Why Do Companies Fail to Create a Learning Environment?

A company is only as good as its current pool of talent. And yet, so many companies fall down on creating an internal work environment.

Aside from the persistent problems of disparate content and difficult to use search, sometimes the environments we work in don’t support a continuing education. (And I don’t just mean going back to school, literally!) There are a lot of benefits to not only creating, but encouraging and (continuously) growing a learning environment within your company.

Plus, with the transition to a remote and/or hybrid workplace and the Great Resignation, a learning environment can help businesses foster collaboration and retention.

But if this is true, why and where do companies fail to create a learning environment? The problem is often a philosophical or attitude-based one. Let’s explore four scenarios.

1. Employees are accountable for their own development.

Our traditional learning experiences are in institutions that keep us accountable for our learning commitment. From primary school to the university level, we always have an extrinsic motivator, someone or something that holds us accountable for our learning commitment.

Unfortunately, it is usually an authority figure, a professor, a system requirement, or a grade. Because of that, people tend to struggle to learn by themselves as they miss that external force that encourages accountability.

2. Employees don’t have time for learning goals; they have a job to do.

The typical tactic for any company is to pledge a percentage of an individual contributor’s (IC) time to learn: seminars, books, webinars, etc. However, this tactic takes us back to the first scenario. It implies that the IC is in charge of their learning path and must prioritize learning at the same level as their work-related tasks.

This leads to prioritization conflict between those two elements, individual work and teamwork, and holds back most employees from investing in their development. When an IC’s development competes with, say, product development — typically considered a team effort — it’s easy for personal growth to take a second level on the priority list.

But, on the other hand, it does imply that any and every IC who has an intrinsic interest in learning and can identify, plan, reflect, and hold themselves accountable for their own experience.

3. Learning opportunities are seen as extravagant expenses.

As an IC and manager, I have seen, experienced, and explored different exercises to make the learning experience a group experience. Too often, companies fall down in ensuring information gleaned by a single participant is passed along to their team as a whole. For example, after an expensive conference, a company typically asks the returning IC to create a lunch & learn for their team to share knowledge.

Even if this is an excellent exercise for re-learning, I felt that this exercise is more beneficial as an argument for enabling ICs to go to an expensive conference. In addition, the information gained from attending the event isn’t shared in a way that makes it stick with the team and become a useful part of their daily collaboration.

To this end, it’s useful to note that when we learn together, we retain more. I have seen different results if two ICs attended the same conference. Because the two shared a learning experience and gained a new lens, they were more likely to bring that knowledge back to the whole group and integrate it as part of their work.

Because the two ICs shared their learning experience, the rest of the group can get additional perspectives and insights that remain in the group for much longer.

4. I don’t know where to start! Can you give me some feedback?

We all have different ways of learning, but one of the first barriers is selecting what we want to learn or focus on next. Some ICs will naturally want to learn it all at once, harvesting a lot of new information en masse but ultimately forgetting everything. That is the outcome of not making sense of the gathered knowledge and reflecting on it as part of a learning relationship or a community. It is a form of learning without understanding or retaining.

Others will opt for a more paced rhythm and start with small steps. But, unfortunately, that is also a tactic that eventually fizzles out as they compete with work-related tasks. Furthermore, it is most likely not in sync or supported by peers or the community.

Whether rapid or rambled, both of the above learning tactics tend to fall short because it’s challenging to find intrinsic motivation.

In most situations, ICs identify their learning goal due to a bad evaluation or negative feedback from their direct manager. That is a negative start for a learning goal and extrinsic motivation for learning. The IC often drops the learning goal once they prove to their manager that necessary steps were taken to improve the criticized performance.

This method encourages an IC to be reactive toward learning or improving skills. That also loops back to the authority figure from the first section.

So what are some steps you can take to make your workplace — whether you’re in the office in person, or waving hello to your coworkers via a video conferencing app — a better learning environment?

6 Tips For Creating a Learning Environment at Work

Example of Toolkit of skills
  • Finding the intrinsic motivation: Help the IC find their next learning goal, which is time-bound and measurable. You can use my toolkit of skills to help guide the discussion.
  • Coaching and caring: Avoid learning goals based on poor performance reviews. Instead, with guided conversations, help the IC identify skills to help them encounter current work challenges.
  • Learning relationships: Create a pairing learning relationship within your team. A learning buddy will help with accountability towards the learning goal.
  • Make it a team activity: Create team activities or learning periods to develop a learning community.
  • Create learning cycles: Create a team cycle of learning. Use the ALTE framework to create periods of learning.

Pledging a percent of company time for employee learning isn’t enough to create a learning environment and further elevate your talent pool.

The reason? Learning isn’t a solitary experience. Even from youth, education happens in a group environment. Your company doesn’t need to deviate from a tried-and-tested method!

By encouraging a shared learning experience — especially in pairs — creates personal and shared accountability. It also provides the support we all need for learning and making sense of newfound knowledge. And ultimately, it permeates the entire pool of talent!

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Raoul Flaminzeanu

Raoul Flaminzeanu

Hi, I am Raoul, and I create, guide and inspire the design and product teams to deliver experiences for millions of clients. Find out more at www.hiraoul.com

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