Elements of a Learning Organization
Organizations of all types and sizes should be interested in creating an engaging environment for their employees so as to be able to deliver better business results.
The goal of a learning organization is to create alignment between many different areas of an organization in regards to learning. This ensures that the organization addresses the learning needs of employees and can achieve business objectives by building knowledge, transferring knowledge and applying knowledge throughout the organization.
Learning is a broad concept. It’s not just about attending workshops or doing e-learning, rather it includes lots of informal learning as well, such as coaching and mentoring. It can involve cross-functional projects, which are often seen as great learning opportunities for high performing employees, as well as higher education courses and international assignments, if available.
Fundamentally, a learning organization has a commitment to career development. When an organization builds a strong learning culture, it is building one that provides employees with opportunities to build knowledge, skills and competencies that will lead to career development and growth.
Benefits of Creating a Learning Organization
There are a number of benefits to creating a learning organization including:
- Increased employee engagement
- Reduced turnover
- Transferring tacit knowledge
- Strengthening the external organizational brand
- Creating a competitive advantage
- Increasing the pace of organizational change
- Increasing innovation
- Improving customer service
When a learning culture is cultivated and supported by senior leaders, it gives employees the ability to transfer knowledge more quickly, be guided by internal experts and build deeper expertise which helps solve business problems more creatively. Employees who have access to a variety of learning become more agile. This means that they have more tools in their toolbox in order to solve operational challenges. ,
Challenges in Creating a Learning Culture
There are a number of challenges to creating a learning culture. One of the biggest ones is gaining a commitment from senior management. This is not always because senior leaders don’t understand the value of a learning culture, but it’s often because they have competing priorities and they are not able to dedicate the time needed to invest in learning. Communicating how a learning culture is linked to business success is one of the ways that this obstacle can be overcome. Senior leaders must believe that building a learning culture is important so that they will display behaviours that encourage on-going learning and development.
A link between learning and organizational goals is very important for employee as well. When employees understand that their learning is directly tied to their future in the organization, potential career opportunities and the success of the organization overall, they are more likely to support efforts to create a learning environment and embrace a learning mindset.
Another challenge to overcome is a limited investment in learning activities. Many organizations spend money on learning in the short-term, but pull the plug on spending during challenging economic times, or they don’t maintain their investment long-term for other business reasons. In order for a learning culture to take hold, consistent, long-term investment is needed.
Employees should also be provided with opportunities to use their newly acquired skills on the job. If they are not provided with opportunities to grow in the organization by using the knowledge that they have recently acquired, they will not be engaged in the organization and may look elsewhere for opportunities to grow professionally. Support by managers for ‘on the job’ learning transfer is a key to creating a learning organization that both benefits employees and helps achieve business goals.
Motivating employees to take ownership of their learning can be another challenge. Sometimes employees are resistant to change or to learning new skills. This may happen more frequently with more experienced employees, but it can apply to employees of all experience levels and to members of all generational cohorts. A learning organization is not just about pushing learning from the human resource team or from senior leaders downwards through the organization. There needs to be a bottom-up requests as well. This allows an organization to find out what employees are interested in learning and what their gaps are so they can create opportunities for employees to learn the skills they need to be successful.