At the beginning of Learning Habits, there is a famous quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle (as eloquently edited by historian Will Durant):

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I can’t think of a more appropriate beginning to a book that systematically illuminates the relationship between learning, excellence, and habits.

Learning strategist Sarah Nicholl explores that relationship in a very practical way. She works with companies worldwide to design enterprise learning programs and systems. Her book is based on understanding why habits are important, how they support learning, and how to build habits and learning at every level of an organization from employees to executives.

Excellence and habits

In today’s world, excellence is an essential aspiration for individuals and organizations. But simply aspiring to be excellent is not enough. Excellence in an enterprise requires consistent action, and it requires consistent support. The outcome is to ensure that people can innovate and create value while making their organization better and their work more successful.

In this book, Nicholl has put together a systematic approach in a very straightforward way that will allow readers to gain an understanding of why habits are important, how habits support learning, and how you can build habits for employees, managers and executives.

What is in the book

Learning Habits has five sections–Getting Started, Organizational Habits, Team Habits, Individual Habits, and Bringing It All Together. Nicholl recommends reading the Getting Started section first, and then reading the sections you need. It is not necessary to read all the sections, or to read them in order.

The Getting Started section sets the foundational basis by explaining the big picture: What is a habit, the need to have a learning culture, the behavioral science supporting research and insights needed to make habits automatic, and the LEARN framework.

The three Habits chapters share a similar structure. Each of them begins with a story that serves as an advance organizer to provide context and to make the habit actionable. The chapters provide details about the habit being addressed, as well as suggestions that make the habit and the need for action more urgent. The chapters each conclude with measurement considerations and key takeaways.

The first of the Habit chapters addresses habits at the executive or organizational level in order to support habits and learning companywide. This chapter has a focus on one keystone habit from the Learn level and a suggestion for how to use that habit with stakeholders. Other actions to implement include executive-led time for learning and setting up the learning expectations on a fiscal year basis, and creating a learning council to support learning in the organization.

The second Habit chapter moves to habits at the team level: quarterly business reviews and follow-up, team meetings, manager one-on-ones, and performance review follow-ups.

Continuing the progression at the individual level, the third Habit chapter shares habits that every individual can use to support their own learning in their own work.

The fifth part of the book brings together the key points of the LEARN model and other supports for learning. The result of following the organization of the book is a plan you can use to drive habits in your organization, teams or for yourself.

Wrapping up the plan

At the end of the book, Sarah Nicholl provides resources to help assess and align the roles in your organization and explains materials that are available online to help you build learning habits in line with the LEARN model and make them automatic.

You’ll come away with a better understanding of the influence of habits in your organization and how to build learning into existing habits or foster new ones to help with learning.