The answer to this question is important because of the impact culture has on an organization.  I like this quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. You can have the most elegant strategic plan, but if your organization’s beliefs and assumptions, values and guiding principles, workplace symbols and artifacts, and company lore are not consistent with that plan, not much will happen.

Culture used to be considered a byproduct of organizational life. Today, many companies are being quite intentional about culture. So, how do you know what kind of culture you have and, if you want GreatWallPicture1

to create a learning culture, how do you know when you have one? Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO at HubSpot, gives us a way to think about this. He writes, “The true nature of your company – and its culture – is determined by how you instinctively react.”

Taking a cue from Shah, here are some espoused values (not necessarily values in use) and instinctive reactions that indicate either the presence or absence of a learning culture.

The espoused value says, “We want all employees to develop their skills and abilities.”

An executive assistant asks her boss for permission to attend a series of workshops on financial management that is being offered by the company. She explains that this would help her understand the company better, be more helpful to him, and strengthen her career portfolio. Is the executive’s first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition, but I need you here right now. We can look at arranging something in the future. And, besides, I don't have the budget for that.” Or, is the executive’s first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition. That would be useful knowledge for you to have. Thanks for bringing this request to my attention. Let’s talk about how we can make that happen as soon as possible.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We learn from our mistakes.”

A project team member reluctantly admits to the team leader that due to some unforeseen factors their project will not come in on-time and within budget. Is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “I’m very disappointed in our team. Why weren’t these problems anticipated? Why wasn’t I told about this sooner?” Or, is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get the team together and review what happened. I want us to learn from this experience so that we can do a better job of reaching our goals in the future.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

The espoused value says, “We share information and have open and honest lines of communication.”

The R&D department of a company has produced several prototypes of an exciting new product that has the potential to become a blockbuster for the company. Manufacturing helped with the prototype but has not learned enough about it yet to move it into production. The Marketing Department is telling potential customers about the new product and the Sales Department is taking orders and promising delivery. Is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “We have to fast-track this product with Manufacturing so that we can fill orders and keep customers happy.” Or, is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get all of the departments heads together and find out what each of them needs to know from each other in order to make a successful launch of the new product.” Both reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.

How would people in your organization instintively react to these situations? What other situations would help you determine if you have a learning culture in your organization?

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