The Elements of a Learning Culture

When you stop learning, you stop leading. This is especially true in our fast-paced business environment where experience is (not) as important as the ability to learn rapidly. However, most people are conditioned to think that learning stops when leaving school or university. This mindset is obviously not leading to success. Learning should be a continuous process and modern organizations have the responsibility to promote a learning culture to enable the growth of its employees.


Creating a learning culture starts with hiring professionals who possess a growth mindset. Most recruiters think conscientiousness is one of the most important personality traits as it a strong predictor for management capabilities (Markman, 2014). However, to create a learning culture, more is needed. Research related to the Big Five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientious, extroversion, agreeableness neuroticism) and academic achievement, presents that conscientiousness and agreeableness are positively related with successful learning, whereas neuroticism is negatively related (Komarraju, Karau, Schmeck & Avdic, 2011). Recruiters have to spot additional factors. High scorers for conscientiousness are careful, reliable, and conscientious. People who are scoring high on agreeableness are good natured, soft-hearted, and selfless. Low scorers on neuroticism are worrying, vulnerable, and insecure (Nolen-Hoeksema & Fredrickson & Loftus & Lutz, 2014).

Innovation accounting

Tracking entrepreneurial outcomes is the overall goal of innovation accounting, a method proposed by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. It deals with questions such as how to measure progress, how to set up learning milestones, and how to prioritize work.

The current status-quo in measuring progress is measuring productivity, but it can lead to bad results: at Awaken&More we designed an online recruiting process without testing it with real people. We were very productive that day but developed a process that was set for failure. Nobody followed our process and we did not recruit anyone. We understood that we had to test different approaches and reached out to our professional network, pitched in front of university classes, and went to events to meet real people. Along the way we started to learn what worked and soon we were recruiting new Social Impact Consultants.

Instead of measuring a team solely based on its performance, management should additionally track learning progress and set up learning milestones. For example, once every month the team could sit together and discuss valuable observations from real customers as opposed to empirical data, something Ries calls validated learning. That would be a refreshing change to the stiff management presentations where mostly data on a month-to-month basis is analyzed. Validated learning uses insights of real people to improve a process, product, or service as it is developed, which is superior than learning from failure. For example, instead of planning a new product, pushing it to the market, and then learning that the product is not working, one should create a MVP. A MVP is a minimum viable product that can be tested on real customers to validate value and growth hypotheses.

An organization in transition to a learning culture will shift its focus so prioritizing work will be very important. The best way to prioritize is using a basic Kanban board with three columns: 1. To do 2. Doing 3. Done. Keep in mind to install work-in-progress (WIP) limits to prevent log jams.

Corporate university

Corporate universities, also called academies, are educational entities within the organization that assist in achieving corporate goals by conducting activities that foster individual and organizational learning and knowledge. Babbel, one of the most successful language learning platforms, has one of the greatest academy programs one can encounter. As a learning company they feel that it is their responsibility to offer as many opportunities as possible for the personal development of their employees. Every month they offer different training courses provided by in-house trainers or external practitioners. The following transcribed course titles should give an inspiration for what striving learning organizations could implement as well (Babbel Academy Program 2017, 2017).

There are essential courses on communication, on motivation, on ownership (transforming initiatives to projects), on teamwork, on culture, on conflict, on creativity, and on work life-balance. Furthermore, there are method training courses on presentation, on facilitation (a great alternative to the presentation), and on project management. Personal and team development courses: self-discovery, team building, team counseling, lessons from professional athletes, and a course on managing unconscious bias. Tool training courses: working with Apple’s operating system, tracking business and travel expenses, and courses on various company systems. Obviously, they also offer language courses and, lastly, leadership courses: leadership skills, change management, performance management, labor law, and a course offering a personalized 1-to-1 coaching session.

With that much offer it is possible to build an individual learning curriculum which can suit almost every taste. Twice a year they also offer a certificate of participation, which employees can use during performance and development dialogs (PDD) with their line managers. Through these performance dialogs, employees and managers see whether skills gap exist and can immediately enroll in one of the academy courses.

Provide access to MOOCs

MOOCs stands for Massive Open Online Courses. Coursera is my favorite provider for online courses. To this date I have taken four Coursera courses in entrepreneurship, leadership, management, and project management. Through a wide-ranging course offer, Coursera enables its students to continuously learn and grow as a result.

I have recently followed Coursera’s webinar Strategies for Bridging the Skills Gap in Your Organization and learned the following insights. Training increases the value of an employee, therefore, training should be promoted. This can be done by prescribing fixed learning hours during working time and by providing free access to MOOCs by paying the online tuition fee. Apparently workers like to be told to learn during working hours. For example, one can allocate employees two hours during each Thursday or Friday that have to be used for learning purposes. However, you need to give people choices, forcing people to follow a course from a very limited list will diminish the success of the training program. If learning is promoted correctly, employees will start taking learning seriously and the organization will benefit as a result.


Babbel Academy Program 2017. (2017). Berlin: Babbel.

Ellie Pritts. (November 27, 2016). Modern organization. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://unsplash.com/search/photos/modern?photo=3R7rsvF48jo

Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., Schmeck, R. R., & Avdic, A. (2011). The Big Five personality traits, learning styles, and academic achievement. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(4), 472-477. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.04.019

Markman, A. (2014, July 23). The Hidden Skills in Your Most Reliable People. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2012/03/the-hidden-skills-in-your-most

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Fredrickson, B., Loftus, G. R., & Lutz, C. (2014). Atkinson & Hilgard’s: introduction to psychology. Andover: Cengage Learning.

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