6 Steps to Creating a Learning Culture — and Why You Should

October 12, 2015

Here's how to create a culture of learning at your organization.

Whether you know it or not, your organization already has a learning culture. If you employ humans, then learning happens in your workplace every day because we’re biologically wired to learn; we can’t stop ourselves from doing it.

The real question is whether you have a transformative learning culture that makes your organization more successful—or one that breeds conformity and stagnation.

I could go on and on about the perils of the latter: how organizations with poor learning cultures experience high turnover of their top talent, struggle to keep their customers, and ultimately fall behind their competitors on a number of fronts. They may seem profitable on paper for a bit, but ultimately the costs of the human factor catch up and they fail.

Organizations that create transformative learning cultures not only succeed but thrive. They know that learning is as natural and biologically driven as breathing—and they cultivate people’s potential through learning opportunities.

Here are the six steps to create a learning culture at your organization—and how it will help.

A transformative learning culture yields all kinds of benefits, including:

  • increasing employee engagement, which has a direct impact on productivity, retention, and customer satisfaction. Learn more from Gallup’s research report entitled, The State of the Global Workplace.
  • building a “growth mindset” within employees and across the organization. Dr. Carol Dweck’s research shows that a growth mindset yields ever-higher levels of performance where people learn from their mistakes and actively seek out challenges.
  • enhancing creativity and innovation within individuals and teams. Dr. Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly illustrates that when companies encourage risk-taking and invite the valuable lessons that come from failure, creativity and innovation soar. In other words, they allow learning to occur.
  • improving motivation among employees. In his book Drive, Dan Pink synthesized a wide range of research on motivation. Studies show that humans are most motivated by autonomy, mastery, and meaningful purpose. Learning naturally empowers employees to be self-directed, and gives them opportunities to grow and improve.
  • keeping pace with the rapid changes in technology. Technology now drives a need for employees to be retrained almost monthly on some new device, software, or social-media outlet. On-demand learning lets employees incorporate learning quickly into their daily routines, saving time and money for the organization.
  • cultivating leadership and emotional intelligence. Learning is not just for technology and “hard” skills. Key “human” skills like leadership, self-control, empathy, communication, conflict resolution and cultural competence can be learned. And they drive measurable benefits throughout the organization.


“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the others find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” —Eric Hoffer, social philosopher and author


So how do you create a transformative learning culture?

  1. Honor the ever-present nature of learning. Learning is happening every day whether you notice it or not. Successful leaders don’t treat learning as an event to be scheduled but rather an unbounded resource to be enhanced.
  2. Value learning as a path to mastery. This means making it safe to take risks—and make mistakes. Celebrate “aha” moments just as much as you do easy wins.
  3. Make learning easily accessible. On-demand learning empowers employees to seek and find their own answers. Neuroscientists state that this type of learning is retained far longer than just being told what to do.
  4. Use blended learning to maximize your options. Not every type of learning works for every person or situation. For example, in-person learning allows hands-on application and collaboration specific to your organization’s needs, structures, and goals.
  5. Teach your managers how to coach. Coaching employees by asking questions naturally builds their competence and confidence. I’m a big fan of appreciative inquiry, which helps employees learn what made a peak performance different from the others. This information can help them achieve that peak level more consistently.
  6. Evaluate performances based on learning. New models for performance management demonstrate that measuring learning, along with performance, ultimately increases both.


“There are 10 seeds in an apple. But how many apples are in a seed? You must help your employees learn and grow so they become the talented workforce you need tomorrow.” —Martha Soehren, chief talent officer at Comcast


Your employees have the potential to drive your organization to new heights. If you create a transformative culture of learning, you’ll reap the many benefits that learning provides and set up your organization for success.