Changing an organization’s culture is not easy. It doesn’t happen simply because of the pronouncements of the CEO, or a reorganization of business units, or by conducting an organizational pulse survey, or by hiring new managers. Culture is much too complex; it’s the how and why of what an organization does internally and externally. Culture is the collective beliefs, assumptions, and values of employees (and other stakeholders) and culture affects every aspect of organizational life.

As I have argued in previous posts, to be successful in today’s world, companies need to have a culture that values and supports learning. Becoming this kind of culture takes strong leadership and a concerted effort by all stakeholders, in addition to new and repeated efforts over time.  However, some CLOs feel pressure to change things immediately.

In my online course for the Association for Talent Development (formerly known as ASTD) titled, Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture, participants want to know what they can do Change ahead in the short term to create a learning culture. I’m reluctant to make specific suggestions at the risk of over-simplifying the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, some experts have offered ideas about actions that can be taken relatively quickly to enhance organizational learning. For example, Jane Hart has a five-point plan for increasing social learning. She writes:

  1. Create and support on demand, self service content (courses, tutorials, guides, resources and job aids)
  2. Scaffold and guide social learning experiences (for the training room, online and continuously in learning flows)
  3. Help work teams, groups and communities share their knowledge and experiences to learn from one another
  4. Help individuals (create and) share their own resources to support one another
  5. Help individuals acquire the new modern learning skills (building their professional networks, locating appropriate resources, managing information overload, recording their learning, building a personal brand, learning out loud)

These are excellent recommendations that should help leaders be intentional about the social aspect of learning in their organizations. However, these actions alone will not overcome the barriers to learning that are part of the culture of many companies, such as: leaders who are afraid of risk-taking and experimentation; managers who don’t believe in change; an incentive and reward system that doesn’t recognize individual and team learning; and team leaders who do not ask the group to reflect on its actions. Implementing a plan to increase social learning is a step in the right direction but leaders also need to confront their organization's underlying values and beliefs about learning.