How to Create a Culture of Self-Learning

There is nothing like giving employees the drive and confidence they need to find their own way to success.

By Dan Carusi, Vice President, Global Education, Deltek

When it comes to the workforce, motivated, top performers always find a way to access the knowledge and develop the skills they need to be successful. Whether through requesting a mentor, attending continuing education classes, or joining a peer-group book club, they will go out of their way to get what and where they want. In this article, I will outline how to infuse this drive into an organization’s workforce, emphasizing the importance of corporate education by creating a culture of self-learning across the entire employee population. The key to success is a methodology we call ED3:

Envision the strategy

Design the vision

Develop the design

Deliver the product

The end goal is increased employee confidence in their knowledge and ability to successfully do their jobs.

Build Excitement and Engagement

Employees are the No. 1 resource of any organization, and the first step (after the executive team is on board) is to “employee source” and test new ideas to gather feedback. By allowing employees to have a part in the creation of the program, they will feel responsible for its success. By implementing it in one part of the organization—perhaps an on-site project team or division—and working closely with the employees, you can demonstrate initial success as it’s rolled out more broadly. Building excitement around the program can have a viral effect, and without engagement and excitement from employees, it will fail miserably.

Provide the Right Assets

Providing the right assets is at the heart of creating a culture of self-learning. The right tools delivered via the right technologies at the right place and time (and communicated properly so they are used correctly by employees) is critical to the success of the learning strategy. Today’s workforce is accustomed to digesting information in “chunks,” and this should be taken into consideration when providing learning tools. Technology allows flexibility, speed, and interaction and supports on-demand learning, all key to driving home this culture. In a self-learning program, technology should be based on the following attributes:

  • Consistent
  • Reusable
  • Transferable
  • Manageable
  • Sellable

For example, at Deltek we have a learning portal that includes “how-to-type” videos answering common questions; a forum where employees can ask questions and converge in groups to discuss them; and a place see what peers are reading this month.

Build Into Corporate Culture

In order for a self-learning program to be a success, it must be ingrained deeply into corporate culture, from the CEO down to the intern. The program needs to be strategically communicated and implemented to ensure success. With a top-down approach, success will cascade down throughout the organization. But while CEO buy-in is paramount to success, it is not the only ingredient to creating the culture. The self-learning program needs to be evangelized across the company to drive awareness and excitement, feeding and accelerating the success of it going viral. Also, it’s important that every employee understands, and is measured in relation to, his or her role. From manager to employee to the “company,” each role is important and must be clearly defined.

Create Peer-to-Peer Accountability

To instill a desire to learn across the employee population, it’s important to create peer-to-peer accountability. By creating peer groups, merchandising successes, and creating individual and team goals, employees will push themselves outside of their normal comfort zones. We think of as the “Boy Scout Approach”—scouts teaching scouts, with leaders guiding along the way. Or, in office terms, employees learning from each other with guidance from managers. This increases the transfer of knowledge and creates communities of practice, with like topics being discussed and explored by interested parties across the organization. Individual development plans that outline the goals for learning and align them with corporate goals are also important in this step.

Strategically Recognize Successes

When it comes to self-learning, we do not recommend rewarding employees financially—this is something they need to buy into from a personal and career growth perspective. If it’s truly part of the culture, employees WANT to take part—not because of reward, but because of personal gain. That said, it’s important to recognize the right behaviors and successes with some type of public acknowledgement. Since the real impact for an organization is increased retention, recruiting, and development of talent, things such as promotions, new roles and responsibilities, and positive feedback from customers should be highlighted and celebrated.

While there are many approaches to creating a successful learning and development program, there is nothing like giving employees the drive and confidence they need to find their own way to success. For the organization, a pervasive culture of self-learning drives speed, performance, and results—all of which are critical in a highly competitive landscape and ever-changing market.

The current vice president of Global Learning for Deltek, a global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for government contractors and professional services firms, Dan Carusi has more than 20 years of business experience. He is responsible for providing leadership for all aspects of Deltek University to include curriculum development, operations and delivery, global employee education, business development, and educational consulting, as well as thought leadership.


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