This article summarizes the April 2023 Abilitie webinar featuring Dr. Nigel Paine. You can view the recording here.
What sets individual learning apart from organizational learning?
Distinguishing the two has significant implications for workplace culture, potentially separating a toxic atmosphere from a positive one. The research by Bersin by Deloitte serves as a foundation to substantiate the value of organizational learning. The study reveals that high-performing learning institutions demonstrate the following advantages:
- A 46% greater likelihood of pioneering market introduction
- A 26% higher competence in delivering superior products
- A 37% increase in employee productivity.
Despite companies’ knowledge of the importance of organizational learning, many L&D professionals encounter difficulties integrating it into daily operations. According to a 2022 Stack Overflow survey of 73,000 respondents, knowledge silos interrupt the workflows of nearly half of developers. In fact, a team of 50 developers disclosed wasting between 333 to 651 hours per week in search of information. The absence of a learning culture bears a quantifiable cost to team performance and well-being.
The Dangers of Unchecked Individualism and Toxic Workplaces
Dr. Nigel Paine, esteemed author, writer, and broadcaster with over 25 years of experience in the realm of corporate learning, emphasizes the importance of employee well-being in creating a safe space for organizational learning to take place.
“We know that workplaces are harmful to human health because we work in them,” Dr. Paine said. “We also know that workplaces can be incredibly healing, sustaining, and exciting places to be. One of the important factors between health/well-being and misery/despair is the ability to be part of a learning community and feel the community has got your back.”
To further his point, Dr. Paine referred to an October 2022 article from The Washington Post, which reports that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy “warned that abusive or cutthroat workplaces may be harmful to human health.” When he issued this warning, Murthy also laid out five essentials to ensure employee well-being, one of them being connection and community — a crucial concept, according to Dr. Paine.
The Solution: Cultivating a Learning Culture Through Connection
Dr. Paine also compares organizations to the human brain, which is made up of a network of neurons, each neuron containing thousands of synapses that connect to other neurons.
“What makes us smart is not the individual synapses,” he explained. “It’s the connections between them. Learning happens in the space between people because what is important is the connections, not the individuals.”
Adding More Courses Isn’t Enough
If the most impactful learning happens in the space between, requiring employees to take more courses isn’t the answer. Rather than focusing on individual learning, Dr. Paine encourages L&D leaders to choose training programs that lean into the wisdom created by sharing knowledge from person to person throughout the organization.
“Shoveling a course at people is not going to cut it,” he said. “The idea that your success or the success of learning in an organization is based on ‘everyone did five courses last year’ is not in any way going to come to terms with these kinds of challenges.”
Ensure Your Employees Feel Psychologically Safe
Another key component of a healthy learning culture is psychological safety – which has been proven to encourage risk-taking, innovation, and collaboration in the workplace.
Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, said, “If you change the nature and quality of the conversations in your team, your outcomes will improve exponentially. Psychological safety is the core component to unlock this.”
What Is Learning Culture? The Four Elements
Dr. Paine’s learning culture framework ranks trust as the foundation element of a healthy organization’s learning culture.
“Start with trust,” he said. “Look at empowerment and engagement in your organization and focus on a leadership that embodies those three all within a context of diversity, being tolerant of all sorts of different geographies, ethnicities, age groups in the organization, so you’ve got maximum collaboration across the most places and the most people.”
With those elements in place, learning culture starts to build itself. “I thought it was really important to not start with, ‘Let’s build the learning,’ but let’s start with building the climate where learning can flourish,” Dr. Paine said.
Two Organizations that Successfully Foster a Culture of Learning
When considering the impact of a healthy learning culture, Dr. Paine points to two case studies — WD-40 and Microsoft.
WD-40, the American manufacturer of the iconic lubricant in a spray can, champions its learning culture by providing coaching to its employees, development and training programs through its Learning Laboratory, and reframing mistakes.
“When things go wrong, we don’t call them ‘mistakes,’” the WD-40 website reads. “We call them learning moments. We applaud the opportunity to openly discuss, learn, rectify, grow from our learning moments and share with others to avoid repeated learning moments.”
WD-40 has successfully created a psychologically safe work environment and a culture of trust and learning.
When Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft’s CEO in 2014, he set out to create a learning culture.
“What I love about Satya Nadella and his contribution to Microsoft is that he not only focused on building an organization of learners, but it’s all about sharing and learning from outside,” Dr. Paine said.
This desire to integrate external knowledge into the organization is reflected in Nadella’s book, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. In reference to listening to customers, Nadella writes: “We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft.”
Presenting a Rationale for the Significance of Organizational Learning Amidst Time Constraints
How can organizations prioritize a learning culture when employees are strapped for time?
In preparation for implementing an enterprise-wide program, initiating a pilot program with smaller employee groups can be advantageous. Dr. Paine espouses that this approach generates social proof to effectively convey the benefits of an L&D program to the wider organization.
He also advocates for measuring the outcomes and impact of the pilot program, and if positive results are obtained, scaling it up. This approach prioritizes an evidence-based and incremental implementation strategy.
If your team needs help making a case for organizational learning, learn how to show the impact of your programs in our free report: Reimagining L&D Measurement.