Lifelong Learners Need Learning Cultures

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me, and I learn. Benjamin Franklin

It’s pretty common knowledge that the best employees are lifelong learners. These are people who study Ikebana or wilderness survival for fun, in their spare time. These are people who, given the opportunity to learn a new coding language or pick up a leadership skill will jump on it. It’s literally their idea of a good time. So a lot of organizations deliberately hire lifelong learners because they can adapt to new technologies and circumstances and pinch hit in multiple positions and help to move the company forward. And then these very companies forget to provide learning opportunities for the lifelong learners they’ve hired. Eek!

Actually, only one in ten companies seriously fosters a learning culture. Those companies devote money in the budget for training for new skills; they take the time and trouble to create cross-training opportunities where someone who is interested in management, say, or learning a new coding language or project management can get actual, practical training in these areas; they deliberately plan learning into their overall strategies. Some companies excel at this. They encourage employees from different departments to sit in on planning meetings or retreats for departments they’re interested in. They offer days when people can experiment with new ideas and bring them to the company. Or they simply have an open-door policy where anyone can ask for a class or a training in a relevant skill.

Naturally, at the professional level, these are not classes in Ikebana but in skills that are relevant and helpful to the organization and will actually improve the company’s functionality as well as the employee’s contribution. We’re not talking about “Try Out a Job For a Day” when someone in marketing gets to spend a day pretending to be a quality-control expert. That’s like “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” or “Costume Day.” It’s a waste of a good work day. Both the company and the employees should be able to identify practical metrics and outcomes from the effort.

So basically there are three rules for fostering a learning culture for lifelong learning employees

  1. If you have gone out of your way to hire lifelong learners, provide opportunities for them to learn.
  2. If you’ve created learning opportunities—like seminars—you have to actually measure how effective they were or how they’re going to help your employees grow.
  3. If you’ve provided learning opportunities, make sure your employees can apply their new skills. And if you haven’t, well read my blog about not wasting money on training.

Learning can happen a lot of ways. You can offer online classes or group events where there’s paintball and pizza or offer lunch’n’learn meetings where people talk about the cool stuff going on in their departments. You can pay for community college classes or have company retreats. The important thing is, do not leave your lifelong learners starving for new information, lest they leave you for another company that takes their penchant for self improvement more to heart.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at or call (512) 420-8267.

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