How to build a culture of learning

To thrive in an ever-changing IT climate, CIOs and other businesses leaders must create a culture of learning that embraces innovation and leverages it into a competitive advantage.

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Change in the IT industry happens at a breakneck pace, and organizations that aren't fostering a "culture of learning" will be left behind. To survive and even flourish, CIO and other business leaders must create a culture of learning, which means embracing new information and innovations and leveraging those into a pipeline of talent, thus creating a competitive advantage.

"IT changes so fast. Every day there are new technologies, new ways of doing things, new innovations that can make businesses smarter, help them move faster in response to market conditions, help them get an edge on the competition. A culture of learning is important for businesses to maintain current skills, stay on top of new and emerging tech, and get a market advantage," says Tim Low, vice president of marketing at PayScale.

A recent PayScale research report entitled, Creating a Culture of Learning, defined a "learning organization" as one that intentionally collect[s] information, reflect[s] on that information, and share[s] the findings to improve performance within the organization. As a result, learning organizations are able to adapt quickly in the face of unpredictable situations.

Regular learning and training should be a part of every employee's job description. "Learning cannot be an afterthought - it must be a core focus of any strong organization," says Kevin Griffin, CIO, GE Capital. "When learning is part of your culture, it doesn't stand out as something outside the norm. For example, a learning-focused organization doesn't just hold periodic learning events or workshops separate from the day-to-day work. Instead, learning is integrated in every project or task, and employees are encouraged to dive in and learn by doing, asking questions when they hit roadblocks," says Griffin.

At GE Capital, for example, Griffin says that the focus is on learning throughout an employee's entire career, with extensive skills training, leadership training and professional development. "We [GE Capital] take a comprehensive approach when it comes to training and growing our talent, from entry level positions all the way to the top," Griffin says. For example, in its recent efforts within its own IT departments GE encourages all IT employees to undertake at least 40 hours of training per year. "There is never a point during your career at GE Capital when you're done learning, "Griffin says.

The Business Benefits of Learning

By emphasizing learning as a core business value, organizations are committing to continuous improvement, not just maintaining the status quo, according to Griffin. In addition to technical skills adding "soft" skills like leadership, communications and negotiations are also a key to businesses success. The drive toward a culture of learning can support faster time to market, improved enterprise agility and is a valuable engagement and retention tool for your most important asset-your talent.

"Organizations that effectively train and develop talent are those that focus on core skills that are most important to success, both technical skills and soft skills like leadership and communications. This focus enables the organizations to be more agile in responding to a changing business climate, and drive faster 'speed to market' for new product introduction, which is a critical goal for IT, "says Griffin.

Learning as a Retention Tool

Additionally, a culture of learning leads to higher staff retention. "A commitment to training is seen by employees as an investment in their worth and a powerful incentive to stay at the company. Investing in your employees' education can help retain talent and intellectual property at a time when there's stiff competition for both, says Griffin.

As the talent shortage intensifies in the IT industry, businesses are looking for cost-effective, proven methods to add important skills to their workforce without hiring additional staff and enterprises who offer learning opportunities find it's a valuable retention tool. "Businesses that effectively train and develop talent tend to keep them,"says Nate Kimmons, vice president of Enterprise Marketing at elearning solutions provider Lynda.com. According to Kimmons, organizations that do this correctly can dramatically reduce the need to hire additional resources.

From an employee perspective, gaining new skills they can apply in their current job, or gaining new skills like project management, negotiation, leadership and others can be a path to a promotion or to landing a new position. "Employees clamor for opportunities to learn not only technical, engineering and 'hard' skills, but also 'soft' skills that can translate to better leadership, better management and a more engaged and loyal workforce for your business," says Kimmons.

Overcoming Objections and Measuring ROI

One of the primary reasons some businesses are reluctant to invest in learning programs is because the immediate payback isn't always obvious according to Griffin but, as the PayScale report points out, there are metrics businesses can use to measure the effectiveness of learning programs and outcomes.

The report advises using outcome measurements, effectiveness measurements and efficiency measurements to accurately gauge the ROI of learning initiatives:

  • Outcome measurements capture the impact learning and development is expected thave on the organization's most important goals. For example, a sales training initiative might be expected tcontribute 20 percent toward the company goal of increasing sales by 10 percent.
  • Effectiveness measurements are indicators of how well learning contributes torganizational outcomes. In other words, effectiveness measures are about quality.
  • Efficiency measurements are indicators of an organization's activity and investment in learning. Examples include the number of learners and the percentage of employees that number represents, the number of courses, cycle times, utilization rates, and training costs, according tthe PayScale report data.

Smart IT leaders know that just because ROI is challenging to measure, doesn't mean it's not there. "I have ndoubt that we would be less successful as an organization if we didn't focus sintently on employee development," says Griffin.

This story, "How to build a culture of learning" was originally published by CIO.

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