Warren Bennis, an American scholar, organisational consultant and leadership author, once said: “Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.”
Indeed, learning is crucial to the development and survival of the human race. All the inventions we have seen, from the wheel of prehistoric times to the advances in artificial intelligence in recent years, began with learning.
That is why the words of Warren Bennis still ring true today. When it comes to our rapidly changing world, we need to learn constantly and continuously if we want to thrive and keep up with change. This is the challenge that organisations face. Because the learning of our people will ultimately drive business success, as business leaders we must develop a strong and positive learning culture in our organisations.
Why is this so important? First, a strong learning environment contributes to better engagement of our people. Learning empowers and motivates people to be independent, which gives them opportunities to grow; thus, it promotes employee engagement.
The human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt identified a direct correlation between employee engagement and financial performance in its “2017 Trends in Global Employee Engagement” report, covering 5 million employees across 1,000 organisations. It found that when employee engagement drops, the revenue growth for that year also falls, which results in higher staff turnover, higher absences, lower customer satisfaction and, conclusively, damage to overall performance.
In other words, good employee engagement is good business. It influences not only the relationships between your people, their colleagues and leaders, but also with customers and the community at large.
Ultimately, we do not have absolute control when it comes to employee engagement, but we have a better chance of achieving it when we promote positive solutions. A strong learning culture will certainly foster a more positive environment for your organisation to grow.
Second, there is more room for development and growth when there is an established learning environment. With a culture of learning in place, your people have the chance to develop more skills for the job. Additionally, they tend to acquire more crucial soft skills such as emotional intelligence and leadership skills.
Simply put, when you and your people are empowered to learn, this encourages improvement and ultimately translates to growth from the individual level to the organisational level.
Last but not least, a strong learning culture encourages innovation. When your people have a sense of freedom to learn, they can get creative. But creative ideas alone are not practical, so you must be able to test them. However, testing those ideas can lead to mistakes and failures, which people tend to avoid making.
In this sense, establishing a strong learning culture is important as it also encourages your people to test ideas without the fear of making mistakes or failing. When you are able to test ideas without irrational fear and learn from any mistakes along the way, you greatly improve your chances of coming up with innovations that will have practical value.
There are few better examples than that of Thomas Edison, who invented a light bulb after more than a thousand tries and prototypes. Had he given up after the first few tries, one of the most useful inventions in history might have been delayed or not been invented at all. Failure is meant to be a stepping stone towards success, not a step back from it.
Understanding the impact that learning has on our business is crucial. But what is even more crucial is turning theory into practice. As business leaders, you are the catalysts for your people’s learning. Making learning accessible and creating a safe zone for them to take risks and make mistakes gives them the opportunity to put the knowledge they acquire into practice.
Learning is constant, and therefore feedback and evaluation are an integral part of the process. But learning is not a one-size-fits-all proposition — the learning style of each individual is different. Constant feedback is needed in order to learn what to improve on and adjust.
The important point to remember about learning is that it is a continuous process, It is a journey that you and your organisation take towards future success. When you prioritise learning, it promotes all the important points we have mentioned and so much more.
What is more, the impact of a strong learning culture is not measured by the mistakes we make and the failures we experience but by the positive impact that you and your organisation create together. As business leaders who understand how change is accelerating, we must make the choice to move our organisations forward through constant learning or get left behind.
Arinya Talerngsri is chief capability officer and managing director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup), Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre.