How to Make Lifelong Learning Part of Your Company Culture

Learning and development have become the lifeblood of organizations, especially as digital transformation continues to evolve. Certainly, during the pandemic, companies are asking employees to learn new skills, adapt, and grow in the most efficient way possible.

Human Resources has taken charge of helping everyone navigate new systems and processes and any associated learning. Organizations that are nimbly evolving had already made L&D a top priority long before the arrival of COVID-19. For those companies, learning and development already meant more than a checklist of hard skills to pass onto new hires. Instead, learning is part of their culture. It’s in their DNA.

Q&A With Expert on Lifelong Learning
Recently, Dr. Bonnie Cheuk, the Senior Business and Digital Transformation Leader at AstraZeneca (AZ), shared her thoughts with HR Exchange Network about providing employees the means to immerse themselves and become lifelong learners. For more than 15 years, Cheuk has worked for multinational corporations in Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe.

She joined AstraZeneca as a senior director charged with helping to reimagine the drug development process with a focus on introducing knowledge and collaboration technologies. The author of “Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation” (Ark Group, 2013), Cheuk says you cannot force people to get educated or even tell them to learn something. Rather, you have to help them make learning part of their work and second nature in their habits, she adds.

Cheuk will be a featured speaker in November at an interactive session, “How to Implement Learning Agility,” during the 2021 HR Exchange Live: Corporate Learning EMEA online event. She will draw on her expertise in change management, digital transformation, and innovation. Her session will focus on understanding the five work habits required to support learning agility, assessing how to keep employees hooked on lifelong learning, and preparing the workforce for the future.

Respond to Rapid Change
Find out how Cheuk suggests leaders guide employees to take action and embrace the practice of lifelong learning:

HREN: Why lifelong learning? Why is it so important to get employees to buy into lifelong learning and really commit to it?

BC: The world is changing fast. Digital has triggered new business models, new ways to serve a customer’s needs. How can each employee respond to these changes?

Knowledge workers need to learn to be explorers and navigators. How you learn in a complex, unpredictable world is different from how you learn in a stable, certain world, which is why lifelong learning is important. It allows you to adapt, adjust, and thrive in a changing world.

HREN: How do you encourage a culture of lifelong learning in the workplace?

BC: We invite our colleagues to reimagine their definition of learning by focusing on the three Es, which are education, exposure, and experience. We focus on formal training programs, but also on connecting people with one another and learning together. Our goal is to provide them with experience, so they can apply what they learn on the job in real-time.

We define learning agility as a critical capability within AstraZeneca. The definition is made up of two parts. The first part is the ability and willingness to learn, and the second is the willingness to apply what one has recently learned in an unfamiliar context. A culture of lifelong learning is about learning in the flow of getting our work done.

Discover Learning Patterns
So, I introduced my organization to the five work habits, rather than learning habits. These are habits that you apply to conquer your day-to-day work and as you are collaborating, conversing, and working together.

These five work habits are:

• Learning and working as networks
• Self/team reflection
• Innovation and growth mindset
• Psychological safety
• Inclusive meetings and collaboration

When you apply these habits as you do your work, you naturally learn, unlearn, and reinvent yourself. We promote three AstraZeneca behaviors that lead to learning and unlearning:

• Be curious.
• Be collaborative.
• Be brave.

We run immersive workshops to invite people to practice these habits in groups. People learn together, without lecturers. We do not teach people about these work habits. We immerse them in the experience of taking on these habits, so they can apply them to their own work context and team meetings.

Ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat to change your work and life. Make these five work habits part of your day-to-day work. You will learn, unlearn, and continuously evolve. As a result, you will be able to face any unfamiliar situation and be future-ready. The best tip is to be human-centric, both to yourself and others.

Take Control of Your Learning
HREN: How is the challenge of learning/unlearning made more difficult by remote workers?

BC: There are challenges when face-to-face meetings are not possible. So, you need to pay attention to your colleague’s needs and feelings, ask deeper questions, invite people to be open about their views, and create a sense of belonging and place, even though you are not physically in the same location.

It requires all five work habits and intentionally practicing them in an online space. For example, in online meetings, pause and give time for everyone to reflect and write out their ideas on chat. Make it a ritual in the meeting to say, ‘I’d like to hear your objections.’ This is to help people feel more comfortable and so they don’t feel like they are ‘the challenger.’

Deliberate work out loud. Make unpolished thoughts or challenges visible online, so others know and can connect or collaborate with you. If people don’t know what you are thinking in a distributed world, they cannot offer advice. But one needs to take the first step to be brave, to work out loud.

HREN: What are the biggest mistakes when it comes to implementing learning agility?

BC: The biggest mistake is telling people that they need to be agile learners. You cannot train people how to learn. You need them to be self-motivated. Learning is personal. It has to start with a person’s dreams, passions, and goals for it to be meaningful to them.

Do not focus on ‘learning’ as the destination. Learning is the input to perform work, and the output of work is learning that you can apply it to the next context. Learning happens as you do your work. Can you build in rituals or processes to invite your team members to practice these five work habits as they do their job?

Focus on work and performance. Learning is a means to get work done and fulfil one’s dreams or passions. Lifelong learning has to be self-driven, self-directed. No one is going to give you all the curriculum every day of your life. You need to take control. Self-motivation is the key.


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