The Most Common Challenges to Building a Learning Culture (And How to Overcome Them)

July 24, 2017

Many learning and development professionals want to build a culture of learning but tend to face these challenges when doing so, such as showing ROI or getting key stakeholders involved.

No project comes without challenges. And that holds true for one of the biggest projects any learning and development team will embark on: creating a culture of learning at their organization.

Since it’s such a big initiative, often the challenges to creating the culture of learning are equally big. But the payoff is huge, as top performing organizations are five times more likely to have a culture of learning than lower-performing ones.

In her course Creating a Culture of Learning, L&D Leader Britt Andreatta identified four of the most common challenges L&D teams face when trying to instill a culture of learning at their company – and offered playbooks for overcoming each one.

1. Key stakeholders aren’t fully bought into building a culture of learning.

It’s impossible for an L&D team to build a culture of learning on its own. It needs the buy-in of key stakeholders, such as the C-suite, managers and employees.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Often, this is because those stakeholders don’t fully understand what a culture of learning is or the benefits it brings the organization – they just think it’s more training, Andreatta said. That’s why it’s so critical for L&D teams to be able to succinctly define both what a culture of learning is and the unique benefits to building one.

Here’s a video that explains exactly what a culture of learning looks like and here’s another that details the benefits of building one.

2. Your learning brand isn’t what it should be, and it’s hurting your credibility.

In her course, Andreatta cited a study by the Conference Executive Board which found that only 23 percent of organizational leaders were satisfied with the overall effectiveness of their L&D teams. In fact, when we surveyed 500 L&D pros we found that only 25 percent of them would recommend their own L&D program to their peers.

The consequences of that is many L&D teams don’t have the social capital they need to build out a culture of learning. To reverse this trend, it comes down to showing real ROI from your learning programs and by pivoting your perspective from “training” to “learning”, Andreatta said.  

3. Learning is currently not recognized or rewarded at your company.

How do you evaluate your employees? Is there a focus on improvement in performance reviews, or are your people just labeled as excellent, average or poor?

Andreatta suggests changing your evaluation model to include an assessment of how much an employee learned, grew or improved. When you reward people for growth, along with outcomes, you motivate all of your employees to continue to expand their skillsets, she said.

Otherwise, if you just reward outcomes, you’ll likely reward the same group of high performers over and over. But, if they are not growing, you can cause your organization to stagnate.

In addition, Andreatta recommends adding the word “yet” to your ratings, as in “not yet meeting expectations” because that empowers a growth mindset.

“That shift signifies that the person has potential and the organization has faith that they can improve,” Andreatta said. “This positive aspirational expectation is far more likely to motivate an employee to grow than being labeled substandard.”

4. You don’t have enough support or resources to implement a culture of learning.

When we surveyed 500 L&D pros, they said their single biggest challenge was a lack of resources. Clearly, many L&D pros feel handcuffed by a lack of headcount or budget.

To overcome this, Andreatta suggests first focusing on getting the most out of the resources you have at the moment. If you do and show clear results, it’ll be easier to get more funding in the future.

Andreatta also suggested finding an open and influential leader within your organization and piloting new learning solutions with their team. If you can prove success in those small teams, you’ll have a much easier chance of expanding that program to the rest of the organization.

Finally, L&D teams can often partner with outside organizations, such as local universities, up-and-coming vendors, professional associations and more. Those are low-cost or no-cost ways to provide more learning opportunities to your employees.

Bottom line, yes, there are going to be challenges when building a culture of learning. But it’s too important to let those stop you – instead, following these playbooks should help.

Looking to build a culture of learning at your company? Watch Andreatta’s full course to learn how.