In today’s fast-paced, crowded world, it’s harder than ever to stay ahead of the competition. There’s always someone breathing down your neck, and the digital era we live in means things are changing quickly. New technologies and new ways of using them are coming out every day, and this means that staying competitive means being on top of all the latest industry trends and being able to spot alternative facts when you see them.
In the past, this could be done by dedicating resources to an R&D team and then letting them report back to your entire organization what it should be focusing on. And while this is still important, things just move too quickly for you to rely only on this strategy. Instead, you need to work to make learning and innovation integral parts of your company culture.
But how exactly do you do this? Cultural change takes time, but it starts with you signalling to the organization that things are going to be different. Consider the following ways you can help make learning a key part of everything your company does.
Encourage Feedback From All Directions
In a traditional work environment, employees submit work to their managers who then review it and offer feedback so that the employee can get better. However, this structure is a bit antiquated. It assumes the only person who knows what’s best is the manager, and it places all of the responsibility for learning and improvement on those in positions of leadership.
And while you should certainly rely on leaders to help drive learning and innovation, to develop a company culture based on learning, you need to get buy-in from everyone. In other words, you need to make feedback go in all directions.
Consider conducting stay interviews with your employees where you ask them how and where the company could improve. Also, make evaluation a key part of what you do. Break during and after you implement a new system or run a campaign to ask people how things are going and where you could be doing better. Challenging employees to think critically about the business naturally lends itself to a culture of learning, since getting better will invariably push people to seek out and learn new ways of doing things.
Give Access to Knowledge
It’s one thing to ask people to think critically, but without exposure to what others are doing or have done, it’s hard to expect anyone to come up with something truly innovative.
Training programs and eLearning platforms are great for this. They allow people to learn more about what’s going on in your industry, and they put them in contact with new ways of thinking and doing, all of which helps to build a culture of learning.
But the real impact comes from what doing something like this says to employees. By allowing them to use company time to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to get better, you’re sending the message that professional development is at least equally important as productivity.
Of course, in the end, everything is in support of productivity, but by giving importance to training and professional development, you’re shifting employee mindset to include these valuable pursuits, helping to build a learning culture that’s going to make it easier to innovate and improve.
Nothing says learning like formal education. Sure, there are many other ways for people to expand their skills and knowledge base, but it’s tough to beat the degrees and specializations offered by institutions of higher education.
However, as many of us already know, universities can be expensive. And this is often the main deterrent in the pursuit of further education. As a result, a good way to encourage a culture of learning is to offer assistance to those looking to build on their education. Tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement programs help demonstrate to people that you value their professional development and that it’s an important part of company strategy moving forward. Plus, as an added benefit, companies offering these types of programs tend to experience lower employee turnover, which is good for everyone.
This type of approach works even if not everyone chooses to pursue an additional degree. Many people will, and those who don’t will feel the inadvertent pressure to also better themselves, inspiring them to take up training programs or attend industry-relevant conferences, all of which helps build a culture of learning.
However, it’s true that offering this type of benefit can be expensive. To ensure it makes sense for your company, and that it won’t cause you to have to cut back on other benefits, consider working with a specialized benefits management firm. They will help you explore your different options so that you can offer compensation packages that keep people happy and that also promote a culture of learning.
Cultural Change Starts Today
It’s true that changing your culture to be one focused on learning won’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And if you take into account the points we’ve discussed, it will happen a lot sooner than you think, helping your company develop an innovative culture that can provide you with a real competitive edge.
About the Author: Jock is the founder of Digital Exits, an online brokerage that buys, sells and appraises small businesses. He consults with business owners to help them design and implement a strategy to grow their business and make it more valuable, which has helped him become an expert in business management and administration. To serve as a resource for other business owners and leaders, he contributes frequently to business blogs and online forums.