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Changing Learning Cultures: A How-to Guide [PART 1]

A step-by-step guide for success

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I’ve worked in technology for nearly a decade, and most of that time has been spent in the world of learning and development. Be that on vendor side developing and implementing LMSs, or indeed working client side and creating strategies which work, I’ve seen and done a lot in that time. But one of the key things I’ve seen time and time again is the challenge in changing learning cultures.

Changing cultures is for long term gains, not short-sighted, temporary wins. By working with loads of different businesses I have been able to cultivate a clear vision of what it takes to truly change a working culture. Here I will share what I have learned and indeed, how you can develop really strong working cultures.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and you have to be really committed and ready to make it work. Some of this will require us to change our thinking, learn new skills and approach how we work differently. But that’s not a bad thing, right?

Do you really want to change?

The very first question you need to ask yourself is, do you really want to change? And I mean really, really change?

I’ve worked with a lot of businesses over the years; some are heavily invested in evolving and some just aren’t quite there yet (which is ok, by the way). These changes will likely rely on you changing the way you work with the business and relinquishing control.

This isn’t just happening in learning, it’s across the board with things like flexible hours, unlimited holiday, agile projects, remote working etc. They each require organisations to trust and let go.

Are you truly ready to do that? If you are, here’s some advice that could help you.

What do you and your business want?

I thought I’d start with looking at some of the common challenges businesses face today, as there are typically some commonalities across the board including:

  • Digital transformation
  • Employee engagement
  • Agile working
  • Developing leaders
  • Equality and Diversity
  • Transparency & improved communication

I’m sure you’ll recognise at least one of these, if not all of them, and you’re not alone. According to IDG’s 2018 Digital Business Survey, more and more organisations are evolving into a digital business model to improve customer experience and employee engagement. But their biggest struggle? Culture management.

What’s common between each of these challenges is that they will all involve some element of cultural change, whether it be creating a more inclusive environment, convincing employees to change their ways of working or adoption of new technologies.

Compliance alone cannot change cultures

Cultural change (and its challenges) is not a new thing, but it’s only something I experienced personally fairly recently. I started my career implementing LMSs and as a result, the concept of culture was not something I ever really came across. Why?

Because I was implementing platforms designed to track and manage compliance training. People had to do it; meaning there was never any persuasion or convincing L&D had to do. It was only when I started working with LXPs and tried to implement one in my own organisation, that I realised: “Oh my, this isn’t just about the technology at all. This is a whole new way of doing things and is essentially changing a culture!”

What does changing cultures look like?

In my time in this industry, here are some of the common concepts and strategies I have seen many L&D departments try to improve on, evolve to or instigate in their business:

  • Point of need learning
  • Transparent environment
  • Self-directed learning
  • Equal access to resources
  • Opportunities for coaching
  • Increased and improved access to content
  • A wider variety of learning content

Some of these concepts are quite new, many of which will require a notable shift in skills and attitude from both L&D teams and employees.

So, what do we do? How do we take a learning culture from a place where learning is something that’s ‘done’, something obligatory, solely done when we’re specifically asked or have a particular requirement, to an environment where it’s continuous, at the point of need and therefore so much part of the every day that it’s not even identified as learning?

We bring in some shiny new tech…

…and hope that will do the job for us. But just implementing tech doesn’t do much to change existing mindsets, establish new ways of working and encourage employees to drive their own development.

Here’s a common scenario I’ve seen many times: “I want my employees to take more responsibility for their learning, so I’m going to give them access to an online catalogue of books, videos and PDFs.” That’s a really great idea, but how do you know people will use it? ‘If you build it, they will come’ doesn’t really apply in this context.

Ironically, in a world where technology i s advancing faster than ever, tech can still only take us so far. The success of a lot of workplace technology is still dependent on the humans using it and let’s face it, people are still at times; scared, stubborn, apathetic, lazy or more charitably, just busy. Technology is definitely a part of it, but what else can we do to change a learning culture?

1. Reposition learning

First things first: we need to change our perception of learning. Let’s explore some examples of things that might occur in the workplace and ask the question, are these learning?

  • “I receive an email telling me my company just won a massive new account”
  • “My colleague shows me how to submit my expenses”
  • “I explain something to a client and they really do not understand it”
  • “My CEO records a little update to tell us what’s been going on in the business this week”

This conversation has been going on a while, but I think it’s still a valid discussion. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to tell you the answer and that is Yes! Yes they’re all learning! Every time I am exposed to new information, I am learning! And these days. we’re exposed to much more information than ever before. It’s literally everywhere! That said, part of the problem we cause for ourselves is segmenting learning off as a thing that is done, over there and not something that is accepted as a part of the everyday.

To allow us to begin to change this, we need to look at how L&D, but also learning in general, is perceived in our business.

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos

What’s your L&D brand?

When working with clients on our LXP rollouts, the first thing we look at with them is ‘What’s your L&D brand’. Being aware of how you are perceived is highly valuable when embarking on, well, anything, but in particular large scale change management. What are people saying about L&D and training when you’re not in the room? What is your brand?

We recently conducted some research that found that 41% of employees commit no time to learning every day. This is a huge percentage which I personally think may be correlated with the brand attached to learning. In reality, this can’t be possible, people learn all the time, everyday, but they just don’t perceive it as learning. We need to change their perceptions.

To demonstrate this point a bit further, here are some things I have learnt in the past week alone:

  • Amaretto is made from apricot kernels (learnt from a good old fashioned cookbook)
  • Sugar soap is amazing for cleaning kitchens (couldn’t be bothered to get kitchen cleaner)
  • How to whitewash and distress a wooden chair (YouTube, super into DIY atm)
  • Ctrl + Enter will add a line break in a Word doc (our CTO Mark taught me this)
  • If I put a cup of tea in reach of my dog, he will drink it (let’s put this down to experience)

This could be anything; I learnt to tie my shoes by watching my big brother for example, or in the workplace you might pick up on a good way to start meetings from watching a colleague. These are all things that someone wouldn’t necessarily consider to be learning, because they weren’t in a classroom or logged into their LMS at the time. But it’s STILL learning.

Join me next time where I’ll continue with this step-by-step guide and actionable insights on how to start changing your learning culture. They’re worth the wait, I promise!

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