Dream Company Architecture: Building A Culture of Learning

How to Build a Learning Culture at Your Company

Recent Bright Horizons research on the DNA of a Dream Company shows that employees will be much more likely to stay at a company they consider their dream organization, even if they're not yet in their dream job. And employees, especially Millennials, will be much more likely to see their organization as a dream company if they have opportunities for professional development. So, if professional development is a key tool for creating an employer brand that recruits, retains, and advances top talent, then companies today need to prioritize cultivating a culture of learning.

What is a Culture of Learning?

A culture of learning has:

  • Strong organizational values, systems, and practices that continually support and encourage individuals to increase knowledge, competence, and performance levels
  • Company values that are communicated regularly
  • Systems and practices that speak the same language
  • Learning and development opportunities that are easily and equally accessible to employees at all levels of the organization
  • Solid systems and structures that support individual growth and development
  • Easy and consistent access to learning content and opportunities
  • Platforms that connect internal learning offerings, educational assistance, and other human capital initiatives and in turn, broadcast the company's learning experience and brand.

Building a Culture of Learning from the Ground Up

Equally important, in companies with strong learning cultures, learning is not set aside from daily work but is rather woven throughout the organization and reflected outward to clients. Professional development is a powerful player in Dream Companies. The good news is that all organizations can strengthen a culture of learning. But like building any complicated structure, you'll need to do some construction:

Lay The Foundation

For many organizations, learning content, job performance appraisals, and succession planning programs are built on core competencies ; skills that company leaders identify for individuals that connect directly to the mission and values of the organization. However, the competencies alone have little value if employees are not held accountable for living up to them. Those competencies will also prove ineffective if employees are using education assistance to pursue programs that provide skills irrelevant to the organization's future. When developing leaders, use the language of the competencies and build learning content accordingly.

Build The Framework

Organizations that have a well-articulated learning culture have one place where employees can go to "shop" for their learning experiences (typically on their learning management systems or corporate universities). This is where employees can access external coursework and programs or internal functional, technical, professional, and leadership training. Create a learning platform that visually represents an employee's development journey and provides them with access to advisory services.

Fortify the Structure

Businesses that attract and keep top talent successfully connect an employee's development to the strategic goals of the organization. Throughout the organizational pyramid, leaders and employees think critically about the skills needed to meet business goals and consistently measure how learning opportunities help employees build those skills. Use learning metrics to support the agility of learning platforms, design new learning opportunities that support new business goals, and share performance against these metrics with leadership.

Design the Flow

To support employees and build their bench, managers need support themselves. Often front-line managers, in particular, must be so involved in the tactical day-to-day of their employees that they often do not have the time to build development and succession plans. Help them along by providing managers with the time, resources and language that makes it possible for them to champion learning and career development for their employees.

Get the Best Agents  

So often learning and development, tuition assistance programs, and other learning benefits seem far removed from the C-suite. But leaders' visible investment is one of your best resources. In order for a learning culture to enhance one's employer brand, executives need to be well versed in the learning culture, partake in, and celebrate, learning opportunities (publicly) when possible, and tell the company's learning story regularly and consistently.

Create Curb Appeal

In a time when companies are vying for talent, being able to retain employees and engage them can be a true differentiator in the market. Employees who feel supported by and excited about the organization in which they work can translate into better employees who provide better customer service, greater enthusiasm with clients and prospects, and stronger internal working relationships. Ultimately, cultivating a learning culture can provide the foundation, infrastructure, and external curb appeal that will allow organizations to be successful.

Bottom line, employees in learning cultures know the mission, vision, and strategic direction of the company. They know what role they play, and what value they bring to the organization now and how they can grow to provide value in the future. That's the foundation for a Dream Company, and the pathway to dream results.

Join us at the Solutions at Work Live Conference next month to discuss how you can leverage professional development - specifically education assistance - to enhance your employer brand.

Written by: Jessica Kaplan

About the Author

Jessica Kaplan at Bright Horizons

As Director, Talent Management, Jessica is responsible for connecting employees and management to the most effective learning and development opportunities offered by Bright Horizons. She also helps facilitate internal collaboration for organizational success. Jessica brings nearly 20 years of experience in professional development and higher education administration to her role. Prior to this role she held key roles in the Client Relations and Academic Partnerships teams. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University, a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University and has completed PhD coursework in International Higher Education Policy at the University of Maryland.