The Value of a Learning Culture

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Tony Bolden

Several months ago, I wrote an article imploring leaders to embrace their roles as “learning advisors” within their organizations. This imperative is timely, especially because learning can be directly correlated to employee engagement, and ultimately, market performance.

The transformation from tactician to advisor can only happen in organizations in which leaders understand and establish cultures that embrace, support, and advance learning to create, in effect, a learning organization. Learning organizations are more adaptable in recognizing the skills needs of their stakeholders, and they provide opportunities to create progressive learning events where employees can acquire new skills, remediate gaps in knowledge, and convey information and knowledge internally (and externally).

Recent research on Millennials in the workplace (including a recent report from ASTD and i4cp) suggests that organizational leaders should develop people practices to address the diverse needs of individuals within their enterprises. In his book Gods of Management: The Changing Nature of Work (Oxford University Press, 1996), Charles Handy wrote, “If our organizations are to survive, they must adapt their managerial philosophy to one better suited to the needs, aspirations, and attitudes of individuals.” Accordingly, these leaders should create true learning organizations to partner effectively with their stakeholders.

In his book An Experiential Approach to Organization Development (Prentiss Hall, 2011), Don Brown characterized a learning organization as one in a continual state of readiness-and embracing and encouraging enterprisewide collaboration (i4cp explored the importance of organizational agility in our “Critical Human Capital Issues 2013” report). Brown asserted that learning organizations concentrate on obtaining knowledge, distributing knowledge across the enterprise, and applying knowledge to achieve organizational goals. This can be accomplished only in an environment in which organizational leaders believe in creating knowledge for action — not just knowledge for its own sake.

Even further, in the book The Strategy Process—Concepts, Contexts, Cases (Prentice Hall, 2003), the authors noted that learning organizations are populated by leaders who engage in systems thinking, which is the ability to see the big picture and focus more on underlying trends and forces of change instead of just tactically addressing day-to-day events. This contention was also explored in i4cp's recent research report on how leaders within high-performance organizations accelerate leadership development among their high-potential employees.

The bottom line is this: establishing a vibrant learning organization can create an organizational culture that encourages employee engagement, progressive people development, and ultimately, significant market performance.

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To learn more about developing your employees, consider these AMA seminars:
Coaching: A Strategic Tool for Effective Leadership

Fundamentals of Human Resources Management

About the Author(s)

Tony Bolden is a director at i4cp and the chief evangelist of The Leader's Brand, a blog that covers sales, leadership development, and personal branding.