10 Practical Insights to Improve Your Learning Culture

How can companies meet the growing demand to provide the knowledge and skills to make employees more productive, engaged, motivated and happy?

Why do people work at a company like Google? Good salary. Check. Good benefits. Check. But it turns out that one of the most compelling reasons to work at Google is to learn. How many other companies can offer the kind of learning culture that attracts top talent? Not many. 

Big Think hosted a recent event for learning and development leaders from the world’s most innovative organizations, and explored the common thread of challenges faced by organizations, large and small:

  • How can we develop learning programs that will result in better recruitment,  retention, and employee satisfaction?

  • How can we convince key stakeholders that these programs will lead to company-wide success?

  • How do we secure the resources needed to implement these programs?

    To help employees and their companies answer these challenges, Big Think developed Big Think Edge, an online learning platform. 

    While most corporate learning solutions remain mired in the past, teaching outdated skills in rote formats, Big Think Edge helps companies get smarter, faster. It helps the world’s best places to work provide the knowledge and skills to make their employees at every level more productive, engaged, motivated and happy. Edge empowers talent to direct their own professional and leadership development with access to actionable advice on how to succeed in business and in life through a series of short-form video vignettes, featuring world-renowned business leaders, Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs and actors, including Peter Thiel, T.Boone Pickens, John Mackey, Edward Norton, Robert S. Kaplan and John Seely Brown.

    Below you will find the key takeaways and actionable insights shared at the event on how to implement a successful learning culture in your organization.

    Insight #1: Stretching the Edge

    John Seely Brown, Innovation Expert, says that organizations need to find the "edge dwellers," and "pull them together, and give them voice.” Edge dwellers are the change agents within an organization. Brown says they need to be given permission to experiment and push boundaries, and they need to be provided with tools to have at their disposal, such as social media. 

    In the Edge track, Stretching the Edge, John Seely Brown delivers groundbreaking insights on how companies can foster innovation within all levels of their organization, sharing radical ideas from people and companies who are making it happen today.

    Insight #2: Mentorship as Dialogue: The Changing Face, and Faces, of Coaching and Mentorship


    Rob Kaplan, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, points out the difference between mentoring and coaching. 

    Mentoring involves this: "I tell you a story, you give me advice based on that story." The problem is the advice is only as good your story, Kaplan says. Coaching, on the other hand, involves advice from those who observe you based on a direct assessment of your skills.

    So here is how to encourage coaching:

  • Figure out who observes you in action. For entrepreneurs or senior people, its their peers or subordinates.

  • Assessment of your skills:

  • Write down what tasks you like and what you don’t.

  • How does that match with the priorities, the tasks that need to get done?

  • Where is there a match and where is there a mismatch?

  • Build relationships based on:

  • Mutual understanding

  • Mutual trust

  • Mutual respect

    In the Edge track, The Leadership Challenge, Rob Kaplan delivers coaching and mentorship fundamentals for success in today’s knowledge economy.

    Insight #3: The View from the C-Suite: The Business Case for Investing in Learning Culture


    Tom Glocer, former Chief Executive Officer of Thomson Reuters, makes the business case for implementing a learning culture. 

    “The best employees are the curious employees and those that want lifelong learning," he says. "They want to know how things work. Stimulate that curiosity and desire for learning within your employees and you will open the doors for innovation.”

    So how do you convince a decision-maker to invest in Learning and Development? As Glocer points out, the problem is everyone is competing for the same resources and Learning and HR initiatives often sound “squishy” to the CFO. Therefore, the stakeholders need to be convinced that not only will the data demonstrate the importance to the organization down the road, you will immediately be able to witness the importance to the individuals. Over time, it will translate into attrition rates.

    As we discussed with the case of Google, the dedication the company shows to investing in the individual is often valued higher than compensation.

    In the Edge track, Communicating 360, Tom Glocer discusses how to effectively communicate a company’s values and mission throughout all levels of the organization.

    Insight #4: News Organizations as Models of Constancy and Change in Learning Culture


    David Westin, former President of ABC News, says that in a world of constant change, "you need to have people learning what is new and what is available, just to achieve your mission.”

    Westin points out that just as the marketing world is using social media and big data to predict trends and keep their brands relevant, learning content needs to be constantly updated and refreshed to reflect rapidly changing issues and challenges that will resonate with employees.

    So what can we learn from the news business? Westin says you must leverage content that engages the audience, and that is in terms of great storytelling, context and quality.

    The Edge track Organizing for Agility teaches how to engage your audience in today’s changing information landscape.

    Insight #5: Givers Take All: The Hidden Dimensions of Corporate (Learning) Culture


    Adam Grant, Management professor at Wharton and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, outlines key techniques for for creating a giving environment:

  • Weed out the takers.

  • Recognize and reward givers.

  • Build a culture of help seeking.

  • Be willing to ask for help.

  • Create an environment of psychological safety where you’re not seen as weak if you ask for help.

  • Once you find out what people need, you can add value to other people’s lives at low personal cost.

  • Create a reciprocity ring- ask everyone in the room to come up with one request, something they want or value but can’t do on their own.  Then encourage everyone in the room to help them get it. This method creates visibility, takers get weeded out.

  • Organize a reciprocity network online.

    In the Edge track, Finding your Passion, Adam Grant shares advice on how to increase productivity through generosity and find true meaning in your work.

    Insight #6: Ahead of the Curve: Learning Cultures as Innovation Drivers - Case Study


    Terry Young, CEO and founder of Sparks & Honey, explains how the newsroom model works in his company's culture. 

    “Newsrooms are built to read movements in culture as they happen," he says, "to create content that increases in quality and sophistication as the public’s demand for it grows. Success depends on timely, relevant and stirring content that is useful for readers and often highly emotive.”

     Young says the key to productivity and time management is leveraging a well-constructed content arsenal that can be activated quickly and initing the passion of a young staff. He says the blending of the external and internal environment, of personal life and career, creates continuity within the organization.

    In the Edge track, Building Brand, Terry Young, discusses how to use big data and real time creativity to establish brand presence in today’s market.

    Insight #7: Giving Voice to Your Employees


    Jennifer Brown, the CEO and founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting, explores how to make an organization a more welcoming culture for all kinds of diverse talent. That involves implementing training initiatives focused on diverse perspectives, the crowd-sourcing of idea generation, and the ability to harness the knowledge of people in the middle of the organization.

    In the Edge Track, Driving Innovation through Diversity, Jennifer Brown shares advice on how to implement and measure successful diversity initiatives in your organization.

    Insight #8: From Millennials to Boomers: Strategies for Developing a Cross-Generational Approach to Learning


    Bhushan Sethi, People & Change Practice Lead at PwC and Dennis Finn, Vice Chairman, Global Human Practices Lead, PwC presented a survey of recent university graduates about their expectations of work. The PwC survey was conducted in late 2011, and consisted of a total of 4,364 university graduates from across 75 countries. Here are some of the findings:

  • Development and work/life balance are more important than financial reward.

  • Millennials say they are comfortable working with older generations and value mentors in particular, but prefer to connect using technology rather than the telephone or face-to-face.

  • Technology is often a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace and many millennials feel held back by rigid or outdated working styles.

  • Millennials have a natural desire to collaborate, need for autonomy is less compared to non-Millennials.

    So just how crucial is development?

  • Personal learning and development is the most essential benefit they want from employers.

  • In second place they want flexible working hours.

  • Cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place.

    The Edge track Energizing People teaches strategies on developing a cross-generational approach to learning and employee development.

    Insight #9: Listen and Learn: Building the Practice of Continuous Learning as a Leader

    Fred Hassan, the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Schering-Plough Corp, says that in order to create success within your organization, you need to build a culture of ownership, accountability and continuous learning.

    Hassan also offered advice for how to talk to your CEO about getting the budget for L&D initiatives:

  • Get the cooperation of the people on the front-lines. If the line people are with you, the CEOs will hear about it and you will be seen as a value-add.

  • Demonstrate that it adds value to your line.

  • Understand what key variable the company is looking for on the other end and link yourself to that variable in some way.

    In the Edge Track, Leading Change,  Fred Hassan shares insights on how to create success within your organization through building a culture of ownership, accountability, and continuous learning.

    Insight #10: You Need to bring a cost-effective, continuous learning culture to your organization.

    Here are a couple of things we’ve learned that will help you convince your colleagues and managers to invest in the learning and development of your employees with actionable, engaging video content featuring the world’s most recognized people:

  • People want to learn in a format that engages and inspires them--it has to be top-quality production to be effective.

  • They want to be inspired by recognizable leaders, sharing their personal experiences that can be translated into action.

  • The content needs to be multi-purpose -- useable for individual learning, or as a conversation catalyst in team meetings to drive innovation and leadership.

    To meet a growing demand among results­ driven companies to provide the knowledge and skills that will make their employees at every level, more productive, engaged, motivated and happy, Big Think presents Big Think Edge.

    Image courtesy of Shutterstock

    Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

    Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
    • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
    • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
    Keep reading Show less

    Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

    Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

    Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
    Culture & Religion

    Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

    Keep reading Show less

    Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can last over a year, new study finds

    We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.

    Bottles of antidepressant pills named (L-R) Wellbutrin, Paxil, Fluoxetine and Lexapro are shown March 23, 2004 photographed in Miami, Florida.

    Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • A new review found that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and antipsychotics can last for over a year.
    • Side effects from SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics last longer than benzodiazepines like Valium or Prozac.
    • The global antidepressant market is expected to reach $28.6 billion this year.
    Keep reading Show less

    Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

    Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    David McNew/Getty Images
    Politics & Current Affairs

    'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

    Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…