How To Evolve From A Company Into A Learning Organization

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This article first appeared on the Vail Centre Blog.

As a company grows and changes, the conventional wisdom is that businesses will need to hire more team members with the right skills and experience to fill these new positions.

This process is not as easy as it sounds. Even if a company is generating revenue and increasing profits, there might not be a large budget for payroll. Many businesses want a small staff of dedicated employees, rather than a bloated workforce that can be hard to manage. Despite a slew of job search websites, recruitment firms and social media campaigns aimed at attracting the top candidates for a position, it’s still difficult for employers to hire the right person who will be a good fit for both the job and the company.

The truth is, finding the perfect, qualified applicant for any one role is a huge challenge for many companies and businesses. As several industries become increasingly automated — including the tech and hospitality sectors — even career-level professionals with years of experience have trouble keeping up with rapid changes in the workforce.

Key Elements of a Learning Organization

Rather than focusing on hiring and recruiting, many companies are now putting more effort toward training and educational opportunities for their current employees. Industry leaders are now beginning to understand the necessity of these programs and how they help companies take their business to the next level.

Forward-thinking companies realize that employee growth and development is an important investment in their own future. The majority of younger workers, particularly Millennials, want to work for companies that place an emphasis on skill building and allow employees to gain leadership and management experience.

In order to do this, businesses need to create a culture of learning within the company.

3 Important Steps Towards a Learning Organization

1. Actively think about how your organization works and develop new ways of working — Companies that implement critical thinking strategies are able to take a step back and consider how exactly their organization functions, and how they could improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

2. Put an effort towards employee training, development and advancement — Companies cannot create a culture of learning without placing a major focus on helping employees acquire new skills and grow their knowledge of leadership, business and marketing tactics.

3. Implement programs that foster a spirit of continuing education and lifelong learning — Most employers want to build a team that is constantly growing and improving, but not everyone follows through on this. Companies that make the shift from a traditional business culture to a learning organization often have a plan for how they’re going to encourage employees to constantly push themselves forward and make learning an instrumental part of the workplace.

Implementing a Culture of Learning in Your Organization

There are many ways companies can instill a culture of learning and evolve into a learning organization. Here are 4 that can get you started:

1. Develop formal and informal programs focused on learning — Many business leaders and managers believe that employees learn “on the job.” While this is true in a sense, the assumption that all employees will acquire the skills they need just by working at a company isn’t the best way to approach on-the-job training. Informal learning programs that integrate coaching, on-demand training, and performance support tools have been shown to outperform formal training programs.

2. Reward expertise and recognize learning as a skill — Companies should highlight the efforts of team members who are consistently growing and learning in their roles. Organizations tend to think of employee advancement in lateral terms, like by promoting an entry-level worker to a management position. Leaders also need to view advancement as it applies to learning and find ways to reward employees who are challenging themselves and acquiring new skills.

3. Incorporate learning in all aspects of the workplace — Learning doesn’t just happen during set times or during formal training sessions. Department meetings can be an opportunity to talk about how to improve on business plans and initiatives, brainstorm new solutions and discuss alternative ways of approaching problems. During those meetings, company leaders should explain how they came to certain conclusions and share their knowledge and expertise on a particular subject.

4. Invent new and out-of-the-box learning strategies for team members — Many companies have developed unique ways to help employees participate in ongoing learning initiatives. Some organizations started learning-focused book clubs, which allows employees to gain more knowledge and insight from thought leaders in their industry, propels innovation and can even help team members bond over shared interests and improve employee relations.

Companies Who Have Adopted a ‘Learning Culture’ Mindset

Many companies — big and small — have already transitioned from doing business as usual to becoming an organization with a strong culture of learning. Corporations like American Express have designed their own learning and development programs aimed at teaching employees how to maximize learning while engaged in an activity or skills training. American Express also created “learning paths” for its employees that include workshops, peer learning and on-the-job training.

Optoro, a tech company that works with manufacturers and retailers, encourages its employees to participate in conferences, professional organizations, and learning programs as a way to enforce continuous learning and development. The company even gives its employees an annual professional development budget, which can be used for certificate programs, leadership training, seminars or other types of work-related education courses.

According to research compiled by CEB Inc., only one in 10 companies have a true learning culture, which is defined by supporting an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization. In 2013, U.S. organizations spent an average of $1,208 per employee on training and development. However, business experts have determined that companies spend at least 11 percent more on training per person than is cost-effective.

Even companies that allocate the funds for employee development need to make sure that these resources are being spent wisely and effectively.

Certificate Programs Focused on Learning and Development

Helping organizations and businesses create a culture of learning is one of the goals of Vail Centre, a leader in education and development for career and executive-level professionals. Professors from esteemed colleges and universities — including Yale University, Duke University and Cornell University — are flown in directly to the Vail Centre campus to teach three-day or week-long seminar courses focused on leadership and management in the hospitality industry. These accredited certificate programs give organizations and their team members the skills, tools and resources they need to succeed in today’s business culture.

For more information on Vail Centre’s upcoming course schedule, contact us or email Todd Wallis at