The Future Is Now for Creating a Companywide Learning Culture

How can you ensure your employees will want to “show up” for learning? Try making six changes in your learning programs and other fundamental areas.

Imagine a world in which the pace of change is so fast that instead of it taking 38 years to reach 50 million people, as it did with the invention of the radio, it would take only a year to reach the same number of customers.

Imagine a world in which five generations work side-by-side in a company, where a large percentage of employees work remotely, and where much of the workforce is working not for one company alone, but for multiple employers.

These scenarios aren’t taken from a science fiction movie or futuristic TV series. They’re already taking place here in the present. Facebook was able to reach 50 million people in just one year. In many companies, the workforce spans five generations. And a large percentage of today’s employees—43 percent—work remotely at least part of the time. Meanwhile, another 34 percent of the workforce is made up of gig workers (employees working independently or on contracts with multiple companies), and the number of gig workers is expected to increase to 43 percent by 2020.

Technology has compelled businesses to move faster, to face greater competition, and to require more innovation than ever before. These technological repercussions affect the way work now gets done, and it’s completely different from how companies approached work in the past.

This drives the question: Why are so many companies using the same learning strategies and programs they’ve used for the last 10 to 20 years? Why haven’t companies challenged the status quo and taken a new tack that complements their changing business environment?

That’s exactly the questions we ask, and the behaviors and actions we encourage in our new book, “Build it: The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement,” inviting readers to join what we call the “rebelution” by becoming employee engagement (and learning) rebels. One way to start a rebelution in your company is to create a learning culture. A learning culture is one of the greatest gifts you can give your organization because it inspires the very people already onboard to develop and continue to achieve more. But, like a gift, it can only be appreciated if it’s opened, yet only your employees can do that.

6 Suggested Changes

So how do you create a learning culture if you can’t be certain your employees will embrace it? How can you ensure your employees will want to “show up” for learning? I believe we can do this by making changes in both our learning programs and other fundamental areas. Here are six examples of suggested changes:

1. Shift the power of learning. Companies need to move away from their role as the sole owners of learning programs, and allow and give their employees permission to have an active role to play in owning it, changing the dynamic from a push to a pull. No one will ever care about his or her development as much as that individual. Organizations need to recognize, embrace, and react to this, setting up learning programs to give employees this power, and clearly articulating the important and critical role they have to play.

2. Reconfigure divisions of labor. In the past, jobs were designed in “swim lanes”—nicely separated from others in a structure that denotes “you do your job and I’ll do mine.” But based on the way today’s companies conduct business and employees carry out their work, the lane dividers have widened or been removed entirely. The workforce interacts in a collaborative way, and often together in one big, unconstrained pool. Learning programs need to adapt in order to support these new kinds of workers, giving them access to information they can use when changing from lane to lane. Learning that focuses on collaboration, problem resolution, and innovation will help employees, and businesses, succeed while all playing together in their large pool.

3. Address a changing workforce. Companies need to take a step back and ask themselves if their learning programs meet the needs of their changing and diverse workforce. Do they have learning programs in place to appeal to and be successful with the variety of generations? Do they have learning programs in place to help gig workers know exactly what it means to work at their company as opposed to another employer? We can’t ignore these critical changes, but instead need to address them upfront by redesigning programs that work in this new world of work. An example of this is Zeel, a company that provides on-demand massages across the U.S., and has created an on-demand approach to learning for its gig workers. Another is GAME, a UK computer game retailer that created an innovative e-learning system that appeals to its younger workforce.

4. Re-evaluate job design. In order for learning to be achieved, we need to redesign our jobs, designing ones that both encourage and support ongoing learning. This will both encourage and provide opportunities for learning to take place.

5. Encourage employee recognition. Recognizing employees throughout their learning journey helps build morale and leads to increased motivation. And honoring both successes and failures along the way will encourage learning to take place in new and more effective ways.

6. Communicate learning stories. Sharing the stories of how employees engaged in learning programs to make a difference in their performance can encourage others to make use of the opportunity. Convey how the programs led to results both for the employee and the company as a whole.

Let me challenge you to take a step back and look at your learning offerings through a rebel lens. Go back to basics and ask yourself whether your strategy and programs are meeting the needs of your business as it keeps up with the pace of change, and your employees as their roles and needs continue to evolve. I wish you all the best as a learning rebel, and I can’t wait to hear the rebellious things you do.

Debra Corey is global head of Employee Engagement at Reward Gateway, and is co-author of the book, “Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement” (Wiley, February 2018). This book has been called “Your all-things-necessary guide to employee engagement” by Daniel Pink, author of “When,” and said to “give you ideas, debates, great arguments, and, most of all, hope” by Margaret Heffernan, author of “Willful Blindness.” Learn more at


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