Business moves at a breakneck speed today, and the price of that rapid pace is often a lack of time for learning. That’s why it was especially refreshing to hear Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s newly appointed CEO, recently speak about his passion for and commitment to continuous improvement, even with the increased responsibilities and demands of his new role.
“What defines me ... I'm a lifelong learner,” said Nadella during the Q&A following his appointment. “I get energized when I see people achieve standards. That's the thing that gets me going."
As the CEO of Pluralsight, a company focused on producing online-training courses for developers and IT admins, I don't just leave the learning to our customers. We strive to be a company of learners. I am a big believer that fostering ongoing learning in the workplace not only results in a pleasant and energizing work environment but a successful one with top-performing employees who aren’t afraid to question the status quo and work together to seek the truth during difficult situations.
There are several tactics you can implement to create a culture of learning at your workplace:
1. Weekly lunch and learns. One day a week, order lunch in and assign someone in the company to present on a relevant topic. For example, our VP of open source explored the history of open source and how it’s evolved over the years. Everyone from our development team to marketing and sales attended to get a better understanding of a key pillar of our businesses.
Sessions like these enable your workforce to think more strategically and gain a deeper knowledge of key subjects that matter most to the future of the business. If implement, make sure you leave time for Q&A.
2. Training budgets. What does it say if you encourage a culture of learning but don’t reimburse your employees’ efforts to learn? If you’re having an employee-retention problem, it might be because the onus is on them to pay for classes and certification exams. Investing in your employees will pay dividends in the form of a more dedicated and educated workforce and powerful ideas that emerge from the new knowledge.
3. Tuition reimbursement and recognition programs. What better way to demonstrate your commitment to learning than funding the acquisition of learning? A tuition reimbursement program gives your employees the freedom to expand their horizons and shows your support in fostering ongoing learning. This is also a huge perk that can attract top young talent.
4. Set specific learning goals. Make learning a part of goal setting with employees. Encourage them to set at least one goal per quarter around a learning objective -- whether it’s gaining a new skill or fine-tuning an old one -- and then support them in this effort by checking in on their progress during periodic one-on-ones and finding ways to help.
5. Distribute books to read. As an executive team, we aim to read a different book together each quarter ahead of our strategic offsites. Whether they’re about organizational health or the psychology of success, the books help us stay on the same page --learning together as a team -- with the added benefit of becoming better managers and leaders. To involve the entire staff and encourage them to participate, invite anyone with an interest in reading the current book to expense the purchase.
6. Acknowledge the results, For employees who take advantage of learning opportunities, make sure you take the time to acknowledge their achievements and explain how it’s helping their team and the business as a whole. Recognizing the never-ending night classes, online courses or long hours pounding the books will reinforce your company’s long-term commitment to learning.
A culture that prioritizes learning results in a workforce focused on continuous improvement. When you're an active learner on the job, you see challenges more clearly, get more creative and strategic in your problem solving and ultimately work smarter.