Learning Culture Shapes Culture

Part one of a three-part series on effective learning and enablement.

Too often learning and development are talked about in generalizations that don't improve the content or the experience for the learner.

Feedback about what kind of learning content is desired and effective includes words like, engaging, relevant, and story-like.

What learners are hinting at is the need for a positive experience that is relevant to the business. But without defining what engaging, relevant, and story-like (or any other learning adjective) means for them, learning creators will spin their wheels trying to deliver on the request.

Before focusing on learning experience, organizations need to establish a learning culture.

Learning culture is critical to the effectiveness of any learning investment. Even if a training is highly engaging, if there aren't cultural norms within an organization that value and support the learning, it nullifies the effectiveness of training.

This is especially true for ecosystem learning, where an organization is being asked to merge the understanding of their products with the value of other companies. This is an extra lift, as it is an entirely new way of thinking.

Learning culture defines how learning aligns with a business's vision and values, and shapes the norms and behaviors associated with learning.

If a business does not have a palpable healthy learning culture, people will allow past learning experiences to dominate what learning means to them in their current work-place.

Humans are brilliant at learning what they need to know to effectively achieve their stated goals. They will learn work arounds to unnecessary and complicated systems. They will learn how to manage and engage vital relationships. They will learn whatever it takes to reduce friction. In so many cases, this is minimum viable compliance around formal learning.

Think about the last time somebody asked you to complete a training or enablement activity. I'll go first. A leader I don’t typically interact with sent some statistic about how many people achieved some badge, and how many were supposed to achieve it.  I was now expected to achieve said badge in the learning system I don’t interact with unless directed to do so. So I hopped in, clicked on the least number of drop downs I could to get the system to give me the badge, and left.

I learned nothing.

But I sure was compliant!

Does this sound or feel familiar? If you don’t have a healthy learning culture, it probably does.

What’s the disconnect here? Of all the people, you would think that a self-proclaimed 'life long learner' would revel at the opportunity to do a bit of extra learning.

The problem is that the learning culture in organization had defined learning as compliance.

Nearly all of my formal learning was required of me so that leaders could check me off of a list. I was not encouraged to grow. I was not encouraged to introduce friction by trying new things. I was not encouraged to experiment. I was not encouraged to reflect or analyze.

This culture is set from the highest levels of an organization.

If learning, growth, and experimentation are not measurable goals as defined by organizational leadership, nearly all enablement efforts will be, at best, only utilized by a few, and at worst a complete waste of time.

Because we are just at the beginning of a new way of doing business that is centered around ecosystems, it will be imperative that the Ecosystem Chief have learning as a definable metric. Setting this as the standard will help next generation sales organizations to think differently as a matter of culture.

Next week we’ll dive into some of the practical measures an Ecosystem Chief can take to achieve a healthy learning culture in their organization.

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