How to create a culture of learning in your business

Learning is the secret elixir that makes people happy. No-one is motivated for long by following a set of predefined rules or processes. It only remains enjoyable for as long as you haven’t mastered it. When developing a culture of learning, the joy is in the process of mastery, not the achievement.

After mastering the task, it becomes boring and you start making mistakes because you are no longer engaged in what you are doing.
The only reason why you continue doing it without complaining is that you respect your boss. You also want to be seen as a good employee. Performing routine work with no creativity might in a lot of cases not cause you to be unhappy.  However, you are far from happy doing it if you’re honest with yourself. And happy is what you need if you want people to overproduce and innovate. Happy is what you need if you want your company to stand out from the crowds.

Complacency will probably help you survive. Happiness will make you thrive.

In my previous post, I looked at how learning in the workplace motivates people and what effective learning looks like. This post shares some ideas on how to implement a culture of learning in your organization.

Here are ten ideas, some more formal, others informal, to start you on your way to creating a learning, and happy workforce:

1. Define learning goals

Without knowing where you want to go, no road you take makes much sense, as the Caterpillar told Alice when she was lost in Wonderland. To know which road to take, you first need to be clear on where you want to be.

The first thing to focus on when it comes to creating a culture of learning and defining a learning plan is to make sure that you know what the problem is you want to solve with the training, or what you want to achieve. What does success look like and what do you intend to do differently once you complete the training?

Include as part of the planning phase of your project what the skills gap is and how to overcome it. Do it often and do it with the necessary focus, including the employees in the plan.

2. Make the trainee accountable

One of the biggest causes of corporate training programs not being successful is the exclusion of the trainee. Managers decide which training programs are good, which providers should be used, what training individuals go on, and when they need to go on the training. This often results in people attending training without being engaged, and if you’re not engaged in what you are learning, you’re wasting your time.

To ensure accountability on the part of the trainee, make it their responsibility to choose the training they feel they need, find potential training providers, and motivate their preferred choice to the employer.

Provide the necessary support and guidance as to what the output should look like or include, but give them the ownership of their learning. They know best what they struggle with daily and what they need, and they know best what training best suits their needs.

3. Have an on-demand coach available

Workplace wellness expert Jo Gillibrand suggests having a mentor available on-site will potentially increase the overall happiness and wellness of the company and I wholeheartedly agree.

Most workplaces have mentors for developing technical skills available, however, when it comes to soft skills and personal development, coaches are often only available to executives and leaders.

4. Decentralize the training budget

As opposed to defining a single team training budget, consider splitting the training budget two parts. One part is for the collective team’s training needs, the other for individual training needs, with each team member, allocated an equal part.

Make the employees responsible for deciding how they want to spend the budget, however, remind them that they are accountable for the results. If for example, a trainee abuses the benefit by spending it on training not related to work at all, they risk having their portion taken away.

Even consider adding this as a benefit to your current employment package.

5. Know your team members

Know what motivates each person in your team and what their personal goals and interests are. Find out about their strengths and weaknesses and where they need development.

Learning is most effective if it falls within the comfort zone of the student. If it is too easy or too difficult, the student will lose interest and effectively learn very little. If, however, the subject matter is just a little beyond their current skill level, learning is optimal.

Different people also learn differently, with different styles or preferences for obtaining knowledge and skills. Some might prefer attending conferences, other group training classes while others might choose personal coaching sessions.

Empower individuals to achieve their learning goals. Be there for guidance and support, but allow them the freedom to choose what best suits their needs.

6. Plan for continuous learning

Most training falls flat once the certificate has been awarded, with people returning to their old habits and ways of working. I haven’t seen a workplace where there was an effort in helping the person apply the newly acquired knowledge. Mostly, employers expect that the employee will know what to do, however, in 99% cases, this is not possible without some change in either the work procedures or the tasks itself.

Schedule time after the training course or conference to allow the trainee to include their new learning in their daily work. Allocate tasks to them where they can apply and practice their new skills and plan for extra time while they master the skill. Evaluate whether the work procedures or tools need to be adapted to allow for the newly learned knowledge to be integrated.

7. Have internal hack days

Present the team with a particular problem in the company and allocate a day where they need to find ways to solve this problem in a team setting. This may involve building prototypes, researching a topic, or collaboratively brainstorming ideas. It might also involve taking an existing artefact and invest the day in finding a better way of doing it or cleaning up the legacy systems.

The focus is on learning a new skill or tool, with the problem being the context for the team to work together and make it real. The team is responsible for planning an approach and then either they learn together, or each person goes on their own to learn a specific new skill. At the end of the day, each person contributes what they’ve learned and presented the solution or proposed solution to the problem or business owner.

8. Have knowledge sharing sessions

Different people are interested in different things. That is what makes people interesting and that is what helps us understand each other better.

The best way to appreciate your colleague’s skills is to know what they are good at and what they do each day. Give each team member periodically an opportunity to showcase their skills to the rest of the team. It might be in the format of a dedicated presentation of a specific topic, or it can be as simple as a ‘day-in-the-life-of’ walkthrough.

9. Have a resource library

Knowledge means nothing if you don’t do something with it. When it remains only in your head, it is underutilized or wasted. It also means that when the person leaves, the intellectual property leaves with the person.

Have a dedicated space or wiki where people can share or showcase their learning and a section where questions and answers can be posted, or topics that people want to learn about with the option to vote on it.

Don’t be too restrictive on how to do it, but do put in clear guidelines as to what belongs where. There is little value in having a huge repository if you can’t find what you are looking for.

10. Skillshare bragging

Dedicate space in the corporate newsletter or blog where people have the opportunity to brag about what they’ve done, or propose to do, with what they have learned. It might be showcasing a new piece of functionality that was implemented as a result of the training, or it might be an idea or prototype on a possible new feature or product.

This doubles for having a retrospective to review the learning as well as an innovation hub where new ideas and solutions are born. Make sure that the employees receive feedback on their contributions.


Creating a learning culture is about empowering people to be the owner of their growth plan.  Most people would be happy to contribute to their time if it meant recognition from a wider audience. It is not necessary to invest huge amounts of inexpensive training programs. Rather, to create a culture of learning, give the employees the ability to use their new skills immediately. All you have to do is provide the infrastructure and support.

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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.