What is corporate learning (it’s not what you think it is), and why is it important?

June 14, 2021 - 20 min read

Corporate learning. Does it conjure up banquet chairs, slideshows, pre-made sandwiches? Are you already wondering how early you can check out and still get credit for attending?

A group of people learning

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What is corporate learning?

Why is learning important now?

5 obstacles to better corporate learning

What are the organizational culture enablers for a great corporate learning environment?

6 benefits of corporate learning in the workplace

6 tips to create a great learning environment at work

Corporate learning sometimes gets a bad rap — for good reason! 

People often equate corporate learning with corporate training programs. And that’s the problem. Employees need to learn new skills and develop their capabilities constantly. Their needs evolve quickly and are so specific to their work — training programs only fit a small slice of that need. 

But corporate learning is more than that, and the untapped potential for learning in an organization is far greater. 

Learn how to define and identify untapped potential and create an environment for growth.

What is corporate learning?

Corporate learning is any investment in developing the ability of employees and the organization to understand and respond to the environment more effectively. It's not limited to learning job skills, a new tool, or educating them on new products and software — although that can be part of it. At a broad level, a culture of  learning can make an organization more competitive, more innovative, and more adaptable.

Why is learning important now?

Learning is more important than ever for individuals and organizations. 

Between technology changing faster and customers expecting more, companies have to constantly get better at addressing customer needs. That means nothing stays the same for very long. 

For individuals, staying relevant in this environment means constantly learning new tools.  It also means getting better and better at the soft skills and bringing it all together. To do that, people need opportunities to stretch and develop themselves.

The most in-demand talent knows they need to keep learning and growing to have a satisfying career in this environment.

Don’t let painful memories of cramming all night for tests fool you. People are innately curious. We love to learn new things — in fact, our brains were designed for it. Engaging your mind in new tasks and challenges maintains the brain’s neuroplasticity. 

Learning isn’t something that stops at the end of formal education. When you start a job (whether it’s your first job or your tenth) there’s a curve associated with becoming proficient at what you do. Eventually, the curve peters off and you become more efficient  — able to accomplish more with less effort.

That’s precisely when it’s time to introduce a new challenge. Staying at the edge of your abilities reinforces the cycle of learning and growing that makes work more satisfying. When you’re successfully taking on new challenges, even rote work can be engaging. But when you’re not engaged by your work and mentally unstimulated, you start to feel stagnant. It becomes harder to get into flow and you start watching the clock. All of this is a perfect recipe for burnout — and that’s when people quit. 

However, people don’t leave high growth environments as easily. High growth in business translates to income, and no one is in a hurry to jump off a money train. 

As work becomes increasingly remote, people have more options than ever before. Companies that insist on returning to the “old way” of doing business are losing talent faster than they can replace it. In fact, 39% of employees say that they would quit their jobs before they return to an office full-time.

So what’s a business to do? If people are quitting, give them a reason to stay. In this case, determine what makes the most sense. You can try to stop the growing shift towards virtual workplaces single-handedly, or you can learn to manage remote teams.

Seems like an easy choice, right? Not so fast. History has proven that people — and companies — resist change, even when doing so hastens their own downfall. Why? There are several factors that hold companies back from corporate learning and growth.

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5 obstacles to better corporate learning

1. Exaggerated hierarchies

Say someone has an idea. How do they take the next step to make it happen? It doesn’t have to be a clear, defined process (in fact maybe it shouldn’t be), but people should understand how to advance ideas in your organization. That might mean grabbing a couple of teammates for a few hours to test the thinking. In a good learning culture that type of activity is acceptable and welcome — people want to participate. Straight forward management systems can be helpful to streamline decision-making. But if they are too rigid or your corporate structure is unnecessarily convoluted, it indicates that you don’t have any real intention to promote learning or new ideas. If there’s nowhere to go with ideas (good or bad), they’ll die on the vine. Enough ideas get lost, and those employees will take their input somewhere else.

2. Hoarding important information instead of sharing it

Information is of no use if your organization can’t implement it. If you keep your team on a strictly “need to know” basis, consider loosening up the flow of information. Employees that understand how their jobs connect to the larger team outcomes are more invested in their success. They are also more likely to see new opportunities and are the first to know when something isn’t working. They get excited about what they do and look for better ways to do it. If your team isn’t motivated to learn, it may be because they don’t know why they should bother.

3. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning

If it’s relevant, it’s naturally more engaging. When organizations that don’t value learning have a need to teach something new, it’s usually in the form of a dry seminar (that goes way too long). Ask yourself: who needs to know this information? Why? And how will they learn it the best? If people know the information they’re being taught will make an immediate impact, they’re more likely to pay attention and use it at work. Better yet, consider teaching the bare minimum of information and ask how you can support people learning to apply it in their work. 

4. Unwilling to invest in training

If you want to cross “learning” off the list, nothing is easier than the aforementioned seminar. One and done, right? For some skills or topics ( hello compliance), that works perfectly fine. Training can supplement a good continuous learning culture. If you’re planning a bigger transformation, like a culture shift or a new department, you may have to plan something that brings people on the journey, over time. This will almost certainly involve an investment of time, money, or both. Equally important is making sure employees have ready access to the type of learning or training they do want. Your employees are the ones on the ground seeing the need for a new tool or skill that would make their work better. Organizations that grow see money spent on employee development as an investment. If you consistently cut corners in this area, your team — and your results — will show it.

5. Fear of failure

Learning something new means taking risks. If your company is spending money on initiatives that aren’t being used, it may be time to look at the unconscious messages you’re sending staff. Are layoffs high? Are they penalized for asking questions? Are they expected to work to produce, or are they encouraged to work to learn? In order to learn, they need to be able to be vulnerable and share areas where they could use support without fear of that information being used against them.

What are the organizational culture enablers for a great corporate learning environment?

Of course, the opposite is also true. Just as culture can influence whether or not people feel comfortable asking questions, it can create an environment where risks are encouraged. If you want to create a learning culture, it starts from the inside out. Before you break out the “corporate culture” deck, though, work on building these 5 areas that empower a corporate learning culture:

Diversity

Diversity isn’t only about the differences you can see. Organizations that truly embrace diversity and inclusion are fertile ground for new ideas and growth.

Psychological safety

When team members feel safe at work, it’s easier for them to participate in a team meeting and solve problems. Safety is a prerequisite for innovation and creativity to flow.

Autonomy 

Micromanagement stifles creativity. If you insist on control over how your team accomplishes their tasks, they’ll be less likely to come up with new ideas. Let them do their thing and encourage them to take ownership of how it gets done.

Experimentation

“The way we’ve always done it” is the enemy of corporate learning. It saps enthusiasm from new employees and keeps leaders disconnected from changing trends. Embrace new ways of approaching the same tasks.

Rewards

Everyone loves to be recognized for their efforts. Employees who are recognized and rewarded regularly have a better view of their organization. They produce better work, they are more satisfied, and have better relationships with their teams.

skills-high-performing-teams

6 benefits of corporate learning in the workplace

Developing a corporate learning culture isn’t an overnight job. It takes attention and effort in all of the above areas — and there may be some things you’ll have to stop doing. But taking the time to define and access untapped potential in your organization pays dividends. Here are 6 benefits of building a growth-oriented organization:

1. Actualize individual growth

People love being on a winning team. Cultures that embrace growth in the work environment empower every member of the team. When people are growing, they're more productive, more engaged, and less likely to burn out. Employees are far less likely to leave jobs where they feel challenged and valued.

2. Engage remote teams

Wondering whether your team can really be productive when they're working from home? Keep things interesting. Instead of just adding more check-in meetings, set high goals that require efficiency and innovation. Challenging work that feels valuable will have remote team members excited and ready to log in everyday. 

3. Minimize skills gap

Companies often experience a skills gap as they scale, particularly if they’re experiencing rapid growth. Encourage your team to acquire skills or develop talents that empower them and benefit the company. They'll appreciate the faith you've shown in them, and be prouder of themselves too.

4. Reduce employee turnover

The costs of acquiring a new employee are high. Onboarding, benefits, and salary are just the tip of the iceberg. There's also the time it takes to recruit, the hours that team members spend  interviewing candidates, and the time to get them up to speed in their new role. Employees who are growing and learning in their role are less likely to quit. Plus, they’re generally better at their job than an expensive newcomer would be. Investing money in training is actually a cost-effective choice. 

5. Develop leaders that can create a great culture 

It's always important to hire people that will add to your company culture. Hiring individuals who aren't a fit can cost you time, money, and even other employees. By developing your own leaders, you protect a healthy culture. Other employees will be encouraged to see internal growth, and you reinforce that their efforts will be rewarded.

6. Improve mental fitness

Research shows that over half of the workforce feels “stuck.” How do you get them moving and growing again? The antidote to languish is a new challenge. In fact, challenging yourself in meaningful ways is at the heart of mental fitness. Ensure that your company culture is one where they're not just fine — they're thriving.

6 tips to create a great learning environment at work

Building a learning, growing, innovating organization is a culture shift — but what does it look like in practice? As you start to change the way you approach learning, keep the following 6 tips in mind (and no, it’s still not time for the deck):

1. Delivery

Don’t push for a result — provide opportunities to learn. If you come across like you’re in a rush to the bottom line, you’ll undermine your efforts.

2. Communication style

Everyone learns differently. Provide a mix of platforms to accommodate all styles and schedules. This could be virtual, in-person, gamified, solo, or as a group.

3. Share for sharing’s sake

Encourage the culture by offering opportunities for people to learn in informal ways. Try starting a thread for interesting articles or a company-wide book club.

4. Schedule inner work

Part of your job is to make sure you show up as the best you can be. That means building in time to nurture your skills, interests, and well-being. Try scheduling a self-development hour once a week, and share your insights with the team.

5. Embrace agility

Start right away. The effects take time to accumulate, but the impact on the energy in your business will be immediate. If interest surfaces in learning something new, do your best to offer it while the iron is hot.

6. Empower everyone

Learning isn’t just a corporate HR activity. Each person at your company brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. In essence, everyone’s an expert. Ask them to suggest topics or even lead a Q&A about what they do.

Corporate learning sounds dry, and years of compliance seminars are likely to blame. But the companies that are staying relevant and competitive have embraced learning as a mindset instead of a one-time event. Building a growth and learning culture is a way to invest in developing the untapped talent of your biggest natural resource — your team.



Published June 14, 2021

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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