Aligning Company Values to a Culture of Learning

Learning and development, like every other part of the business, works best when it adheres to the core values of the organization as a whole. Creating a culture of learning is a common phrase to hear in the L&D community, but if the learning doesn’t fit the culture of the organization, the desired result won’t likely be achieved.

But the organizational culture has to therefore be one that inspires learning. The strength of that culture has a big impact on recruitment and retention efforts. A well-developed learning culture can propel the companies culture and make a big impact on the business, particularly now, when upskilling, career mapping and retraining the current workforce is top of mind in keeping firms agile.

Learning is a powerful asset in the organization’s arsenal for attracting key talent and improving the employee experience. Growth and educational opportunities are often what companies use to differentiate themselves from the pack to job seekers. It may come as no shock then that the companies attracting top talent have made learning an integral part of their culture and talent management process.

Learning and talent management expert Josh Bersin’s research suggests that companies which make learning central to their culture and engage with employees’ willingness to learn new things are 30% more likely to be a leader in their space. He notes:

“Culture is hard, not soft. It is not a “touchy feely” thing – but rather an important set of behaviors and processes which impact your organization’s success. What do your leaders do when something fails, for example? How do they treat the people who deliver bad news? How well are decisions delegated to owners of a problem? These are critical questions which deal with culture – and their answers often mean success or failure for many business initiatives.”

Agility, talent management, professional development and learning curves are all terms you’ll see when researching a learning culture. But before you can focus on developing the nuts and bolts of a learning and development approach, it’s important that the organization works to adopt the characteristics of a culture that puts learning at the center of its philosophy.

Here are some of the characteristics of companies whose culture has successfully instilled a culture of learning in its people.

Embracing Evolution of the Business
Have you ever heard of an employer speak of “the (insert company) way.” That’s a nice idea and will no doubt have hallmark characteristics that have driven success to this point, thus the adoption of “the way.” But it’s easy to get stuck in that way of thinking and maintaining status quos because at one point or another, it worked. Change in any industry, however, can happen quickly or is constant even, and how well the organization reacts depends on how prepared it is to embrace evolution.

To instill this characteristic, organizations should look to reward those who commit to continuous learning. By nature, learning is a long play, its purposes aren’t focused on efficiency or short term results necessarily, but longevity of both employees and the business. In order for people, from mid-level managers to entry level employees, to see the benefit of constant learning, it’s first important to develop a broader understanding of the difference between behaviors and skills throughout the organization.

Skills may feel like a hard currency in the job market or around the workplace, but in truth they are learned and then used like power tools. And just like power tools, skills age and need updating to remain effective.

Behaviors are a bit more fluid and can determine the type of skills we acquire and how we use them. Behaviors are the driver of learning. While skills may motivate someone to watch a video or even take a course, it’s the learning behaviors they embrace that will drive whether or not they build upon those skills and begin to carve out a future for themselves that sees them constantly developing new skills.

HR and L&D leaders then, should be focused more on the possibilities that are created when learning behaviors become a part of the institution more than skill development.

The Collaborative Spirit
Part of making learning effective is making content people desire widely available. But it’s also increasing their access to effective teachers. Here collaboration is key. Employees can assist each other in their development and drive a culture of learning if the organization works toward decentralization of learning content out of traditional learning management systems and instead places it into a more distributed content network, where employees not only have access to the content, but the ability to collaborate with one another around it for the purposes of peer learning.


Learning is not always a formal process, but in the workplace, placing formal structures around peer learning will fuel to the spirit of collaboration the organization as a whole is looking for.

Motivation for learning should be about knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) rather than meeting a satisfactory score around a key performance indicator or checking a compliance box. By formalizing peer learning, the organization is more able to develop people with the KSAs to tackle any challenge.


Communication through feedback is a key component of driving learning behavior. Feedback for the L&D team can validate or challenge their analysis of what’s working and lend additional context to the employee learning experience. For employees, leaders can help them identify their strengths and as well as areas they need to focus on for development, but also unearth new paths forward that could drive their approach to learning.

The value of negative feedback is something worth highlighting. People generally don’t know what they don’t know, as the saying goes, and will need help identifying knowledge gaps from time to time. But how it’s delivered and understanding how to inspire open minds is important.

“Traditionally, performance management approaches are really contaminated with practices that are counterproductive for engagement, productivity and retention,” Sahra Kaboli-Nejad, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp said in a recent webinar as part of our HR Tech North America Digital Summit. “These really overemphasize measurement instead of development and that is demotivating. People feel like they have to look back and defend their behavior, whereas constructive feedback is future oriented and redirects the person’s behavior.”

Creating a space for feedback to thrive is done through broader organizational culture and through encouraging management to engage employees regularly. It takes a multichannel approach that shows the organization’s commitment to facilitating learning and ensure that employees are being engaged in a way that inspires honest feedback.

In the end, learning and the type of culture that enhances business performance and inspires retention go and in hand. One does not exist without the other and neither can truly be effective without the other. HR leaders focused on developing a culture of learning around their L&D programs should first examine whether the company culture has the characteristics to facilitate it.

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