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Four Cultural Choices to Make When Designing Your Learning Programmes

A learning and development (L&D) programme is like a railroad train. Your employees are the train’s passengers, embarking on an uncharted journey of exploration in their hopes to reach greener pastures. When your train reaches a crossroads, what will you, as the train captain, do? As any good train captain would attest to, in such situations, one should always check with one’s passengers on their preferences and to take into account the culture of the team. Some trains are driven by a culture to take risks and wander off the beaten track, while others prefer stability. Indeed, it’s tough making a decision that you know will alter the course of your passengers’ learning journey. But it’s a decision that you must still make nevertheless. Here are four cultural questions you may have to ask yourself when designing your L&D programmes.

Style — Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

To answer this question, simply ask yourself who should be in charge of your employees’ learning and development. Is it primarily driven by them, or are you adopting a top-down approach where you decide what they should learn and what is best for all your employees? Granted, while a top-down approach to L&D may have its fair share of benefits when you are starting out as a small company, it strikes a discordant note in a world where collaborative learning and information sharing are upending familiar ways of learning, enabled by technology.

If you have a truly brilliant learning culture, a self-driven culture will always be the go-to option for your company. Your employees will naturally want to learn and develop themselves, which would then translate into them being more engaged at work. Consider implementing a bottom-up learning culture instead. An emerging model in this aspect is employee-generated learning, in which employees or subject-matter experts take responsibility for their learning needs and create their own content. In this model, L&D complements employees’ learning by empowering them to create content and share their own knowledge. It empowers engagement by making employees instrumental in driving, voicing and creating the flow of knowledge.

Style — Collaborative or Individualistic?

Did you know that the advent of new technologies has drastically changed the way we work? People now collaborate across different time zones and geographical areas thanks to modern technologies such as Zoom, with international teams becoming increasingly common. According to Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, collaborative learning happens “in the flow of work [that is] enabled, supported and encouraged; not designed or managed.” In other words, the instructor only serves as a facilitator to encourage students to source for knowledge themselves, exchange information and build upon each other’s ideas. Ultimately, collaborative learning allows for the unification of learning and work. This helps teams to arrive at solutions faster and fosters a stronger sense of workplace community.

But that is not to say that an individualistic style of learning does not possess its fair share of benefits. Just like how a pair of Levi’s jeans symbolises rugged individualism and a love for adventure, Levi has invested significantly in self learning platforms over the last few years. The adoption results have been fantastic: within four months, 50% of employees have activated their license, completing an astonishing 23,000+ videos.

Indeed, these learning tools has strengthened Levi’s culture of individualism and risk-taking by providing a means for employees to learn the skills which they themselves think are truly valuable. “One of the biggest learnings in my career is not to force people to learn what I think they should learn, but instead ask myself how do I help be a conduit and let them follow their natural path,” Michi Raubitschek, who became Levi’s first head of L&D in 2017, said. “And help shape it slightly, but let it emerge the right way. That’s how you truly build a learning culture.”

Focus Areas — Long Term or Short Term?

This question requires you to make a decision between long-term upskilling and short-term skills development. Do you want your employees to do well in 10 years or 10 minutes? Many would answer both, but in reality, this is often hard to achieve. For instance, PWC’s 23rd Annual Global Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Survey reveals that CEOs at financial services firms still find it hard to strike a balance between short-term financial targets and upskilling in the long run.

For example, results from soft skills training might only be seen in the long run, whereas tool training, such as learning how to master a certain tool like PhotoShop, falls squarely under the category of short-term learning. But learning that particular software or feature might not have a major impact on your company’s performance 10 years down the road. It is therefore up to you to decide how to allocate scarce resources to competing priorities. This is also where a strategy roadmap can play a crucial role in helping your company to chart its L&D vision for the future.

Better People or Better Professionals?

How much do you care for your people outside of work? Do you want them to learn how to do their jobs better, or do you want them to develop holistically as a person and become better people overall? This involves making a tough decision between performance-driven learning, which focuses more on driving work performance, and holistic learning, which aims to nurture your employees so that they can achieve growth in both their personal and professional lives.

In conclusion, be honest with yourself when at a crossroads. Don’t steer your train in one direction just because it looks good or sounds “right”. Ask yourself what your company’s culture is truly about and check in with your passengers on how they perceive the different choices. Discuss with your team members and make a decision on where the team wants to go. Then, drive forward with confidence, knowing that your passengers have given you the green light.

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