How to create a culture of L&D in your organisation

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13 February 2020
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

How to create a culture of L&D in your organisation

‘Culture’ was the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s 2014 word of the year. They said that online searches for the term would usually peak as students go back to school, but in recent years the term has become more widespread to cover both culture in general and smaller groups. They define it as group behaviour, or the way people interact with each other. In other words, generally accepted social norms, beliefs, shared attitudes, goals and the general personality of a group of people.1

Similarly, organisational culture refers to this same concept of group behaviour, but within the microcosm of a workplace. It’s about how people work, their morale, their expectations, the pressures put upon them, and the company’s values. Within the context of L&D, it’s if and how an organisation’s employees learn and develop, if they’re engaged and if they’re supported.

Culture is made by the actions and values of the people within a group, but the group is also defined and moulded by its culture – both are true, and both occur at the same time.

Therefore, it’s the responsibility of everyone in an organisation, and at all levels, to be mindful of the culture they’re adding to and to act in a positive way. When it comes to the focus of this article – creating a genuine culture of L&D – it’s especially important that deliberate action should come from the top-down and from the bottom-up.


Why is a culture of learning important?

Workplace culture is one of the top contributors to organisational success.2 This means it’s important to get it right and make sure it aligns with what the company is about, particularly terms of business goals and values. In this case, having a culture of learning shows a commitment to your employees, their development and the overall development of the organisation.

Additionally, with over 77% of workers across the US, UK, France and Germany saying that they consider a company’s culture before applying for a job, it’s important to get culture right. In fact, over half of workers say that culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.3 But it needs to be the right culture with the right focus. 44% of UK employees say that learning new skills is their main career priority, which was higher than any other option,4 so a successful company culture would aim to meet this desire.

Workers are becoming pickier and more discerning, and they’re looking for jobs where they can learn and develop their skills. It’s therefore clear that, as well as being a positive action to help your employees discover their full potential, a genuine culture of L&D will boost morale and will help you attract and retain your top workers.


How does culture change?

The culture of a group is created by the people within it. On a national level, this is most obvious as each generation brings with it changing values and newer expectations. Within a company, this can occur faster and easier, since there are fewer people to contend with.

When someone new joins a company, they come with experiences from their previous roles, fresh ideas and their own unique personality. This can immediately change the existing dynamic to some extent, and if several people join in a short space of time, the culture in the office may quickly be unrecognisable from before. New joiners can also experience a need to conform if they’re outnumbered and the existing culture is different from what they are used to.

However, you can also take deliberate actions to change a culture. For example, if members of staff have always been quite chatty while they work but the leadership institutes a rule limiting this, the culture and feel of the organisation will change.

In order to change the culture, it’s important to start with a plan for what you want to happen. Piecemeal efforts won’t be as effective as properly developed ideas. So, spend some time working out exactly which changes you want to make – is it attitudes towards learning, creating more learning opportunities or both? Then find ways to clearly and effectively communicate this with all your employees. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to change their behaviour if they don’t know they’re supposed to.

It will also help to identify people across the organisation who have the most social influence. This may be the managers, but not always. If you want to lead change, try to get people the other employees look up to and admire to champion learning. This will create more organic change throughout your workforce.


Align it with company values and goals

L&D sits in a slightly strange position within an organisation. On one hand it’s something that should be added into an organisation’s culture, but on the other hand L&D itself can be utilised to actively change the culture.

By ensuring the organisation’s values are directly mentioned, discussed and acted upon during training, L&D is the perfect medium to educate employees about the values, goals and expected culture in the workplace. This teaches them what’s expected of them in terms of behaviour and values, as well as skills for their roles, in this case it can be the benefits and expectations of ongoing workplace learning.

However, if the culture you’re trying to create is incongruous with the stated values and goals of the organisation, this simply will not work. For example, if your company values talk about taking time to get things right, but the desired culture stresses speed and agility above all else, your employees will be confused. But if you can balance the new with the old, this can be a great way of pushing the workforce and the organisation forward together with an L&D mindset.

Furthermore, not everyone in an organisation will have the same learning requirements. When aligning your new culture and their personal development, consider what’s actually needed for their role. It only takes a couple of unnecessary training courses to make people switch off from L&D entirely. But, if each employee understands their place in the overall company structure, is aware of what’s expected from them and how they can develop in their role, they will become more engaged.


Make your learning agile

The other advantage to embedding L&D into your organisation is that you’ll be well placed to keep up with the uncertainty and increasing pace of change in modern business. Quick responses and agile learning have become absolutely essential to cope with the pace of change, and keeping your employees in a learning mindset overcomes a large part of this challenge. Technical skills have an ever-decreasing lifespan, but soft skills – such as communication and personal effectiveness training – can be skills for life. Prioritising long-lasting and easily transferable skills will help overcome the challenges of change.

In order to develop a strong learning culture, learners need to have access to the right method of delivery for the right content and at the right time. Agile learning keeps things fresh and exciting, and means the organisation and its learners never stagnate into old habits.

As positive as this is, it can be intimidating. The nice thing about old habits is you know they work, new things are inherently risky – and new things done at speed more so.

Steve Jobs once addressed this risk of failure at Apple by saying, “mistakes will be made along the way. That’s good, because at least some decisions are being made.” Trying something and getting it wrong is often better than never trying anything new at all. Not everything will be perfect the first time, but you’ll learn from the mistakes and improve the process for the next time. This also means listening honestly to feedback from your learners and acting on it.


Lead from the front

Company culture filters down from the top. If the C-suite are seen as hard working and care about their employees, the rest of the workforce will be more motivated than if the leadership are seen as lazy and unfocused. Because if the ones running the organisation don’t care, why should anyone else? So, if they are able to show their own genuine engagement and enthusiasm for learning, this will go a long way to creating a culture across the entire organisation.

83% of senior leaders in American organisations say they consistently communicate the importance of culture, but only 29% behave in a way that actually aligns with that culture.5 Employees will notice this hypocrisy, undermining all the work you’re doing to establish the new learning culture.

In your position as an L&D or HR professional, when communicating the new culture in an organisation, make sure you send the message up to the top of the company as well as down to the front-line staff. Get the most senior people championing learning and make them a visible presence in your courses and learning initiatives.


Empower workers for their own development

As well as instructions and leadership from the top of the organisation, it will be most powerful when workers and their peers champion the new learning culture among themselves. It’s therefore important to get them excited about learning and their opportunities for development.

You should make sure every worker has a hand in their own development plans. Let them discuss with their line manager about what they want to learn, which areas they want to develop and what their future plans are. Jobs are no longer simply a place to work for a company, but an opportunity for personal growth, so let them be the ones to guide their path forward.

One way to encourage this is by creating a space for employees to share ideas, articles and insights they’ve found. This might be a dedicated online portal, or simply circulating emails, but can lead to informal collaboration and pooling of ideas. Formal learning can then augment and build upon this, rather than having the uphill battle of teaching within a learning vacuum.

It’s also important to make it clear they’re allowed to spend some time on this. It’s an unfortunate truth that L&D does take time away from workers actually completing their job, and many workers are put off by this notion. In a world where four-fifths of UK organisations have observed a culture of presenteeism (not wanting to miss a day of work, even though they’re ill) and two-thirds observed leaveism (working outside their expected hours),6 it’s clear that workers are worried about their workloads and the amount of time they need to spend in the office. Make sure they’re encouraged to spend a reasonable amount of time working on their development, as well as working on their assigned tasks.


Put it all together

As workplace culture and opportunities for personal development become more important to employees, it’s crucial that organisations take proactive steps to keep up with this demand. By understanding how culture is made and affected, you can start changing the way your workforce views L&D.

Ensure their learning opportunities complement the values of the organisation, and their individual roles, and give them time and space to learn individually and collaboratively. Most importantly, you need leaders to champion learning, while you communicate to all staff that they’re allowed and encouraged to take ownership of their own development.

To see how we can help you to create a better learning environment, take a look at our range of learning solutions.


1 Merriam Webster (2019) World of the year: Culture

2 Deloitte (2016) Global human capital trends 2016

3 Glassdoor (2019) Mission & culture survey 2019

4 CV-Library (2019) Revealed: employee's top career priorities in the next 12 months

5 Gartner (2018) Lead culture change

6 CIPD (2019) Health and wellbeing at work