How To Turn Your Company Into A Learning Organization

Learning never stops. I’m not the first to say it, but it’s definitely just as important now, as it was in Ancient Greece. Education doesn’t end with your final diploma, because human knowledge, understanding, and best practices constantly evolve.

And even if we, as a human race, stopped developing new ideas and concepts to innovate our life, education would still be an important part of growth. That’s because the amount of knowledge and skills people can develop right now is virtually infinite.

So if you want a better company, and if you want your employees to help you take it further, you’ll need a learning organization. Today, we’ll talk about how to achieve that.

What Is A Learning Organization?

A learning organization is a company dedicated to the constant learning and development of its team. That dedication doesn’t just mean buying courses from Udemy. It’s about a shift in the values and principles of the company. Learning is not just facilitated in this type of organization, it’s also encouraged and nurtured to create proactive learning team members.

That may sound a bit vague, so let’s talk about some examples.

A regular company might praise employees for developing new skills at their own leisure, and even use them in their processes. A learning organization will encourage and support the development of said skills from the get-go.

A regular company won’t set time aside for employees to learn during working hours. A learning organization understands the value of personal growth, and incorporates learning as a weekly, or even daily routine in the company.

A regular company will formulate values based on what sounds good on paper, or what customers want to hear. A learning organization incorporates learning as a principle in their value statement.

A regular company will haphazardly develop new projects, or improve existing ones. A learning company takes education and self-improvement to the macro level, learning from their past and developing or improving projects based on what the numbers show.

You may notice that your company already does some things as a learning organization. However, if you want to truly become a learning organization, keep reading to understand how to make this shift.

What Are The Benefits Of A Learning Organization?

In the short term, a learning organization might not sound financially wise. In pure productivity and profit, an employee benefits your company more if they work 8 hours a day, instead of 7, with one hour dedicated to learning.

However, that’s only true in the short term. Learning can have clear benefits:

  • Teaching your employees how to get the job done faster. Whether they read about a new workflow, a better system to do their job, or just new technology, in the long term they’ll do their job more effectively. From the get-go, you can see that you’re recuperating your “productivity loss”.
  • Helping people do a better job. The same tech, new practices, or systems can help your employees achieve better results.
  • Breeding innovation. New systems and ideas can be easily born out of education, which in turn gives you competitive advantages and benefits to outline for potential customers. 
  • Happier team members. Learning new things and developing new skills helps your employees feel more accomplished, and as such happier in the workplace.

So the benefits are clearly there. Let’s see how you can pull it off.

Practical Improvements

The first step (although not the most important one) to turn your company into a learning organization is to change the day-to-day operations of your business to support learning. These changes include:

  • Letting your employees study and learn on company time. This can even be a common activity. I know companies that have mandatory reading each week, and then the whole team meets on Friday to discuss what they read. It’s not easy to do this with larger teams, but it’s still an idea to take into account.
  • Talking about learning and education, and encouraging your employees to do it. Leading by example, and doing it yourself, is a great first step to encourage this behaviour.
  • Sponsoring learning opportunities. This can be as simple as purchasing everyone a Udemy subscription, and recommending courses. If you want to take it a step further, you can scout and vet more expensive courses, and then either make them available to your entire team, or designate a specific person to go through the course and share the information with the team later.
  • Letting people on your own team share their knowledge. For example, if there’s only one person that understands SEO in your marketing team, you could have them prepare a crash course to share with everyone about SEO.
  • Default to numbers. A learning organization is not just about your employees growing, it’s also about the organization as a whole. You want to get in the habit of analyzing past performance, and implement changes based on that.

These are just a few tips, so you can definitely think of more best practices, especially some that apply best to your company. A good way to find practical solutions is to focus on the right mindset and values.

Mindset And Values

Turning your company into a learning organization is more of a mindset shift and change in values than anything else. If you can adapt your mindset, and your employee’s mindset to default to learning, then education automatically becomes a value in your company.

But how can you do it?

First, follow the practical tips we outlined above. After that, you should outline why education is important, and what it can provide for your company. This will help you internalize education and learning as an intrinsic value, so your mindset can default to that whenever it needs to.

Education is not just about reading books or watching courses. One of the best ways people learn is by experience, so a mindset shift towards learning should encourage experimentation. If your employees try something new, but they mess up, you shouldn’t scold them. Sure, you should impress on them the gravity of the mistake, if the outcomes are truly problematic. But most importantly, you should treat every failure as a good thing. A learning opportunity.

It’s an old adage, yes. But that’s because it’s true. Mistakes teach us what we need to avoid, or what we need to do better. And they’re fundamental for a mindset shift in your company.

Lastly, update your value statement to reflect a default to learning. Even if at first it’s just on paper, if you follow our practical tips, and focus on a mindset shift, it’ll slowly become real.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to turn your company into a learning organization can take a while, so you shouldn’t abandon the process if it doesn’t seem to work from the first week. Education in and of itself takes time, let alone changing an entire organization to value it.

But I promise, if you put in the effort, it will be worth it. Do you agree?