Workplace culture is often cited as a way to attract desirable applicants on one hand … and as a reason that people leave on the other. What makes a culture great (or toxic) and, crucially, how can learning leaders shift culture toward the positive end of the spectrum?

1. Connection and belonging

Companies invest in all kinds of initiatives and activities to foster a sense of community and belonging among workers. These include newsletters, social connection sites like Yammer, team or company meetings and outings, and more. But a true sense of community and belonging emerges from more nebulous cultural elements like trust and inclusiveness—not from going kayaking together. In fact, the kayaking outing only works if those underlying elements are already in place.

Learning leaders can nudge their organizations toward the kinds of inclusiveness and equity that can create community by understanding that it’s not only about creating accessible learning products that include images, characters, and language that represent and include all learners—though that’s a good starting point. An inclusive mindset must pervade the entire organization.

A change in perspective can move L&D teams, and in turn, entire organizations forward. Rather than looking at specific course content, an inclusive mindset requires looking at hiring practices, the way teams interact and work, and the way advancement opportunities, such as mentorships, are assigned and managed. It might also include creating leadership skills and development curricula that address inherent or cognitive biases and challenge leaders to confront the shortcomings of the way they’ve “always done” things, whether that means examining hiring practices that favor people from privileged backgrounds or professional development opportunities that favor on-site employees vs. remote or part-timers.

2. Feedback and accountability

Setting clear goals and expectations for employees helps to create a positive culture. But there’s more to it than that. Employees need feedback on their progress, the knowledge that their boss or team has their back if they run into difficulties, and accountability. Accountability extends in all directions; while an employee may expect to be held accountable for missing a deadline or for correcting their own errors, they also—reasonably—expect that all employees and leaders, at all levels, will be accountable for their own actions and outcomes.

A system where people know what to expect and are held accountable can foster stability and trust. Teams and collaborative work projects only succeed if all members know that their teammates will cooperate, collaborate, and carry their own weight in working toward shared goals.

Learning leaders can encourage learners to be accountable by creating structured collaborative projects and learning experiences and by encouraging knowledge sharing rather than supporting practices that encourage workers to hoard information.

Managers seeking to foster collaborative learning and working in their teams might need skills-development courses on team building, motivating employees, providing effective feedback, or identifying employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Learning leaders can help by providing materials, coaching, and other avenues for managers to hone these skills.

3. Growth and development opportunities

An essential building block of a great corporate culture—and one with tremendous benefits to employers and employees alike—is a continuous learning culture and commitment to career growth.

The lack of potential for internal moves, whether upward or lateral, is a key driver of employee turnover. Conversely, research from LinkedIn Learning and others finds that employees stay longer at companies that offer them career paths, professional development, and opportunities for internal job transfers.

This is an easy win for learning leaders and L&D departments! Design training strategically, and ensure that learners can easily discover what training is available and put together a learning and development path that suits their personal and professional goals.

Creating the culture for learning might require convincing skeptical executives that time spent learning is valuable to the organization, but the data exist to make the case that organizations with strong learning cultures outperform their peers.

4. Flexibility

In addition to positive, supportive leadership, workers want a flexible work environment. While learning leaders might scratch their heads here, saying they don’t influence that, there are ways to help shift culture.

Manager and leadership training, for example, can emphasize the shifting expectations that workers have of their leaders and their organizations and the need to consider employees as individuals with needs, priorities, and obligations outside of their jobs. Other ways L&D can help include soft skills training that can improve listening skills, communication, and feedback between workers and managers, and teaching teams to use tools that increase flexibility by empowering collaborative working and meeting—tools like Teams, Trello, or Miro.

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Learning leaders and aspiring leaders who are seeking the strategies and skills required to navigate the needs of today’s ever-changing workplace do not need to figure it all out on their own. Connect with a community of your peers to help you explore and resolve today’s biggest learning leadership challenges.

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