A Learning Culture Is the Foundation for High Performance


A culture of learning is one in which employees at all levels of an organization continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve their own performance as well as that of the organization. While leaders are integral to learning cultures, employees play an important role too. Of course, the talent development function plays the most critical role. 

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) recently released the research report Building a Culture of Learning: The Foundation of a Successful Organization. Sponsored by Paradigm Learning, the report provides insights on the organizational benefits of having a thriving learning culture and how talent development professionals can build such a culture.

Key Insights

  • Having a culture of learning is a hallmark of high-performance organizations. Top companies are almost five times more likely than lower performers to have extensive learning cultures. Further, high performers are nearly two times more apt to say their learning functions help meet organizational business goals.

  • In high-performance organizations, employees share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in lower-performing firms. That communication is supported by rewarding workers for learning, providing tools and resources for creating and sharing learning content, and making knowledge sharing a performance expectation at all organizational levels.

  • Learning cultures are rooted in the hiring process. Discussing an employer’s commitments to ongoing talent development during prehire interviews is a distinguishing trait of high-performance organizations. Just 22 percent of all respondents have similar conversations with candidates. However, those prehire commitments reflected the strongest correlation to market performance, and top companies apply the strategy at six times the rate of lower performers.

  • Leaders in top companies are responsible for reinforcing learning’s importance. High-performance organizations are three times more likely than lower performers to hold leaders at all levels accountable for actively demonstrating the importance of learning. Only 27 percent of organizations insist on leader accountability, marking it as a differentiating next practice.

  • Employees are aligned with the goals of the business. Workers in high-performance companies are three times more likely to understand the role their jobs play in producing business results. They take responsibility for self-directing their learning and know how learning facilitates their career growth.

  • The L&D function’s participation in talent planning activities is linked to better market performance. At more than three times the rate of lower performers, L&D functions in top companies join in planning initiatives to help identify skills gaps. Talent development professionals then use those planning outcomes to create individual development plans (IDP) and custom learning content to close skills gaps.

  • Impact measurements—assessing learning’s effects on worker behavior and on business results—are differentiators applied extensively by fewer than one in four organizations. These practices strongly correlate to market performance, learning effectiveness, and robust learning cultures. High-performance organizations are nearly three times more likely to measure either or both employee behavior change and business outcomes. 

Best Practices for Building Learning Cultures 

ATD Research and i4cp also found that there are three learning-culture-supportive strategies considered best practice when it comes to employees: 

  1. Every employee should have a regularly updated personalized learning and development plan.
  2. There should be employee accountability for the learning that is specified in the individual development plan.
  3. Companies should give nonfinancial rewards and other types of recognition or awards to further encourage employee learning.  

For leaders who want to support learning cultures, Antoinette Handler, corporate vice president of human resources for business technology firm Avanade, offers suggestions:

  • Reinforce key behaviors in the workplace: intellectual curiosity, fast failure, and managing change.
  • Role model to cast the right shadows to teams.
  • Foster models of experiential and just-in-time learning.
  • Advocate a 70-20-10 model with 70 percent of learning occurring on the job.
  • Provide ongoing coaching and feedback, both positive and constructive.
  • Establish robust individual development plans and monitor at least quarterly.
  • Provide leadership support for employees’ ownership of their own development. 

Learn More 

The full report is available for purchase at www.td.org/CoL (ATD member price is $199; $499 for nonmembers). ATD and i4cp hosted a free webcast on April 28, you can listen to the recap here. 




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