How to Build a Team of Lifelong Learners, in 4 Steps

February 27, 2017

These four steps will turn your employees into lifetime learners, a key skill in today's ever-changing market.

The second-biggest challenge facing L&D teams is getting employees to make time for learning, according to LinkedIn research.

This sounds like a department-specific problem. It isn’t. There is a mountain of evidence out there that skills are changing faster than ever today. If your organization isn’t constantly adapting – only possible via constant learning – there’s a great chance of being disrupted.

This isn’t theoretical. The media business has completely changed, wiping out newspaper after newspaper. Manufacturing is completely different than it was a generation ago, bankrupting entire towns in the process. As late as 2010, there were thousands of stores dedicated to doing things like selling CDs and renting DVDs.

If you want to avoid that fate, you need to have a workforce of learners who can adapt to new challenges. The question then becomes how.

Well, it takes four steps.

The four steps needed to build a team of lifelong learners

Building a team of lifelong learners isn’t too squishy or impossible to accomplish. In his LinkedIn Learning course Hiring and Developing Your Future Workforce, Renowned Thought Leader Gary Bolles said it comes down to doing four things well.

The first comes down to hiring the right people. The last three are steps your organization can start taking with your current workforce today.

1. Hire curious people.

To build a team of lifelong learners, you need to hire curious people who are eager to learn. Here’s an article on how to do that, but two questions you can ask in your interviews to screen for curiosity are:

  • What is the last thing you’ve learned on the job? The answer should comes easily to the person and it should be something they wanted to learn, not something they had to learn.

  • What’s the last thing you’ve geeked out on? Curious people can’t help but go down “rabbit holes” on topics that grab their interest. 

Hiring curious people is critical and something you need to do moving forward. The next three steps you can start doing immediately with your existing employees.

2. Have your people make learning goals.

Just about every organization has their employees make goals. Most of those goals focus on core metrics, like hitting a quota, maintaining a strong rating or finishing a project.

Involved in those should be a learning goal! That can be anything from taking a course to mastering a new skill, like learning Photoshop or Sequel. MicroStrategy, a Washington, D.C.-based big data company, does this, and it’s employees are the definition of lifetime learners.

3. Diversify the work your people do.

To keep your people learning, you need to keep their minds open. But if your people are doing the same tasks every day, they’ll become routine-driven. Soon, their adaptability and creativity will begin to diminish.

To fight against this, have your people move around in your organization. Encourage lateral moves to other departments. Have marketing shadow sales and vice-versa. Even within teams, challenge people to spend part of their time on entrepreneurial bets, such as crafting a new selling strategy or building a new product feature.

Having people take on tasks that are outside their day-to-day responsibilities opens their mind and reinvigorates their eagerness to learn.

4. Offer your employees a wide-range of learning options.

People learn in a variety of ways. And, if you put in place the following three steps, you are going to cause a voracious appetite for learning.

To accommodate that, you need to offer a range of learning options. For example, offer on-demand learning via eLearning, but also in-person training sessions. This will ensure people learn in ways that work best for them.

Bottom line, asking your people to be lifelong learners is a big investment from them. You need to match that investment via learning opportunities, or your people aren’t going to take your efforts seriously.

Looking for strategies on building a culture of learning? Download our Workplace Learning Report today for free, where we surveyed 500 L&D leaders to find what’s working (and what’s not).