Growth depends on two key factors — a willingness to learn, plus the research and actions to expand and share that knowledge. And when it comes to business growth, a contemporary approach to organizational learning should be a guiding force within all aspects of your company. When everyone in the organization is bought in on learning (and they’re given the time and resources to do it), growth and innovation flourish.
While it’s likely that your organization already has some sort of learning strategy in place, it may be time to revisit it and determine if it’s due for an overhaul to meet the workplace challenges, for today and in the future.
What is organizational learning?
Broadly, organizational learning is the action that a company takes to drive company-wide growth and improvement through the acquisition and transfer of new information.
There are a number of ways organizational learning can be implemented within a company, both at a general as well as individual level. In practice, organizational learning can look like:
- Learning about your ideal customer profile and modifying your product or solution based on those findings.
- Implementing quarterly knowledge-sharing forums where teams are encouraged to share wins or opportunities and outline an action plan for the following quarter.
- Launching a workforce education program that offers a variety of relevant learning options to upskill and reskill your employees.
- Rolling out a mentorship program that connects junior- and senior-level employees from different teams.
The importance of organizational learning
Workplace learning has proven to deliver value — it’s the very basis for the existence of dedicated a learning and development (L&D) function that most modern businesses have adopted. Investment in learning supports workforce agility and long-term stability that can provide a significant competitive advantage. But what are some of the practical benefits that actually make these outcomes possible?
Positive effects gained by modern organizational learning practices include:
- Attracting top talent: In today’s competitive job market it’s especially important for companies to maintain their status as an employer of choice. Offering workforce education attracts the next generation of team members by delivering them with the potential for unlimited growth opportunities. Meanwhile, you also raise the bar overall for your talent pipeline.
- Increased employee job satisfaction, engagement and productivity: Workers today seek out learning and development opportunities. A recent survey showed that 80% of employees say access to learning opportunities helps them to feel more engaged on the job. And employees who like their jobs are up to 44% more productive than their disengaged peers.
- Lowered turnover rates: Putting time into understanding what helps your workforce feel engaged can lead to better retention, which means less time and money flowing into costly turnover operations.
- Bridging skills gaps: With the high demand for talent and the shortage of skilled labor, countless industries are experiencing unprecedented skills gaps. Organizational learning is key for keeping up with this rapidly changing work environment and addressing these gaps before they can impact your business negatively. Employees gain valuable, relevant skills while employers future-proof their companies to succeed.
- Increased organizational adaptability: By prioritizing continuous learning, your company can keep pace with the unfolding future and implement necessary changes as they arise. Big shifts in technology and culture become a part of the day-to-day rather than massive and time-consuming overhauls.
Your company may already be engaging in a number of tactics that support organizational learning. But if you’re not seeing these benefits or if the results are lackluster, it may be time to revisit the foundational components of your workplace learning strategy.
And it’s worth it. According to InStride data, the money spent on workplace learning programs return as much as 3X the investment, and the attrition rate of employees enrolled in these programs is 3-4x lower than the global attrition rate of each company.
The fundamentals of organizational learning
The simplest organizational learning strategy consists of three broad steps to be taken continuously and in succession to one another. These can be leveraged at all levels within a company to drive learning-based improvements for individuals, teams, departments and the company as a whole.
- Create knowledge
Collect, generate or build new and relevant information that’s relevant to the business.
For example, let’s say you’re a Chief Learning Officer that rolled out a new L&D initiative six months ago. To “create knowledge,” you might solicit feedback from employees to understand how satisfied they are with the new program. In this way, you’re gathering knowledge about a specific subject related to your business.
- Retain knowledge
Create practices and procedures that support the implementation of the information that you gathered.
Running with the same example from before, taking steps to show that you are implementing changes to your L&D program based on the feedback you received is an example of retaining knowledge in this context.
- Transfer knowledge
Observe the effects of your implemented changes and construct new strategies and initiatives based on those observations. This is the point at which learning actually happens.
In this example, you would track metrics relevant to your L&D program to see if the changes made an impact. Then, you would document and share your findings with the rest of the L&D team and perhaps other stakeholders within your organization.
How to integrate organizational learning into company culture
Learning at the organizational level is easier to achieve when your company culture is aligned with the concept of continuous learning for teams and individual employees. Here are a few best practices to implement to promote a learning culture in your workplace:
Company culture stems from the top. This means organizational learning should also start with the C-suite, with executives prioritizing their own learning and development alongside everyone else. Continuous learning on the part of the employee requires ongoing support, including active guidance as well as access to the resources that make learning possible. Company leadership and managers have to be on board with and well-versed in this concept to make it happen.
Enable learning by making it easily accessible
Your workforce should feel motivated to learn and improve beyond the bare minimum of what’s required for their current role — but providing these opportunities for continuous learning is just the beginning. It’s important to be mindful of how accessible your learning initiatives actually are. If there are too many barriers, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get employees to actually take advantage.
Let’s take tuition reimbursement for example. Historically, tuition reimbursement programs result in very low participation rates, despite an overwhelming desire among employees to enroll in them. This is because traditional tuition reimbursement programs require upfront payment by the employee — a financial commitment that not all can afford. However, when employers pay for tuition upfront, the financial burden of continued learning is lifted, effectively removing a major barrier to accessing life-changing education.
Open up communication and collaboration
Managers should be active participants in the learning journeys of their direct reports. This means asking for feedback and working with employees to identify what training, upskilling or education options are the best fit for them. Far too often, managers are left without the tools needed to talk to their team members about learning and simply rely on recommending generic career paths that aren’t unique to the individual or supportive of their career aspirations or skills needs.
Think creatively about learning opportunities
Give your employees room to explore the subjects that they’re passionate about and allow them to see the potential within their own careers. Open up learning opportunities beyond what is strictly relevant to their current roles and watch them flourish with the possibility.
Complement workforce education and training with more out-of-the-box learning opportunities, such as group workshops, company-wide innovation challenges or creative side projects for individuals.
Experiment with different techniques
There’s a world of possibilities when it comes to methods for And your employee base may not respond to all of them. Keep in mind that there are different learning styles and goals. For instance, those in an executive position will require different methods of learning than say, frontline employees. Even within teams, everyone can be unique in how they prefer to learn and what style best suits them.
Organizational learning propels your business forward
The flexibility your business gains by engaging your people with a continuous, company-wide learning strategy allows you to easily adapt to future innovations and the ever-changing demands of the labor market. If you haven’t already, the time to modernize your approach to learning is now.