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Andrew Loveless

Pecan Partnership


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How to actually develop a learning culture

The concept has been around for decades but how many organisations are truly learning organisations? By putting learning at the heart of workplace culture we can empower innovation. Here’s how.
low-angle photography of trees, Learning culture

The ability to learn and keep on learning is vital in successfully navigating the world we live in.  

Lifelong learning has been around for a while but how many people actually live and breathe this concept?  

It’s the same for organisations – the Learning Organisation was first advocated by Peter Senge in 1990. It emphases the five disciplines of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning. 

True learning organisations

How many organisations can truly say they are a learning organisation?

For example, these organisations include leading companies like GE, Microsoft, Tesla, Pixar and Airbnb, all of whom have spent many years intentionally working to put learning at the heart of their culture and helping drive growth.

So, how can we accelerate embedding learning into organisational culture?

Well, there are five cultural levers that cover most of the bases and for each one I have listed a few symbolic and practical actions that will add up to a measurable difference.

How many organisations can truly say they are a learning organisation?

1. Role modelling curiosity

Get leaders and key influencers into the habit of regularly asking two questions; 

“What are we learning at the moment?” 


“How are we going to use that?”

It’s likely these questions will prompt a reflective pause, elicit an outcome-based action and start to develop a mindset shift.  

The truth is, we are all learning all the time on a subconscious level, but rarely do we reflect and talk about that learning in the midst of a busy day, when it might be most useful to do so and may change the course of events.

2. Prioritise completion

Instigate retros / lessons learnt / debrief sessions at an appropriate time in the life cycle of a project or phase of time.  

Also, it’s important to make sure all the key people can attend and leave plenty of time. As the learning culture strengthens, this will become easier and quicker to do well.

This needs to be valued and prioritised at the same level as a kick-off meeting – all too often it is seen as less important and becomes an easy opt out. Thus a really important learning opportunity is missed and the implicit message is that as an organisation we don’t really value learning after all. 

Taking responsibility

This type of conversation needs to be well facilitated to ensure everyone has their say to draw out learning and recognise positive as well as negative. It is easy to blame others or other things, particularly when things haven’t gone well. 

In fact, you could argue that in this case it is even more important to have a proper debrief to understand what went on and why people did what they did, rebuilding trust and relationships where necessary.  

We have to continue working together! Responsibility and no blame is at the heart of this – the aim is to focus on what has been learnt to improve how things go next time. 

Empower people with the space and scope to try new things

3. Make space to learn

Empower people with the space and scope to try new things and innovate new ways of working. Equally, leaders should judiciously allow people the space to fail without fear of blame, and to learn as a result.  

Famously, the humble yet market leading PostIt resulted directly from a failed glue product.

I say judiciously because there is a time and a place for taking risks. This approach should not be used when something is genuinely mission critical and where failure would be seriously detrimental.   

4. Hard-wire learning in

Make sure learning is designed into people policies, appraisal and remuneration systems.  

Provide clear guidelines for behaviour through values which support and drive learning.

A colleague who is learning is increasing their value and impact on the organisation and this should be acknowledged and recognised.

A colleague who is learning is increasing their value

5. Environment and communication

Capture and share the learning stories regularly through internal communications.  

Set up the physical environment and provide tools to make collaboration easy and quick.  

Provide new information, questions and challenges to continue to provoke and initiate learning and continuous improvement.

Clearly, these actions require different levels of planning and implementation. Some can be done immediately whilst others may take weeks or months to bed in.

As with all change, the most important thing is to start with something that is doable and implement it well – narrow and deep is the best approach to gain traction. 

Indeed, actions one and two from this list fall into the quick wins category so this is a great place to start. Just doing one of these will kick start your journey to a learning culture and doing both would make a significant difference.

If you enjoyed this article, read: Ten ways to inspire and encourage intrapreneurship

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Andrew Loveless


Read more from Andrew Loveless

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