Overcoming Obstacles to Creating a Culture of Learning

“[A culture of learning results in] a compelling vision of an organization made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. These people could help their firms cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically. Such learning organizations would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could.”
—David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, Francesca Gino (HBR) paraphrasing Peter M. Senge’s words from The Fifth Discipline

obstacles2Every organization needs to develop its own, unique culture of learning in order to best meet its business goals and address employee needs in order to survive in today’s competitive business landscape. However, the reality is that there are often tangible organizational obstacles to establishing a culture of learning.

What are those obstacles? And how might we go about smashing obstacles and rebuilding a constructive organizational culture? Below are four common obstacles to creating an organizational culture of learning.

Unclear Goals

An absence of clear and specific organizational goals and how organizational learning can enable those goals can be a barrier to fostering an organizational culture of learning.

All learning programs must be closely tied to business goals, or they are not worth implementing. A strong statement, but logical nevertheless. And leadership messaging and behaviors must reinforce and recognize those who positively contribute toward building a culture of learning. Clarify and communicate strategic messaging (mission, vision, values) and articulate how learning is intertwined in these entities. Then the culture provides value to the organization and its constituents.

Lack of Incentive to Change

All of us have fallen victim to relying on what’s worked in the past at one time or another. However, especially with organizational learning, the entire point is to learn from and correct past errors and/or to anticipate the required changes. Learning is, by nature, forward-thinking and change-oriented.

Often, an unwillingness to change the status quo is rooted in a lack of understanding of the relationship between making that change and achieving desired results. Find ways to provide incentives to individuals or teams to participate in organizational learning activities. Tie learning objectives into performance evaluations, and give credit not only for taking training, but for training others. After all, if learning is not tied to an individual’s performance (either partaking in learning or sharing knowledge with others, or both), then why should any individual care about learning and knowledge sharing?

Uncertain How to Share Knowledge

Individuals within an organization may recognize the need for change and understand that learning is a key component to effecting change. But, those same individuals may be unaware of the organizational procedures and details of knowledge sharing.

Encourage employees to share knowledge informally. Recognize and support SMEs (subject matter experts). Encourage those in leadership positions to train their team members. Support the learning goals of all employees. And, if your organization uses an LMS, make sure that everyone knows how to access and use the LMS and feels free to create their own online training courses as needed and as desired.

Make the Effort, and Reap the Benefits

I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy to create an organizational culture of learning. After all, knowledge accumulation and knowledge sharing is not always an explicit goal on individual performance evaluations. However, being able to learn, change and adapt to various workplace situations is the hallmark of the successful professional.

Find ways to enhance your learning and invest in your personal ROI. And, if you hold a leadership position within your organization, find ways to further organizational goals through learning and knowledge sharing. Having an inherent organizational culture of learning is not always straightforward. But, it’s worth to effort to remove the obstacles.

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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