Learning Cultures: A Discussion

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In early  June, Masterclass and Train Together co-hosted a closed-conversation roundtable discussion on the topic of learning culture. We were keen to find out from learning and development leaders how learning cultures have been impacted by pandemic enforced changes (ie working from home) and what the future looks like for personal development in the workplace.

While we cannot share the identities or full details of the discussion, here’s a summary of the main points, and our own top tips.

Learning delivery

The past two years have presented many learning challenges, from delivery formats to ways of communicating to help people stay engaged and connected. The pandemic forced many behaviour changes, with mixed responses. For some discomfort and a willingness to ‘return’ to pre-pandemic ways, while others have responded positively to the opportunities of virtual learning.

Leaders not being able to physically see their team members daily, when information learning that takes place by being around people has been very hard to replicate is just one example of the need to change mindset as well as toolsets.

Founder of Masterclass and lead trainer Isobel Rimmer highlights how they focus on three aspects within their training programmes – even more so when working virtually or in a hybrid situation:

  • mindset – making sure people are ready to learn, curious and in the right state to learn
  • toolset – powerful and practical tools and techniques to make learning easy and help them
  • skillset – ways for people to put this into practice and grow in confidence

Isobel also recommends agreeing a ‘code of conduct’ – “this is so important when working virtually – with a clear expectation that everyone arrives on time, cameras on, ready to unmute and engage with their colleagues.”

During the discussion, an attendee shared their success story for making changes to their training delivery in a hybrid world by creating five versions of the same course and varying the delivery tools depending on the needs of learners.

No single solution

There’s certainly no ‘one size fits all solution’. Questions that we need to be asking ourselves include:

  • How do we decide what could/should be done in a virtual meeting?
  • How do we decide what should be done virtually, training wise?
  • How do we decide whether we would go to that meeting virtually, or hybrid?

Sharing experiences over the last two years, Isobel highlighted their ‘tried and tested’ methods, including blended learning with face-to-face as well as virtual sessions.  “And we find what works particularly well – and it’s more easily done when virtual – is when there is visible support from senior leaders. Programmes where a sponsor introduces the session, even for just 10 minutes – makes a huge difference.  And what also works well is running training over several modules and making the final one an in-person event in a nice location.”

Barriers to learning

As well as sharing the challenges and success of learning delivery, during the session we explored the barriers to learning, from tools [technology] that are used – particularly while working from home during the pandemic – to finding the time for learning.

To overcome the time barrier, many organisations are finding bite-size learning, such as a 20-minute block of time, to be effective, especially when it’s part of an ongoing learning journey.

Time also needs to be allowed for reflection and implementation to embed the learning.

Isobel shared her experiences in needing to provide clear actions and simple ways for people to apply the learning.  “Supporting learners with additional materials and, increasingly short 2–3 minute videos, is very powerful. But nothing beats accountability with sponsors within the organisation checking in on how people are applying the tools.”

An attendee shared: “For one of our global management development programmes the CEO introduces the first module and talks about the culture and why this training is so important.  It’s just 10 minutes of his time, but it’s really powerful. Delegates are each assigned a buddy and they work together between the 6 modules over a 10 week period. The groups then present back what they’ve learned and how they’ve applied it to the CEO at the final session.”

It’s in these ways that we get people skilled in the tools, actively using the techniques, supporting one another, reflecting on what they’ve learned and applying it for real. And in that way, able to apply the learning principles of 70:20:10.

The 70-20-10 rule reveals that individuals tend to learn 70% of their knowledge from challenging experiences and assignments, 20% from developmental relationships, and 10% from coursework and training.

Train Together CEO Charles Dall’omo focused his thoughts on culturally driven barriers to learning:

“Fundamentally barriers to learning are culturally driven, with a culture and awareness required for individual to embrace a growth mindset and focus on their own personal development and career path.”

Company culture can be reflected in the lack of prioritisation to spend time on learning activities, over operational tasks that need to be addressed. Although sign-up to training can be good there can be large drop offs between sign-up and attendance.

An attendee shared:

“We needed to engage the rest of the organization and get them to be more curious about learning and development, a bit more curious about their own learning. So, we embarked on a personal development program that kicked off with a short workshop on ‘hunger for learning’, really trying to open up people’s mindsets, getting them to really think about how do you know when you’re learning, and actually, what’s learning all about to you? And the interesting thing before we started, we asked the small group that were on at the beginning, what have you learned today?

All agreed that consistency of approach from the top-down was critical to learning success.For learning and development programmes to turnaround and impact positively on organisational culture, all stakeholders and particularly the programme participant and their line manager need to be clear in how that programme is going to make a difference for them – short, medium and long-term.

Charles highlighted a recent article by Stef du Plessis and Steve Simpson: it’s clear that culture is observed to be far more positive by the board and senior leaders in the business than those on the frontline of customer experience delivery. There is no doubt many factors that contribute to this unequal perception of culture but leading the way is personal power. If we can engage programme participants in the programme planning process either at a project level or strategic level and identify and articulate the unwritten ground rules and untrue limiting assumptions at play in the organisation’s culture, we can simultaneously reduce the number of barriers that prevent full participant engagement and improve the perception of culture. In summary, we all need to be speaking the same language and sitting around the same table when identifying the solution, designing the programme and measuring the impact.

“If people see a win, they’re going to be wanting to do more of it. It [learning] becomes addictive; changes a habit.”

Return on Investment (ROI)

So how do you know that when you’re just delivering what you think is great leadership and management development programs, they’re actually having an impact on the bottom line?

This was generally seen as an area for improvement by roundtable participants. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that demonstrates that personal and professional development makes not only a difference at an individual level but also at a more global level across the business and across industry.

Demonstrating value is key, and this can be focused on recruitment and at the simplest level the lost opportunity of not training (and then losing) current staff.

As a measure of ROI, one attendee shared: “We have tied our NPS score into work we were doing with our managers and leaders in coaching – looking to increase the NPS score post-training.”

The group discussion how ROI measurements work best when they consider all stakeholders that will directly and indirectly impacted by the training. As such, taking time prior to training implementation to consider who the stakeholders are, what role they play and what impact the development programme will have for them is valuable. Greater stakeholder engagement will naturally lead to better implementation of the skills, knowledge and practices taught and learnt in the training into everyday activities and projects.

The group continued the discussion, agreeing that it is worth considering how ROI is measured using both qualitative and quantitative methods and to look across the landscape of the organisation on how the professional development programme will impact staff recruitment and retainment, brand credibility, awareness and trust, marketplace and industry influence, customer and staff experience, and sales, leads and revenue generation. Consideration of these factors will enable each development programme to better align to the organisation’s overall strategy and therefore win favour of stakeholders across the business, including the board, leading to further influence for learning and development in the future.

The importance of coaching

Coaching was seen by the roundtable participants as a crucial skill and practice in influencing change and workplace behaviours. At both Masterclass and Train Together, we think that coaching skills are also crucial in the successful storytelling of ROI.

As an example, to successfully communicate ROI, we first need to deeply understand the problem that stakeholders are experiencing. With permission, we need to ask coaching questions which reveal the barriers that are being faced and support stakeholders to articulate how a resolution to the problems will make positive impact to their day-to-day experience. Moving the discussion forward, internal learning and development practitioners use coaching techniques to strengthen the link between the positive impact of intervention and the forms of intervention available to support people development. This consultative approach requires the practitioner to be comfortable in and out of coaching and to manage the consultative phases in order find and decide upon the right solution. In doing so, a full stakeholder map can be produced and ROI measures can naturally be identified

This approach has worked particularly well for Train Together client NHS Property Services where the organisation has utilised the apprenticeship levy to transform the lives of their staff on the frontline of delivery. Stepping Stones is an internal programme of development enhancing the soft skills of facilities management practitioners serving customers in a variety of roles in NHS properties across England. To obtain buy in from the wider organisation, the L&D team have focused on building excellent relationships with operational managers and building influence with the senior leadership team by looking to deeply understand the challenges the organisation faces in both the immediate and long-term future. Intertwined with the Stepping Stones programme, NHS Property Services have worked with Train Together to bring the Facilities Services Operative apprenticeship standard in to support the overall structure and develop programme participant’s everyday facilities management knowledge, skills and practices. Clear and simple ROI measures have been put in place that consider the apprentice (programme participant), their line manager, the team and the broader strategic objectives of the organisation. By doing so, the Learning and Development Team have been able to influence changes in practice and the purchasing of resources for support the programme participants engage in personal and professional development.

The importance of data 

A key area for improvement appears to be the longer term tracking of how CPD programmes are influencing organisational development.

An attendee shared:

“One of the things that we’ve done for our leadership programmes is we’ve started monitoring the data around participant retention within the organisation. We’ve done this for the last eight years or so. We’ve literally started tracking people’s career development and demonstrated that those that participate in our programmes are more likely to stay with the firm and more likely to achieve their longer-term career goals than those who don’t participate in them. We tracked 300 managers and of those 300 managers, approximately 150 are still with the firm. Of the 385 that have participated in our Leader Program, 75 are still here. That figure, to me, says that our development programmes are aiding retention of those that we perceive as our top talent – they are the people group that are our future leaders in the business. As such there’s a strong argument for the investment in our leadership program. Now, we can’t say they’re staying purely because of our leadership program. However, it will be a factor. I guess that’s the issue I always have with when you start trying to talk about the return on investment leading from a professional development programme – you can never say it’s solely that programme that’s led to the success that’s being seen.”

It’s key for L&D practitioners to have an eye on both the short, medium and long-term strategic aims and consider data that will help understand how staff CPD impacts all aspects of organisational life. When we do so, there’s opportunity to consider the other improvement projects are impacting the data and collaborate with other improvement practitioners across the business to measure and analyse the data.

A big thank you to the attendees of the session for sharing their challenges and experiences. If you would like to attend a future roundtable webinar with Masterclass and Train Together, get in touch.


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