Vicki Russell: The importance of creating a learning and development culture

‘Culture’ is a word which is banded around a lot in the HR community; whether the term refers to the culture of the team we work in, or the business that we are a part of. The complexity and subjectivity of organisational culture has always fascinated me, not only because it is so fluid, but also because it is influenced by so many variables.

If you are lucky enough to work in a business with a genuinely fantastic culture, as I do, then culture can seem effortless. Workplace culture can seem accidental, and we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that such positive company cultures are somewhat down to good luck, or perhaps a little bit of indefinable magic; but this is far from the case. Instead, culture needs to be crafted gradually over time; our leadership teams need to live and breathe it, and; we must never fall into the trap of thinking that the journey towards a truly fantastic workplace culture is ever complete.

The same challenge applies when it comes to building a really authentic learning and development (L&D) culture, but sometimes it can be difficult to gain buy-in when it comes to L&D. Maybe this is because an end-to-end L&D culture is a new concept to your business and a totally new way of working for managers and colleagues alike; your team may not feel 100 per cent comfortable engaging with it or in it. It may be the case that L&D is not always the number one priority against other business objectives, so it tends to drop off or be placed lower down on the to-do list, particularly in times of peak productivity, or just when the unexpected happens and things go a bit Pete Tong. Whatever your challenge may be, the key is to make small steps gradually over time and suffuse Learning and Development throughout your organisation at every level.

As a true L&D culture needs to permeated throughout the organisation, the first step is to ensure that your leadership team are bought into the benefits of training, both to their teams and the business as a whole. Ensure that you measure and share the before and after effects of training and development, and don’t underestimate the need to track the impact of any training over time to monitor results, however big or small they may seem.

The next step is to engage with managers regularly via meetings and anonymous surveys, not only to get their feedback and input on what learning and development programmes are in already in place, but also to find out what else they would like to see in the workplace. Your leadership team are likely to have worked in other organisations with Learning and Development offerings which vary from your own, so gain their input on your own offering and strategy for a wider scope which could add value to the business.

I am a firm believer in leadership by example, so enable your managers to lead by example with their own teams by actively taking part in business-wide training and owning their own personal development. It is counterproductive for a management team to encourage learning practices which they are not engaging in, so ensuring that the entire team partake in development practices is an important step in the process and sets a positive precedent for the wider team.

Listen to what training needs are requested by your business, but try not to stop there. Do not be afraid to take risks by trying new things in the training room and gauging the reaction and impact; of course, individuals will feed back that they need help with coaching and change management, but are they likely to flag the requirement for wellbeing or mindfulness training? At colleague level, introduce gamification into training, and ensure that training is available for everyone.

If your organisation still needs convincing, it’s clear that today’s employees deem learning new skills on a par with, if not more essential than, a promotion or pay rise. Not only can this benefit current employees, but by offering appealing training programmes that can improve skillset, your business will be much more attractive to new faces, as more people take this into consideration when switching jobs.

Lifelong learning can be a challenge, but if you can integrate L&D at every step of the employee lifecycle, and educate managers on how to have conversations with their teams about development through one to ones and personal development plans, then it can become an integral part of everyday working life. Balance this with an offering of structured in house and external training modules that are available for everyone (not just your management team), e-learning and self-taught personal development plan time and you will have a solid foundation for a learning and development culture.





Vicki Russell is head of HR for Instantprint, part of Bluetree Group.