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Learning and Organizational Well-being Go Hand in Hand

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Renowned author and thought leader Peter Senge believes there are five disciplines of a learning culture when it comes to the development of an organization.

  • Personal mastery: Personal capacity-building; encouraging personal and organizational goals to be developed and realized together
  • Mental models: Challenging and changing our way of thinking about the world around us
  • Shared vision: Building a shared vision and sense of collective commitment as to where we want to go as an organization and how to achieve that goal
  • Team learning: Building a team’s capacity to learn together and develop intelligence and ability together that is greater than the sum of its individual member’s talents
  • Systems thinking: Developing the ability to see the ‘big picture’ and understanding how changes in one area of the organization affect the system as a whole

An organization that embraces a learning culture through:

  • Value statements
  • Strategic priority
  • Resource allocation
  • Recognition for risk-taking
  • Innovation

will see the benefits through:

  • Engaged employees
  • Increased and improved innovation
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Problem-solving
  • Strengthened community
  • Greater efficiency

These are also indicators of organizational well-being.

Leadership plays an integral role in bringing these strategies to life. Leaders who create a shared vision, with shared values and purpose, are just the beginning. Setting policies, strategies, and structures that guide ideas to fruition is a solid next step. Visibly, actively, and repeatedly supporting learning processes and events over time builds trust and confidence. Leaders who teach are seen as coaches and not directors. Leaders who emphasize the importance of learning create a sense of being a part of something greater. Their desire is not to lead, but to serve and build better organizations and healthier work environments.

These leadership characteristics are necessary for building and supporting a learning organization, where the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set is valued. Josh Bersin points out: “The single biggest business impact (inside an organization) is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.” (Harvard Business Review, July 12, 2018)

A true learning culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of an organization is still the exception rather than the norm, according to Bersin. The good news is, though, leaders can do something about it. Here are five recommendations to help create a learning culture.

Make learning a stated value: Make learning a pillar, a core value. Embed it into strategic and business plans. Allocate resources to support learning and growth. These structures demonstrate that buy-in and modeling of learning behavior starts at the executive level, and that growth and development are integral to day-to-day operations.

Reward continuous learning: No matter your thoughts of recognition systems, recognition has a direct correlation to learning. When individuals are given the time and space to learn, are rewarded for curiosity, encouraged to think critically, and even speak up to challenge authority , the environment to produce something innovative blooms.

Give meaningful and constructive feedback: Often, when we become aware of the need and importance of knowing and learning something new, we open the door for learning. Feedback given in a constructive, results-oriented manner can provide clarity for what needs to be learned.

Lead by example: What leaders do routinely impacts an organization and reflects in the behaviors and performance of individuals and teams. The more senior the leader, the greater the impact. Start by displaying your own learning. Unlock your own curiosity. Volunteer to work on something unrelated to your primary job or take on an uncomfortable task. Share what you’re doing, share as you learn, and be vulnerable.

Ask for meaningful and constructive feedback: Authors of “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner tell us one of the greatest leverage behaviors a leader can exhibit is asking for feedback. If you want your employees and organization to learn — ask for feedback, then act on it. Share with others that you’ve heard the feedback and demonstrate change, growth, and learning.

Learning cultures can transform organizations and drive bottom-line results. When employees are learning, they are engaged, building their careers, and gaining knowledge and understanding. They will innovate, and when this happens, employees and organizations alike realize the benefits.


  • Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
  • Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Permuzic and Josh Bersin, July 12, 2018
  • Chief Learning Officer, Jonathan Finkelstein, April 21, 2021
  • The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner
Kelly Hillman
Kelly Hillman, L&I, Chief Learning Officer

Kelly began her public service with the Department of Licensing, where she spent 14 years.

Kelly first joined L&I in 1998 as a Staff Consultant. She has served as an Operations Manager for a Deputy Director, as the Assistant Director of Management Consulting Services and Organization Development Manager. Kelly has worked closely with executives, leadership teams and individual contributors advising and coaching them on organization and change management, accountability and personal responsibility, conflict resolution and effective communication. Kelly also spent 10 years with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) as the Performance Systems Manager where she was responsible for leading and managing 3 distinct operation units.

Kelly was appointed the L&I Chief Learning Officer in February 2018. Kelly leads the Inclusion, Learning and Development program where diversity, equity and inclusion, learning and growth are the primary focus. Kelly is also a founding member in the design and development of L&I’s Leadership Development Capstone program and serves as faculty.




We deliver high quality, cost effective support services to state government. DES features expertise in statewide contracting, training, printing & mail operations, human resources and financial systems, facilities management, and care of the state capitol grounds and buildings.

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