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Becoming a learning organization

January 6, 2020
By Brian Kreissl

In my last post, I discussed the concept of the learning organization and just what it means. But how does a company go about actually becoming a learning organization?

There are several things an organization can do to really foster an orientation towards learning and development, but I believe such a transformation must start with a culture that is open to learning. This needs to begin with an organization’s senior leadership team and cascade down from there.

Some of the features of a culture that is conducive to the development of a learning organization are as follows:

  • Authenticity, transparency and the freedom to speak honestly and openly.
  • A culture that rewards appropriate risk-taking and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • A focus on learning from failure rather than punishing people for failing.
  • Curiosity and a desire for continuous improvement.
  • A culture that values input from all levels of the organization.
  • Agility and a willingness to adapt to, accept and embrace change.
  • A culture that encourages and rewards collaboration, information-sharing and breaking down barriers and silos.
  • A long-term planning horizon rather than focusing solely on short-term financial results.
  • A culture that encourages people to do things differently and try new and innovative approaches.
  • A commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • The understanding that learning and development is a shared responsibility and not just something HR or the training department is responsible for.
  • A commitment to shared learning as an organization and within teams.

Without a learning culture that encourages employee development, it is difficult to have an organization that truly supports learning at individual, team and organizational levels. If senior leaders don’t walk the talk when it comes to learning and development, or the organization doesn’t seem to allow employees to spend time on development activities, employees will get the message that the organization cares little about their development and is committed to the status quo.


Without a strong commitment to learning and development, organizations may face disruption and obsolescence. It is also increasingly important to provide meaningful development opportunities to employees, who will want to ensure they remain marketable.

Even when an employer is worried employees will take their skills and competencies elsewhere, it can actually enhance employee retention, motivation, productivity and engagement by providing learning and development opportunities. While some of these opportunities will take the form of formal training or e-learning courses, most learning that takes place in organizations is of the informal variety.

According to the 70/20/10 model of learning and development put forward by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo, workplace learning should consist of approximately 70 per cent on-the-job or experiential learning, 20 per cent social learning through communities, networking, coaching and mentoring, and only 10 per cent through formal learning. While several people have criticized this ratio – which is really a guestimate at best – the point is that most learning that occurs in organizations happens through channels other than classroom training sessions.

Tips and strategies for expanding learning opportunities

Aside from the general cultural considerations mentioned above, the following are some specific things organizations can do to enhance learning and development at both the individual and organizational levels:

  • Offer a wide array of classroom and/or e-learning courses to employees.
  • Implement a learning and development function and/or consider establishing a corporate university.
  • Institute individual development plans for employees that personalize learning.
  • Ensure managers provide ongoing performance coaching and feedback (both positive and constructive in nature).
  • Encourage managers to have regular career conversations with employees; consider career discussions with the manager-once-removed.
  • Conduct succession planning and encourage promotion from within.
  • Implement leadership development programs.
  • Establish coaching and mentoring programs for employees.
  • Develop a generous tuition reimbursement program.
  • Provide reimbursements for employees’ professional memberships, conferences, seminars and subscriptions.
  • Consider partnering with e-learning vendors, training consultancies and academic institutions to deliver learning programs for employees.
  • Use action learning to stimulate learning among groups that relates to the solution of real-life organizational challenges.
  • Establish communities of practice to share knowledge and solve problems within the organization.
  • Implement knowledge management solutions to document, curate, store and disseminate knowledge within the organization.
  • Institute lunch and learn sessions within the organization to share information about different lines of business, departments, teams and functions.
  • Consider allowing employees to work on side projects (that relate to their roles and the organizations vision, mission and values) for a certain percentage of their time.

Brian Kreissl is a product development manager with Thomson Reuters in Toronto. He looks after HR, payroll, OH&S, records retention and Triform. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com or (416) 609-5886. For more information, visit https://store.thomsonreuters.ca/en-ca/home.

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