Developing an “All-In” Workforce Through a Continuous Learning Culture

Research shows that the workforce today is highly motivated by personal and professional development. This motivation goes beyond performing better in their role; employees want to fuel their passions and build a foundation for their continued careers.

Quite simply, employees give some of the best years of their lives to their companies, and we, as employers and people managers, owe it to them to focus on their passions, while developing and preparing them for their future. Creating a strong learning culture, focused on continuous learning, rewards not only the employee but the company and its shareholders as well.

Creating a strong learning culture focused on continuous learning rewards the employee, company and shareholders

Industry leaders agree that creating a strong learning culture is essential in creating a workforce that is “all-in.” According to Josh Bersin, Bersin by Deloitte, “The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.” And fostering a strong learning culture must focus on continuous learning.

Expanding the Other 3 E’s

Bersin by Deloitte describes the 4 E’s of continuous learning as Education, Experience, Exposure and Environment. For a long time, learning and development (L&D) has primarily focused its efforts and budgets on formal training and education, for example, face-to-face classroom training or self-paced e-learning. To build a strong continuous learning culture, we now have to shift funding and resources around the other 3 E’s: Experience, Exposure and Environment.

“Learning culture is a combination of everything that affects how individuals within a company learn new information and put it to work — and how they’re motivated to want to do so in the first place.” — Jenny Dearborn, SVP & Chief Learning Officer, SAP

As L&D professionals, we understand the formal Education model, but this is only a very small part of a continuous learning culture. To build an “all-in” workforce, SAP focuses on expanding the other 3 E’s.

One of the fastest, most efficient and rewarding ways to engage and develop employees is formalizing the “Experience.” Companies need to place deliberate focus on creating learning and development experiences such as stretch goals, job rotations, structured shadowing and on-the-job training. These types of experiences give employees the opportunity to learn from one another.

To build a strong continuous learning culture, we have to shift funding and resources

In a strong learning culture, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Building in these types of experiences to employee development plans should be a primary focus of gaining an “all-in” workforce.

“A learning culture consists of a community of workers instilled with a “growth mindset.” People not only want to learn and apply what they’ve learned to help their organization, they also feel compelled to share their knowledge with others.” — Robert J. Grossman, Society for Human Resource Management

Fostering the “Exposure” element may include formal or informal mentoring and coaching programs, a focus on building a personal network of peers and respected professionals, joining social networks and associations, and following thought leaders through social media.

An example of formalizing “Exposure” is SAP’s award-winning Global Coaching Practice. Employees partner with externally trained and certified coaches to maximize self-awareness and soft skills, and to uncover the best solutions to challenges and situations.

The coach, who is a full-time SAP employee, gives 10% of their time to coach other employees. They provide support by asking questions and fostering self-reflection – not by giving advice. They use different coaching methods to leverage or unlock the employee’s strengths and potentials.

The final E, “Environment,” provides tools and performance support that are available at the exact time an employee needs to learn something new.

There are many types of on-demand support: job aids, Wikis, online books and in-tool help. One of the most common forms may be Internet or intranet searches. If you ask how people learned something recently, most will say “online,” “I Googled it,” “YouTube,” Wikipedia or “from our corporate website.” L&D professionals must become comfortable in shifting the focus from just the “Education E” and support the workforce by building Experience, Exposure and Environment into the development of all employees.

Building a strong learning culture through continuous learning keeps employees engaged, builds thought leadership within an organization and keeps the ownership of employee development in the hands of the employee versus being dependent on their manager or L&D. Providing learning and development opportunities that focus on the other 3 E’s further creates and supports an “all-in” workforce. 

Manette Chadwick is vice president and COO, Global Learning, at SAP.

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