Our unique DIY approach to L&D at Culture Amp

We’re growing fast at Culture Amp. Over the past year we’ve grown from 50 people to just over 100. Over the next year it’s likely that we’ll double again.

The biggest problem with this rate of growth is it creates a very real risk that the people in the organization will get left behind; that the company will grow faster than all of us can grow individually.

That’s why it’s so important for us to commit to growing our people.

We’re true believers in the power of learning and development

At Culture Amp we have a genuine belief in the power of learning and development (L&D). But at the same time, we look beyond the traditional structured learning, lecture notes and outsourced training programs.

As Harvard Professor David Maister, author of First Among Equals: How To Manage A Group Of Professionals, has said: “The only training worth its salt is the training that an employee will be willing to go up the side of a mountain on a goat for.”

If people don’t want to be there, training is useless.

In planning our approach to L&D, we wanted to create an environment where training was not forced upon people, but was an amplifier that encouraged both the love of learning and the opportunity to learn.

We have two key programs that support our L&D vision: Coaching For Everyone and Learn Yourself Up

Program one: Coaching For Everyone

The first program we’ve implemented is Coaching For Everyone. Every person working at Culture Amp has access to a number of sessions with an executive coach or life coach at the six-month mark, and then again at the 12 and 24-month anniversaries of their employment.

The coaches on our panel offer a variety of services and Culture Amp doesn’t dictate what an individual uses them for, nor receive any reports or feedback.

These sessions are there for our people to use as they like, to help plan growth whether it be personal, work based or spiritual.

The benefits of this approach are often indirect, but substantial. For example, having an experienced counselor teach better communication with your spouse will probably do more for your work performance than any amount of work-focused training. So, if that’s what a person wants to use their sessions for, we say go for it.

Plenty of organizations offer coaches to their executives. Our Coaching For Everyone program is for everyone, because we want all our people to grow, not just those in the boardroom.

Program two: Learn Yourself Up

One of Culture Amp’s core values is: “Trust people to make decisions.” Our Learn Yourself Up program embraces that value whilst harnessing the concept of crowdsourcing.

We allocate a budget on a quarterly basis — currently $15,000 — to be used by the entire company. From that budget anyone in the company can put themselves through any training without having to seek approval. They simply sign up through a shared spreadsheet, and then pay a co-contribution (Culture Amp pays 90 cents in the dollar for work related learning, or 50 cents in the dollar for personal learning).

The reason for the co-contribution is it changes how people think. Whilst for work-related learning this is only a small amount, you still have to invest your own money. This personal contribution reinforces the idea that training is inherently valuable — and not just a free perk of working at Culture Amp.

There’s no requirement for the training to be work-related. If someone wants to learn better nutrition, how to balance a household budget, interior design, coding or floral arranging, we say go for it.

There is one catch — once the budget has been used up for the quarter, it is gone, and every spending choice is available for all to see. Anyone in the company can work through the shared spreadsheet. Accountability comes from visibility. If one person hogs a third of the budget on a private cooking class with the Masterchef hosts, they will have to answer to their colleagues.

Given the unusual nature of the initiative, our people were a little slow to get started with Learn Yourself Up. In the first quarter we rolled out the program, we had to actively promote creative use of the budget. But once people saw Culture Amp picking up the tab for Syliva’s Pilates and Joe’s topography, more people were encouraged to use the system.

Now the budget is exhausted every quarter. Our focus is on ensuring the available funds grow in line with demand.

What about our compliance obligations?

That’s all very well, you might say, but what about our basic compliance requirements?

We do that too, of course. We have a separate training budget for the stuff that has to happen and, of course, our people don’t have to co-contribute to that. If their role will benefit from certification, we are going to do whatever it takes to have the person in that role get certified.

Sometimes the crazy ideas are the best ideas

When it comes to taking risks and being willing to do things differently, innovation in L&D is a really easy one to try. Culture Amp’s budget may be $15,000 a quarter, but any organization can start smaller, put it out there and see what people do.

The idea that the training doesn’t have to be directly related to your job may be a bit hard to swallow for people who have come from a traditional work-is-work and leisure-is-leisure background. But we’ve found the holistic approach works and the concept of wellness as an overarching outcome gets better results.

Learning & Development at Culture Amp is based on the fundamental idea that people need to grow, and they need to grow holistically. It’s completely true to our values to give our people the resources and flexibility to do that.

How are you innovating in L&D?

I’d love to hear how other organizations are innovating and trying things a little bit crazy in Learning and Development. Let’s discuss in the comments below:

Didier Elzinga is a People Geek and CEO/Co-Founder of Culture Amp. You can follow Didier on Medium, Twitter or LinkedIn. This post was first published on the Culture Amp blog.