How do you ensure that continuous learning is not just a rallying cry and doesn’t end up as a desk project?

Do any of the following sound familiar:

Continuous learning would be important, but it’s not right for us because of X and Y.

I think there’s a project going on in HR right now.

We have all sorts of training courses for employees.

If that rings a bell, you’re not alone. On the other hand, if you’re the leader of a growth-oriented, success-hungry organization, you’re starting to be a rarity. Competition for top talent is fierce, and a top salary and lots of little goodies often isn’t enough anymore. Being systematic in developing skills is something that many top performers value.

Contrary to popular belief, a culture of continuous learning is possible for all organisations. It is not always quick or easy. A thriving culture of continuous learning requires three basic things:

  1. Management commitment
  2. Systematisation
  3. A growth mindset 
Management commitment through action

Leadership by example and leadership in action is key to developing a culture of continuous learning. If management does not get behind a culture of continuous learning, it becomes a pushing and shoving game. If developing the culture of continuous learning is outsourced to HR or remains a separate project, the likelihood of success is low.

Changing the culture is not just a matter of direction. Pious hopes and declarations will not work if practice slaps you in the face.

 Tip: Enter with an open and curious mind.

A long-term systematic approach

A culture of continuous learning is more likely to succeed when linked to the organisation’s strategy and objectives. Key questions to consider include:

  • What skills are needed?
  • How to acquire the necessary competences?
  • How to make continuous learning systematic?

Developing a culture is a long-term effort. Creating principles, visions, and strategies is still relatively easy. Quite often, existing organisational structures are geared to short-term efficiency, which is not usually conducive to, for example, on-the-job learning or knowledge sharing.

Tip: Structures, processes and incentives are also likely to need changing.

Focus on a growth mindset

Simply hoping that people will behave in the way you want is not enough. For some, a growth mindset is more natural than for others, and for some it is easier to adopt than for others. But it is something that everyone can develop.

A growth mindset leads to a desire to learn and thus a tendency to face challenges, not to be discouraged by setbacks, to see effort as a prerequisite for progress, to learn from criticism and to be inspired by the success of others.

Tip: A growth mindset requires psychological safety.

Leading change is about choices and everyday actions. What choices are you making for a culture of continuous learning?