talking about the right things.
“[We’re] talking about the clients, talking about whose needs are we trying to meet here, talking about the things that are working, the things that aren’t working, and so a lot of the time, the thing that falls down in organisations is a lack of quality conversation.”
Leaders need to use HR’s “lens”
Ezard says Human Resources professionals are critical to building a learning culture, because they need to show leaders how to use a “lens of coaching, curiosity, and bringing out the best” in people.
She says that in many of her past leadership programs, leaders didn’t have the “learning intelligence” necessary to become a “lead learner” and build a learning culture.
“Being a lead learner has got a set of skills in itself to be able to build those three pillars,” Ezards explains.
“That’s what HR is all about. I think HR professionals can often give really strong guidance to leaders to help them create a learning culture.
“There are a lot of skills that need to be built in a leader to be able to do this work, and it’s… really important, I think, that we build this into the suite of offerings that we give to people, to build their leadership capacity, to become a ‘lead learner’.”