Never in a million years did I imagine I would end up in a field of corporate learning. However, I also never imagined I’d be fulfilled working so closely with adults and organizational learning. Organizational learning is a well-known term in the field of organizational development, but I definitely had a learning curve before I tried to implement academic measures into a corporate classroom setting.

Organizational learning refers to individuals’ process of creating, retaining and transferring knowledge within an organization or business. Drucker (1992), McLean (2006) and Vatcharasirisook (2011) all agreed that in order to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals, businesses must enable the transfer of knowledge from individual to individual throughout the organization. To prepare employees to lead business endeavors in the future and for a company to prosper, organizational learning is a necessity.

In my experience, the topic of organizational learning presents two interesting dilemmas. The first is that although there is widespread recognition of organizational learning and its importance to the business, there is no theory or model that is universally accepted. In fact, there isn’t a single standard definition of organizational learning, which raises the question, “How do we encourage organizational learning when there isn’t a standard definition to use as a guideline?” The second dilemma is a direct result of the first. Because there is no standard definition, it is nearly impossible to trace the roots of organizational learning directly to one person or even one specific academic discipline.

Pondering these dilemmas, I had a revelation: There will probably be never be one standard definition of organizational learning, because it is derived from a number of social sciences, education theories and organizational theories. And maybe this lack of a standard definition is an advantage to both organizations and learners. Maybe it’s better to be able to form a definition that fits your specific organization’s needs.

I also realized that adults were learning at work long before anyone had coined the term “organizational learning.” Adults have always been learning, and it was the coining of the term that helped businesses recognize that learning serves more than one purpose and is developed through experience and reflection. Learning is often shared among individuals and used to conduct and modify the practices and processes they use.

It all comes back to people. Organizations do not have brains; it is the individuals who form the processes and memories over time. But while organizational learning occurs through individuals, it would be foolish to conclude that it is only the result of the of employees’ individual learning. What I had not considered before was the connection that organizational learning has to employee turnover, retention and engagement.

It was these revelations that brought me to the question: “How does one start building a culture of learning in their department or their entire organization?” What better way than to practice what I am to preach, than to learn from those around me? So, I took this question to my team for tips, tricks and ideas. Their list follows:

  • “Make learning a priority in your department.” It all starts with leaders. If we, as leaders, do not value learning, it becomes challenging to expect others to do the same.
  • “Pay attention. You can learn from anyone or anything at any time.” As human beings, we are constantly learning.
  • “Everyone has to start somewhere.” Everyone starts on the same beginning level. Look for ways to build competencies in your department as people continue to become comfortable in their skill sets.
  • “Encourage your staff to ask questions and find their own solutions!” By encouraging your staff to seek answers to their own issues first, you are challenging them to think differently – and learn in the process.
  • “Use as many ways as possible to teach, train and develop.” Not everyone has the same personality type or learning preference. Use these differences as a way to not only get to know your employees but to leverage their strengths.
  • “Encourage staff members to find their passions.” One thing I’ve learned from being a leader is that in a room full of people, I will never be the smartest one. If someone has a strong passion for a project or a skill that your department could use, let them spear-head an initiative. You’ll create an environment where learning is important, and you’ll create leadership opportunities. People love to put their hearts and souls into work they love.
  • Lastly, “Always ask questions.” When you ask the right questions, you help employees continuously develop their skill sets while boosting their confidence.

Whether you’re the CLO or in your first management position, learning leads to leadership. If learning isn’t encouraged, start encouraging it! The people who are learning today are the ones who will be leading your organizations tomorrow. Do yourself, and your organization’s future generation of leaders, a big favor and learn, learn, learn. Then, pass it on.