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5 Steps for Building a Learning-Centric Company Culture

Posted on July 05, 2016 by Guy Weismantel

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Creating a culture that promotes continuous and high-impact learning is easier said than done. But it is possible, as has been demonstrated by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Netflix.

Google holds the top spot in Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work for” seven times in 10 years now – not only because of the attractive perks it provides to both living and deceased employees (yes, you read that right) but also because Google trains its people well, making it an extremely attractive workplace for aspiring leaders, entrepreneurs, and tech innovators.

How else do you explain the many ex-Googlers who now call the shots elsewhere, such as Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Tim Armstrong at AOL, and Kevin Systrom at Instagram?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking you to push your employees to a career outside your company. But as Richard Branson once said, delegation is as important as a strong personality when building a business. People must be trained to run the business so the company can continue functioning even without specific individuals present. Everyone goes on a vacation or gets sick once in a while, right?

Bottom line, leaders cultivate leaders, from the top to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder – and largely through training and feedback. When it comes to competitive advantage, not even a cutting-edge product can beat a highly skilled, innovative, and agile workforce.

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You might now be saying, “That’s all well and good, Guy. But how do I get started creating a high-impact learning culture?”

Below are five steps to consider, the same five steps outlined in our Managing an Insurance Agency in the New Digital Era e-book:

1. Assess your current training offerings.

Start by analyzing what you already have. Some questions you might want to answer during this crucial assessment stage:

     - What types of training do you have in place?
     - Do they complement each other?
     - Do they contribute to the company’s overall training objectives?
     - Do they help your employees become better at what they do?
     - Are there redundant courses better off scrapped?
     - Are there courses better off consolidated into one comprehensive training program or, conversely, a tedious program        better off presented in bite-sized pieces?
     - Are there areas where you can cut on costs, such as direct your employees to MOOCs (massive open online courses) instead of creating a similar course from scratch?

A needs assessment may also be necessary, especially if the company’s training objectives have evolved. Heineken UK, for one, set up an assessment center to gauge their technicians’ base skill levels, behavioral skills, and upskilling aptitude. 

2. Audit your training materials. 

Asking for feedback is how you get a feel for whether or not your training materials are living up to expectations. Send out feedback forms to new hires or as soon as an employee completes a training session. Or better yet, solicit anonymous feedback for truly candid responses.

Ask closed- and open-ended questions, such as: 

     - Is the training enjoyable?
     - Is it easy to follow?
     - Will you recommend the training to new hires?
     - What training topics do you feel will best address your challenges?
     - Are there any topics not explicitly covered?
     - Are you satisfied with the way the training was presented?
     - Are there specific elements (such as interactive quizzes or video walkthroughs) you’d like implemented in the next training course?

 Outdated training manuals must be updated as well, and you’ll need the help of a subject matter expert or a seasoned employee to get this done. 

3. Create a learning task force.

A task force consisting of subject matter experts and researchers who make sure that your training materials are of the highest quality, aligned with your training objectives and the company’s goals is a great way to make sure your agency is continually using the best content for learning. 

4. Document, document, document. 

While industry best practices exist to make things easier for everyone, every company is unique. Different organizations follow different workflow rules, even despite them operating in the same industry.

Hence, every task, process, and outcome should be documented – as explicitly as possible. This is essential for you to understand what’s working and what’s not, and which areas need your attention.

A documentation system for trainees and employees helps everyone learn new processes faster as well.

5. Measure your success.

There must be a success benchmark in place to understand the effectiveness of your training programs. How are you to say a program is successful if you haven’t defined the parameters that make it successful? You can’t improve what you don’t measure, after all.

Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model, which is considered the standard for measuring training effectiveness, consists of four levels:

     - Reaction. Was the training favorable to participants? Did they find it engaging?
     - Learning. Did the training increase their knowledge or enhance their skills?
     - Behavior. Were employees putting into practice what they learned?
     - Results. Were there any tangible results, such as increased productivity levels, reduced costs, increased sales, or better employee retention rates?

Another way to measure success is by asking employees to teach what they’ve learned to their peers. 

Final word

Nineteenth-century women’s rights advocate Ernestine Rose is attributed to have said:

“Agitate! Agitate! ought to be the motto of every reformer. Agitation is the opposite of stagnation – the one is life, the other death.”

In the insurance industry (and every other industry, for that matter), technology is agitating the status quo, and the demands of a modern business landscape that expects swift responses from providers are inciting agencies to never sit on their proverbial butts and change when changes occur.

This is exactly the reason why a culture of continuous learning is paramount for any businesses hoping to stay relevant in a constantly evolving environment. Organizations equipped with learning cultures can more readily adapt to change, better attract and retain top talent, and produce stellar productivity ratings. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Mr. Weismantel is the Vice President of Marketing at Vertafore. With 20 years of marketing and financial leadership in companies such as Microsoft, Business Objects, Baxter HealthCare, Caremark International, and Expedia, Guy’s career has focused on bringing differentiated products to market and providing the “compelling reason to purchase” for customers and prospects alike.

Guy has a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from the University of Notre Dame, and a Masters Degree in Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.




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