How To Replace Your Training Program With A Real Learning Culture

Everyone hates all-day mandatory training. Here’s how to encourage learning a different way.

How To Replace Your Training Program With A Real Learning Culture
[Photo: Flickr user Georgie Pauwels]

Between 2013 and 2014, U.S. companies spent a whopping $70 billion on training programs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top-performing companies spent more on average than others did.


It’s not that L&D (“learning and development”) is a bad investment. It’s that it just isn’t equally effective across the board. Some companies might find that building cultures of learning, rather than sinking resources into training programs, pays off much better.

Imagine all employees in your office voluntarily went home tonight and read about a topic related to their career. Maybe a book about interacting with coworkers or research on some of the latest marketing trends. Don’t you think they’d approach their jobs tomorrow in more inspired and informed ways of thinking? Now imagine if they did that every single night.

Getting Everyone Motivated

Teams that are committed to learning can give their companies a real competitive edge. That’s why top corporations spend so much on L&D in the first place. But even the most naturally curious employees are sometimes put off by formalized programs that require them to meet certain learning benchmarks.

Instead of taking a rigidly structured, quantifiable approach, build learning into your organizations’ culture. Inspire employees to make it a part of their daily lives. Simply put, people are more likely to learn when they want to.


So the challenge for leaders is first and foremost to give their teams that motivation. Research suggests that tapping into your individual employees’ emotions is one of the best ways to do that. Celebrate minor learning successes. Make your team feel good about figuring out how to do something new. It’s important to focus on the small wins. Waiting to commend an employee for clearing only the biggest hurdles won’t have the same payoff because those don’t come frequently enough to make a real difference in the culture. With that in mind, here are three ways to build learning cultures in your organization.

1. Offer Rewards

Rewards for completing learning initiatives should equal the effort it takes employees to achieve them. And rewards shouldn’t always be monetary. In fact, it’s usually better if they aren’t. Remember, you’re trying to inspire motivation, not competition. My tech company WebpageFX offers hundreds of industry-relevant books, online courses, and certification resources for our employees. Those who earn certain increments of points by tapping into them can choose between three reward options that gradually get bigger as they move up. Whether it’s a free magazine subscription (15 points) or an African safari for two (300 points), the aim is to get our employees excited about reaching new goals–which they set for themselves. There’s no “Thursday’s mandatory training program will be held in Conference Room B.”

2. Lead By Example

If you want your teams to put in the time and effort to keep developing their skills, you should be doing the same.

As a leader (or the leader) in your company, your behaviors and actions will affect how your employees behave. And while what’s relevant to your professional development might be different than, say, your dev team’s, showing that you’re willing to continue to learn can go a long way in creating a meaningful learning culture from the top down.


It’s no secret that people are influenced by the the behaviors of those around them. So it doesn’t take making a grand show of your efforts to pick up some new knowledge–in fact, don’t do that. Again, the key is to model small, self-directed efforts that others will pick up on and then embark toward on their own.

3. Look Beyond Skills Training

Finally, you’ll see the best results motivating your employees to learn if you encourage them to pick up skills that have no direct bearing on their day-to-day jobs. It’s just as important to let employees take up wellness initiatives, creative endeavors, and community-based projects.

The point is to show your organization that intellectual development and honing work-specific skills is just one piece of the learning culture they’re a part of. Not only do you want employees to improve their careers, they should feel motivated to be proactive about improving their lives, too. You should be interested in each employee as an individual, not just a sales rep or software engineer.

William Craig is the founder and president of WebpageFX and a columnist for Forbes and Fortune. He writes about the role of culture in entrepreneurial success.