Why Create a Learning Culture?

By Amy C. Waninger

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, your strategy will go nowhere if your culture doesn’t support it. I would take this a step further and say “culture IS strategy.” Any goal that you intend to reach will fail, unless your culture is aligned to that goal.

If we are to maintain our organizations’ promises (e.g., product and service delivery, customer support) in the future, we need to stay out in front of what’s coming. A learning culture can help us do that.

According to the Association for Talent Development, top performing organizations are five times more likely to have learning cultures, compared to lower performing organizations. It’s not hard to imagine that these companies are high performing because of their learning cultures.

The High Cost of Low Engagement
Across all industries, Gallup (“State of the American Workplace,” 2017) estimates that 34 percent of annual salaries lost to disengagement. When employees are disengaged, they are not as productive and not innovative. If employees don’t feel safe, they can’t contribute to their fullest.
Let’s think about what this could mean for a single Fortune 500 company. Consider, for example, a company that has 30,000 employees with an average salary of $56,000. This company spends $1.7 billion in annual salary, exclusive of benefits such as health insurance and 401(k) match. This fictitious company stands to lose $570 million each year due to disengagement!

That’s the impact on just one company. Now think about how much this costs the industry as a whole. The cost goes beyond lost dollars. It also includes the loss of any innovation could have happened with one-third of our staff. Think of the products and services that aren’t being created or implemented, or the number of customers who aren’t being served. Such a loss is a tragedy for the industry, our economy, and the clients we serve.

Learning Cultures Build Engagement
Providing ongoing learning challenges is essential to employee engagement. Younger professionals, in fact, are motivated as much by learning opportunities as by other benefits. Based purely on engagement savings, companies can see a tremendous return on a relatively low investment. When you further contemplate the “time value of potential” for these employees, the dividends are immense.

Learning Cultures Represent a Long-term Investment in Talent
It’s no secret that leaders in a variety of industries are worried about a talent crisis, or talent cliff. Roughly half of our knowledge workers are on the verge of retirement. When they go, they will take institutional knowledge with them. The insurance industry is not alone in this. Other industries face similar challenges.

Folks coming in early- or mid-career have much to learn about the industry. To make matters worse, some large industries (such as risk management and insurance) are seeing fewer newcomers. It’s easy to see the knowledge gap that looms.
Furthermore, if we are to retain new employees, we need to make sure we’re actively engaging them. How better to engage than in a learning environment where professionals can build skills, knowledge, and confidence in their roles?

Improved Customer Service
Finally, customer service improves significantly in a learning organization. Bersin & Associates reports that companies with learning cultures are 34 percent better able to respond to customer needs and 58 percent more likely to meet future demand. The combination of these, remember, is the very promise of insurance: to be there for our customers when they need us most, at some undetermined point in the future. What’s more, Bersin tells us these companies are 46 percent more likely to be first to market and 17 percent more likely to be a market share leader.

Creating a learning culture, then, is critical to the top line, the bottom line, long-term growth, and customer satisfaction and retention. Why would we not try to create a learning culture?

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