As our working patterns have evolved, so have the expectations of our employees. Expectations are a fundamental element of any culture and so we are seeing cultural shifts across many organisations. As a learning and development professional, this is an opportunity to influence the cultural dynamic within your workplace, but there are many factors to consider in creating a ‘culture of learning’ that is effective, provides value, and has a positive impact on the organisation. One of the primary considerations is aligning the culture of learning you are creating with the wider organisational culture you are operating in.

So let’s start there.

What is organisational culture?

It can be broadly defined as the collective values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of everyone across the organisation. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected. And, although organisational culture is reinforced by leaders it cannot exist within one person, it is a group phenomenon, residing in shared behaviours, common values and social norms.When organisational culture aligns with company strategy it can unleash unfathomable amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and in turn the organisations capacity to thrive. Research conducted by Groysburg, Lee, Price and Cheng, and published in Harvard Business Review, identifies eight distinct organisational cultures. These cultural types can be grouped into quadrants by how people respond to change (from flexibility to stability) and how people interact (from independence to interdependence).

The cultural types are:

When grouped into quadrants they are as follows:

If a cultural shift is created within an organisation, this may result in higher turnover rates due to the misalignment of individuals’ values, beliefs, expectations and mindsets. But in turn, this can mean that an organisation attracts people who seek the opportunities that are presented.

The Groysburg, Lee, Price and Cheng research identified that the Results culture is the most predominant type in the companies that were part of the study. Yet for organisations seeking to respond to challenging political and/or environmental factors, there is a clear trend toward focusing on a learning culture to create innovation and business agility.

These two statements show the power of a Chief Executive Officer’s words in influencing the cultural dynamic of the organisation:

“We have a ‘wolf’ spirit in our company. In the battle with lions, wolves have terrifying abilities. With a strong desire to win and no fear of losing, they stick to the goal firmly, making the lions exhausted in every possible way.”

Ren Zhengfei, CEO, Huawei (Authority culture)

“I’m interested in things that change the world or that affect the future and wondrous new technology where you see it and you’re like ‘Wow, how did that even happen?’”

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Learning culture)

Creating an effective ‘culture of learning’

Firstly, every organisation can have a ‘culture of learning’, but this must align with the culture of the organisation. Step one: identify the true culture of your organisation or the aspirational culture of your organisation.

Secondly, align your learning infrastructure and learning opportunities with the factors prevalent within your cultural type.

For example:

Enjoyment cultures thrive on high flexibility and independence. The learning and development infrastructure needs to be accessible as and when needed, with learning resources that have an emphasis on interactivity, gamification, video learning and simulation. Opportunities to share and collaborate will be fundamental within this type of culture. Employees will be united by curiosity, knowledge and adventure.

Compared with Order cultures that thrive on high stability and interdependence. The learning infrastructure needs to be compliance-based, consistently available and structured. The learning resources need to be multi-modal to account for different learning styles across your organisation. Employees will be united by cooperation, shared procedures and established customs.

In summary, creating an effective ‘culture of learning’ which provides value and has a positive impact on the organisation is about aligning your learning and development strategy, infrastructure and learning resources with the cultural dynamics and strategic direction of your organisation. Where learning is valued and enables employees to achieve the performance that is defined by the organisation, this will provide the return on investment that is required.

And therein is another question: ‘How do you measure return on investment and learning impact?’ – watch this space.

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