Creating a Culture of Lifelong Learning

Leadership, relationship to organizational strategy, teamwork, empowerment, and mentoring are key to creating a positive learning culture.

By Kristy Westfall Moyer, Training Account Manager, Signature Worldwide

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”—Benjamin Franklin

Whether you are a customer-centered or an employee-focused company, success hinges on sustaining a culture of lifelong learning. Happy employees equal happy customers, and in study after study, they show that the happiest employees are the well-trained ones who receive ongoing education.

We often think employees want more money, benefits, bonuses, etc. It’s not that they don’t want these things, but we often find that employees want training—tools to do their job and to know what is expected of them.

They want to be involved and to have the opportunity to advance in their career. “All we must do is tap into their knowledge base, and give employees the ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to communicate ideas and concepts, and the ability to cooperate with other human beings in the process of inquiry and action,” according to The Institute of Adult Learning, Theories.

A study on Continuing Professional Education (CPE) revealsthere are several important dimensions to creating a positive learning culture. This type of culture for an organization is based on openness and trust, where employees are supported and rewarded for learning and innovation. The dimensions include leadership, relationship to organizational strategy, teamwork, empowerment, and mentoring.

Leadership: When enthusiasm for life-long learning starts with a boss, it can have a cascade affect through those who work for him/her. As a customer service and sales trainer in the hospitality world, I work with groups of employees in a learning environment, and I see them during their “happiest” moments—as most of the employees I meet are like sponges and want to learn.

It’s even more exciting to find a leader who wants to continue learning. I am thrilled to work for owners who invest in their people, especially since training seems to be one of the first “extras” to go, especially during difficult economical situations. The fact that they continue to see training as a critical component to overall customer and employee satisfaction is fantastic. However, to see the leaders working on improving themselves, as well, is rare and very special.

I recently did a customer service training program at a hotel in Boise. This hotel is starting to see the upswing that is occurring in the travel industry—hiring new employees, buying new uniforms, and  renovating a dated property. Much of this news was announced during our training session, so the employees were not only being invested in during this training session, but they also received great news on the first break of day one.

However, the news that brought the best audience reaction wasn’t the news that affected them personally; it was the announcement that came when the CEO of the company announced he had just received an online Hospitality Degree from Cornell University. This particular CEO is a well-known, successful business owner and operator, but relatively new to the hotel business. When asked why they were so thrilled about their boss’s announcement, the responses included how invested their boss is in learning their business and that the hotel must be doing well to make an investment like that. It showed he cared enough to want to learn their business in order to lead them. Finally, if he finds learning so important, he most likely will encourage them to do it, as well. Leadership always starts at the top…

Teamwork: Though individuals need to take responsibility for their own learning and professional development, teams and networks have an important role to play, as well, with CPE. When you share the learn load, more topics can be covered and fed back to each other.

Send employees out to learn, bring them back and ask them to teach others what they learned. As Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” The employee will retain it longer by having to teach others, and you will get the biggest bang for your buck if you have your employees share what they learn with the rest of the team.

Organizational Strategy: The more a company can involve its employees in the strategizing of the company goals, the better. And the more transparent organizations are, the stronger the loyalty of the employees will be. Let them be part of the plan—to contribute and to learn, to help you meet your business objectives. Strategy is the key link between theory and practice in any CPE activity.

Empowerment: If the employees were involved in creating the overall company vision and mission, they need to be empowered to drive and deliver results. Individuals need to be empowered within their day-to-day duties to gain the maximum development within their immediate work environment.

Mentoring: Do individuals always have the skills or the expertise in assessing their own needs and can they be expected to make an objective assessment of them? While they must be included in their own CPE, consider mentoring as an important part of any support framework for ongoing learning. A mentor can help the employee discover what to learn, where to start, and how to choose platforms that help the overall goals of the company, as well as the individual.

Lifelong learning is about opportunities to learn throughout life, in different settings, and through different mediums. It calls for innovation, as well as a more holistic, flexible, and open-minded way of looking at education. It is an education without a start and a finish.

Creating happy and loyal employees who will create happy and loyal customers happens in a culture of lifelong learning. Remember to include the fundamental importance of visible leadership, role models, and “champions” of the cause within the organization. The closeness of the relationship between CPE policy and organizations strategy, the power of teams and teamwork, empowered individuals, and the critical role of mentoring in terms of support, facilitation, and providing an independent and objective perspective, all play critical roles in the lifelong learning process.

“Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.”—Brian Tracy

Kristy Westfall Moyer is a training account manager with Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company, offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature Worldwide on Twitter @SignatureWorldwide and on Facebook.

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