In chilly economic climes, it’s more important than ever, according to the experts, to embed a learning culture in an organisation. But how can this be done?
Achieving an embedded learning culture is one of the main themes at this year’s World of Learning Conference, which takes place at the NEC in Birmingham on 19 and 20 November.
And that has never been more important, according to Nick Brooker, managing director of Wentworth Training & Research. He claims the current economic climate means that where a learning culture is closely linked to performance, it can be crucial for any company’s survival.
Alison Church, senior conference and marketing manager at Venture Marketing Group, organiser of the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition, agrees.
“In the view of many leading HR and development experts, ensuring there is an embedded culture for learning within your organisation, fully and openly supported by all management from the top down, is one of the elements of HR management that has the greatest influence on the success of an organisation.”
According to Brooker, companies that do not have an embedded culture of learning tend to lapse into an annual appraisal routine, which means they can become inflexible and “unadaptive”. And, rather than thinking laterally, they often lose focus on what they’re trying to achieve. He claims that companies with integral learning structures are more focused on the key things that matter in business – and on achieving them through highly competent and effective people.
But while it’s easy to pay lip service to the embedded learning concept, achieving the reality can be far more difficult.
Church says: “What it takes to accomplish a culture change can never be underestimated, and buy-in at all levels is absolutely imperative. There is a strong business case for creating a learning culture, but it needs to be part of a long-term strategy to which the organisation is completely committed. The key is to gain support from management throughout the organisation by highlighting how it will benefit their own department, as well as the company as a whole.”
Chris Goodwin, managing director of the Results Driven Group, also says that employees without the skillsets needed in the current climate will suffer – with reduced market share, low staff morale, poor succession planning strategies and possible redundancies. He adds that businesses that embed a learning culture at all levels and continue to invest in it achieve the opposite – enjoying an increased market share, good business growth and a well-motivated workforce.
Creating a thirst for learning within your organisation should be a key consideration for learning and development (L&D) and training departments, says Cathie Wright, HR business partner at the Volkswagen (VW) Group, who will be presenting this topic at the forthcoming conference.
She says up until two years ago, learning and development was very much seen as an individual’s responsibility at VW, with a small centre available for learning and career progression and development advice. However, these days, she says the L&D-driven embedded learning culture means that the focus is on the business’s priorities and supporting people in their quest to achieve these goals.
Wright says VW’s L&D now conducts regular opinion surveys, something that has resulted in a rejection of e-learning methods as people were more interested in face-to-face driven interventions.
“People need to see the development offering as an opportunity to learn skills – but not just for the position they’re in,” Wright continues. “In the main, the people that work for Volkswagen are very ambitious and we’ve had to make sure the L&D department supports that personality.”
Performance reviews, talent management and development plans will form a key part of any L&D embedded learning strategy, according to Goodwin.
“They are critical,” he insists. “As they are all integral to an embedded learning culture and will aid a solid growth strategy for any business as long as it is underpinned by a well thought-through and planned succession strategy. The thing that underpins all of this is an effective motivation strategy that will ensure the right people will stay in and are attracted to the business at the correct time to ensure continued growth, and the maintenance of the corporate edge of being able to change before the market becomes aware of the need.”
Wright reveals that rather than just being discussed at board and management level, talent management is now a key part of the L&D department’s remit.
“We’ve put more science behind the process, and now use 360-degree feedback and stakeholder interviews to identify high-potential people,” she explains.
Brooker also believes coaching and mentoring, combined with encouragement, support and frequent constructive feedback, is a big part of the process. “In my experience, organisations that adhere to the Investors in People standard tend to have an extremely well-embedded learning and development culture – as long as they keep it fresh and aligned with the business.”
Case study: GHL Insurance Services
GHL Insurance Services (GHL) wanted to embed a performance management culture, arriving at a position where employees weren’t just rated by effort, but also efficiency and productivity.
Wentworth Training & Development was brought in to devise and run a company-wide initiative for all 190 GHL employees. Wentworth adopted a multi-level and bespoke approach – a one-day strategy planning workshop for the senior management team a one-day intervention for experienced middle managers, which looked at what the company was going to do to improve performance a two-day workshop for junior managers focusing on developing performance management skills and finally, half-day staff workshops, which looked at newly established values of the business – and how they linked to performance and performance improvement.
Role play and forum theatre techniques were used as part of the middle manager, junior manager and staff workshops. This enabled people to understand the change in the rating system and buy into that change, says Wentworth’s managing director, adding that the role of senior managers was also critical, as they needed to direct the process and reinforce behaviours through developing their own style and approach.
Susan McGuire, general manager of HR at GHL, says: “This company-wide training programme has not only illustrated that everyone’s performance is important to the business but it has got everyone involved in implementing our core values and building our performance-enhancing culture.”