A culture of learning is a key component of business success. In fact, research suggests that top-performing organizations are five times more likely to have learning cultures.

How? The most successful companies take training to another level and create new, powerful and sustainable habits, avoiding the trap of trying to achieve a quick fix that employees will soon forget.

Skill and Will

An effective learning and development (L&D) plan is aligned with the strategy and direction of the company. Consider which skills your organization needs to reach its goals. The answer to this question will affect recruitment, but it’s also vital to develop the talent you already have. Gain an understanding of your people considering both “skill and will”; the right attitudes are just as important as the right skills. Competency frameworks can be useful in creating roadmaps at different levels of seniority, but ensuring the motivation to learn is in place is critical.

Regular Reinforcement

Improving the clarity of training so that information is easier to absorb is another crucial element, along with regular reinforcement of learning. Ensuring training is relevant helps with recall and encourages employees to exhibit the behaviors that are important to your business. It’s also important to focus on people’s strengths, rather than the usual tendency to highlight gaps and deficits. Review what works, and encourage people to do more of it.

Real-world Practice

People learn better when they are actively involved in the process rather than being passive observers, so interactive training sessions are key. For new habits to form, work on skills and behaviors in the classroom first, using scenarios where learners can try out a new skill in a safe environment. Don’t “release” participants into the “real world” until they have experienced the new skill. Then, real-world practice is crucial. On-the-job practice, with a colleague or mentor to offer good feedback, is essential for forming habits.

Little and Often

“Little and often” is a good mantra for forming habits. Taking small steps breaks down a challenge into manageable, bite-sized tasks. Help learners practice small elements of training, such as listening skills, until they’ve acquired unconscious competence (the ability to perform the skill effectively without needing to give it too much thought).

Make sure employees keep trying out their new skills, even if it feels uncomfortable to begin with. Professional tennis players sometimes change their grip, and at first, the results are awful — but, with perseverance, their results improve. It’s worth encouraging learners to use reminders to embed habits — for example, posting sticky notes above their monitors or using calendar reminders or phone screensavers.

Coaching Culture

It takes time to form a new habit, and old habits can quickly creep back in if they’re allowed to, which is where coaching comes in. After all, even elite athletes regularly hone their skills with their coach. Develop a coaching culture within your organization. Managers should be asking their employees, “What went well?” and, “What will you work on improving?”.

One final note about helping learners nurture new, positive and sustainable habits: You need to allow them to develop, which means the whole organization must have a learning culture where everyone is encouraged to grow and develop and to become more skilled, more confident and more fulfilled. When companies adopt this mindset and invest in their people, the rewards can be enormous.