Just as we can design training efforts to enhance individual learning agility, we can include steps in our training programs to foster a learning agile culture. This second and very important element of a training initiative is critical to sustaining the gain from initial training.

Aspects of training that focus on fostering a learning culture include:

  • Providing ongoing concrete, specific and actionable feedback and guidance to employees
  • Creating a workplace that does not penalize people for being creative, when appropriate, or for making—and learning from—mistakes
  • Providing opportunities for employees to share their ideas and thoughts about the most effective ways to get their work done
  • Nurturing the thirst for knowledge and enjoyment of trying new ways to approach work

This type of training is highly interactive and aligns with blended learning, role-plays, videos, scenario discussions, break-out activities and debriefs, and laying the groundwork through brief lecture. For each of these areas, here are some approaches and tools to help trainers illustrate key points.

Providing Ongoing Feedback

Once upon a time, performance feedback was provided occasionally, at best, and once a year in an annual performance review, at worst. Today, the most effective and productive feedback is frequent and specific to a recent behavior or circumstance. For example, at Linda’s company, she and other leaders are intentional about “catching people doing something right.” When they do, leaders give immediate face-to-face feedback and follow up with written recognition through the Intranet or shout-outs on the company’s web site.

During training, share and discuss samples of best practices for providing recognition. Another helpful tool is a breakdown of research on how different generations in the workplace prefer to receive recognition. For example, millennials like opportunities to show off new skills, texted or tweeted compliments, 10-minute blocks of time to “play” on approved social media sites, and kudos published on the company website.

Creating a Workplace that Allows for Innovation and Learning from Mistakes

To a large extent, employees can be self-empowered innovators, if leaders allow them the latitude to be curious, to question the efficacy of organizational “sacred cows” and to pursue (within reason) dreams of glory. During training, one tool for inviting visionary thinking is this set of open-ended “Quality Dialogue Questions:

  • I’ve always wondered why we…
  • I don’t think we spend enough time…
  • I think we should focus on…
  • Our success lies in…
  • We’re missing a business opportunity with…
  • I would like to be able to…
  • Everyone knows that … but is afraid to talk about it.
  • Our meetings would be more effective if…
  • I’ve noticed that…
  • Our customers would be happier if…
  • I’d like to see more … in our company.

During staff meetings or retreats, these questions can open the door to creativity and idea-sharing and result in positive changes in the way products and services are produced. Linda often breaks training groups into dyads and gives each person the opportunity to be the coach who guides the pair through a quality conversation.

Nurturing the Thirst for Knowledge

Many organizations provide wonderful opportunities to nurture people’s thirst for knowledge. Discuss these best practices through scenarios and breakout groups during training. Examples include:

  • Establishing a learning library that employees can use to check out books, articles and videos
  • “Brown-bag” breakfast or lunch meetings to discuss a pertinent book or article, with ideas for implementing core concepts into the company
  • Encouraging attendees to stop by co-workers’ desks for a five- to 10-minute debrief on ideas they gathered from seminars that could be beneficial right away

Role-plays could also include what leaders should not do if they want to encourage a learning agile workplace. For example, in brainstorming meetings, when people throw out ideas and the boss dismisses them immediately without allowing for conversation, it douses the fire of enthusiasm quickly.

Training initiatives can also include practices such as promoting exercise during the workday. Linda has several clients who have a ping pong table or treadmill attached to a small desk in a spare office. Since lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of focus and concentration, exercise can help employees get ready to learn. Similarly, people need protein to feed their brains, so encouraging nutrition and the importance of eating a good breakfast are practices that foster learning agility.

Another tool that builds learning is the use of directed assignments, which provide employees with an opportunity to try out new knowledge with temporary assignments that focus on both an organizational need and an individual growth need. For instance, if a department is grooming an employee to facilitate process improvement meetings, short-term assignments to facilitate these types of meetings across the company would be helpful.

With the increased competition for quality employees to meet the demands of global customers, it’s more important than ever that organizations promote a willingness to learn and enjoy new experiences. Critical thinkers who ask tough questions and challenge the status quo are valuable assets to any industry.

As Albert Einstein said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”