Business leaders, think tanks, and HR experts—not to mention all of us at Bersin and Deloitte—have stated time and again that being a learning organization is critical to driving innovation and generating business results. High-performing organizations have what we call a learning culture, which we define in our 2010 study on High-Impact Learning Culture as “the collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that influence and encourage both individuals and the collective organization to continuously increase knowledge, competence, and performance.”1 We have since described the leading practices of learning cultures in multiple High-Impact Learning studies2, and have just released Fostering a Learning Culture: Why it Matters Nowresearch findings piece that connects data across these studies to our most recent High-Impact Learning Organization research.
Organizational Practices of a Strong Learning Culture
Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2018.
While our research often focuses on identifying leading practices—factors that enable business and talent experience outcomes—it can be helpful to also describe the blockers. A lot of culture is implicit, so much so that we prefer to define culture in an organization as “the way things get done” or what people see people doing, hear people talking about, and see people celebrating. So what should leaders avoid if they want their organization to be in a position to consistently evolve, adapt, and improve?
- Placing too much value on persistence and grit. Leaders who demonstrate dogged determination to continue on a path may also prevent their teams from recognizing when something isn’t working.3 Similarly, celebrating the long hours worked on a project as exemplary in and of itself can communicate that the hours worked matter or that overtime is an expectation, which sends a mixed message to workers if your organization tries to encourage work-life balance.
- Forcing solution mode. The conventional business wisdom of being solution-oriented and not raising issues “unless you have a potential solution” is misguided.4 It can limit opportunities for a group to reflect on the aspects of a problem. Taking the opportunity to listen to perspectives prior to identifying a solution, much like brainstorming, encourages iteration and exploration. It can also encourage people to wait to raise small issues until they become huge problems.
- Weighing in on the details too often. Trust in leadership is core to what we describe as the Simply Irresistible Model. Since trust is two-way, involving yourself in the details of deliverables when you’re at a senior level may be interpreted as a lack of trust in your team to accomplish things to your satisfaction, rather than an intention to be present, immersed, and accessible. This is because leaders often forget the power dynamics in the relationship. The team can easily end up bending to the center of gravity that is the team leader, reducing the potential for others to contribute to results or feel some influence on direction. Leaders should be explicit and transparent about why they’re getting involved in something to lower the risk of their actions being misinterpreted.
- Staying in their swim lane in the C-suite while demanding teamwork from others. As multidisciplinary teams foster broader thinking, a symphonic C-suite enables agility because leaders can make faster, better, and more customer-oriented decisions.
- Ignoring the non-balance-sheet workers’ experience in your organization. An organization’s human talent ecosystem these days can include employees, consultants, contingent workers, alliance partners, and subcontractors. All might be working together on a team, and the distinctions between those types of workers are difficult to discern based on the work, even when the HR policies about how to treat them are prescriptive. When non-balance sheet workers are disengaged or frustrated, it will impact the experience of all their teammates. Savvy team leaders strive for the satisfaction of everyone involved in the work, without regard for what payroll they’re on.
Bersin members can access Fostering a Learning Culture: Why it Matters Now in the Bersin library. Stay tuned for additional research on how organizations can continually improve performance by connecting learning and work.
1 High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, Bersin & Associates / David Mallon, 2010.
2 (1) The High Impact Learning Organization: WhatWorks® in the Management, Governance and Operations of Modern Corporate Training, Bersin & Associates / Josh Bersin, 2008; (2) The High-Impact Learning Organization Maturity Model®, Bersin & Associates / Josh Bersin, 2012; (3) High-Impact Learning Organization: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2017.
3 “How I Learned About the Perils of Grit,” Psychology Today / Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, April 13, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/curious/201704/how-i-learned-about-the-perils-grit.
4 “The Problem with Saying “Don’t Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions,” Harvard Business Review / Sabina Nawaz, September 01, 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-problem-with-saying-dont-bring-me-problems-bring-me-solutions.