On a recent Actus webinar covering the topic of Learning & Development, we were struck by 79% of attendees claiming that they did not have an effective learning culture. This is clearly a concern in the current climate; where many of us have had to swiftly adapt to a new way of working. Many have also taken on new responsibilities without any formal training that might have taken place pre-COVID. For example, managers (some of which never had management training in the first place) are now expected to understand how to navigate managing employees remotely. If we are to get the best out of our employees (including our managers), we need to be able to invest in their learning and development even during these turbulent times. In our view, this investment involves taking steps to create an effective learning culture remotely.
In this blog, we will explore 7 tips you can use to create (or redefine) an effective remote learning culture.
Learning should not be an afterthought, a ‘tick-box’ activity or reward. The first step to creating a learning culture is to stress its importance organisation-wide. This means recognising learning as an organisational core value and making sure it is visible; for example within your performance management software. It might not be the easiest task to propose a new organisational value, so a strong business case may need to be presented to key stakeholders and influencers. The CIPD has a great piece of research that looks in detail at the evidence of the many benefits of having an effective learning culture. Certainly, this includes growth, profitability, transformation and productivity at an organisational level. In addition, employees have greater job satisfaction, and organisational commitment. Clearly, these are all highly important areas, especially within the realms of virtual working!
Naturally, once you have established learning as a key part of your organisational culture in writing, you will need visual examples of people embodying best practices. This is not straight-forward, especially when we aren’t all sharing the same physical space. Start by gathering key influencers, whether that be departmental heads or team leaders, and communicate to them the importance of creating an open culture of learning. Once onboard, they can start to demonstrate best practices to their teams. Perhaps by sharing their own learning goals and asking teams to submit their own for feedback. This is not meant to be seen as added work or viewed as a ‘checking-up with’ exercise (download our infographic on building trust in a virtual workplace here). It is more about inspiring our teams to take ownership of their own learning needs whilst ensuring they feel supported.
Furthermore, it is crucial that key stakeholders stress the importance of setting time aside each week to focus on learning. This could be as simple as suggesting employees go for a walk and listen to a podcast, and this also has a positive impact on wellbeing (download our resources on supporting employee wellbeing here). Having this time for learning scheduled in will help employees recognise its importance. It is also far more likely to take place if it is initiated from the top. Learning will vary from role to role and it’s important that we understand this. For developers, for instance, learning may simply be actively learning coding and problem solving and they could resent a formal ‘tick-box’ approach (listen to our podcast on how to help people to learn remotely here). Certainly, knowing and understanding the needs and demands of different roles should influence the learning styles you recommend.
On our recent Learning & Development webinar, we found that the lowest readily available type of learning was mentoring (32%). Even then, some of the attendees only had mentoring in pockets which were not formally standardised. We were asked how could you set-up a mentoring programme despite remote working challenges? We have summarised the process below.
Ideally, you should create a programme that can grow organically with mentees becoming mentors for future employees. It should start small, adjusting to any kinks in the process, then expand to the wider organisation. First, begin with considering what a good mentor should look like. Think about how you would define the role as well as defining the rules around how much work should be involved. With this, you can start to recruit suitable mentors. They may even be willing to help you by running online workshops to define expectations and ground rules.
The next step to consider then is how to match the first lot of mentors with mentees. The mentor should be outside of the direct line, but be able to provide relevant guidance for the mentee. By being out of the direct line, it should hopefully foster a more mutual friendship. Therefore, increasing the ease of knowledge sharing in both an informal and formal way. Clearly, you will also need to define a process for escalations or relationship breakdown in the event of a ‘mismatch’. Crucially, it is important to not be discouraged by any challenges or ‘mismatches’. Use these to review and improve your mentoring programme.
For further information on how to effectively set-up a remote mentoring programme, watch our webinar here:
Changing the company’s culture and invigorating interest in learning can be challenging, so how can we ensure that your organisation doesn’t revert back to old habits? Well, one way is to put in place personalised learning/development plans as part of your standard performance management process. This goes back to our point about tailoring learning for each employee with goals they can head towards personally. Creating an effective learning culture within a virtual workplace is not easy, but using an online performance management tool can certainly help to embed this process seamlessly. Actus performance management software allows you to review the process at different stages of the learning journey and can be reviewed within the appraisal process. It is no longer about completing a course. Creating this bigger picture by having a learning plan helps to move away from a ‘tick-box’ approach.
2020 has not been the year we expected, and employees may feel that opportunities to progress in their personal and professional life have been stunted. However, by taking personalised learning plans one step further and identifying career opportunities, we can close any skill gaps and help to progress talent management and internal career opportunities. Not only will this negate the costs associated with hiring externally (difficult in the current climate anyway) but it shows that you are investing in your people and will help to retain your talent.
Once you have both the processes and investment from key leaders in place, it is important to recognise and reward model learning behaviours from all employees. By recognising employees, you are encouraging them and others to do more. These can be as simple soft rewards such as ‘learner of the week’, or potentially recognising them through your performance management tool. If you have the use of an LMS, these provide badges and other virtual rewards for learning success.
One example of a model behaviour that you should recognise and encourage, is exhibiting knowledge sharing. This not only fosters a great team spirit of working together (critical in a remote workplace!) but also helps upskill the rest of the team to be able to do tasks in the event of unexpected absences. A soft way of encouraging this would be to give honorary titles, such as the ‘Website Guru’, or ‘Client Service Star’. In addition, this helps with onboarding new starters as they know who they can turn to if they have questions for various topics or departments. The key to remember is that rewards don’t need to be monetary or expensive, even a monthly Amazon gift card prize can be an incentive. Crucially, the idea is to ‘pat them on the back’, to encourage the continuation of an effective learning culture.
Lastly, but by no means least, our final tip is ensuring access to learning resources. This includes making both internal and external resources easy to find. For example, external resources should be signposted e.g. by having a list of recommended sites for learning or providing a schedule of relevant upcoming webinars for employees to sign up to. Internally, you may use an LMS system that offers a variety of courses and tracks development. Furthermore, to encourage knowledge-sharing, when a new skill is learnt, employees could create ‘how-to’ videos and upload these to the LMS themselves so that this knowledge can be shared.
Of course, learning can come in many forms. In previous CIPD research, they explored the usefulness of training received for many of the types of learning we list below. They found that whilst a small percentage may have only undertaken these various types of learning, the vast majority found them to be incredibly useful, with most given usefulness of above 80%.
Whilst we have provided our 7 tips on creating a learning culture, it’s important that you take these as a guide and not as strict rules. What works for one business might not work for yours. Above all, the key is to take a step back and evaluate the overall learning environment that exists already and this could have changed dramatically since the start of 2020. Then you can start to reflect and improve as necessary. You can think about how you can align the current learning culture to meet the business need. Consider what you can do to refresh or incentivise learning. Ask yourself questions like ‘How varied and relevant is the learning content?’, ‘Is learning available at the point of need?’, ‘What do people want or need?’. A truly effective learning culture will evolve with your business, and provide highly-skilled employees.
Part of our ethos is to help build a better workplace for people. We achieve this through great performance management software, the HR Uprising Podcast, and a variety of free thought leadership resources. Therefore, if you would like to learn more about this topic, you can find some additional resources using the buttons below.
We also have a team of organisational development consultants who are on-hand to help meet your needs for culture change. If you would like to find out more about this service, why not get in touch by contacting us here.