There is a maxim that is popular in learning circles, ‘Continuous improvement requires a commitment to learning.’ This maxim sounds instinctively accurate. Right?
Any organization is only as good as its people and this makes it a compelling reason not just for startups but also for established business/organizations to create a learning culture.
But what is a learning culture?
Well, there are several elements that can be used to describe it. For example; a hunger for improvement, effective teams, transparency, mutual respect, organizational values and so on.
However, a simple definition is a culture where creating, obtaining and transferring knowledge is a part of the norm. More importantly, this new knowledge and insight need to reflect the organization’s improved approach to things.
In essence, learning new things should become tangible, bring about positive change and improve the organization as a whole. Learning should not just be for the sake of learning.
What’s more is that this change doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. The learning culture or continuous improvement needs to be cultivated in an environment where there are competing forces including; competing businesses or organizations and competition for finite attractive job positions.
How to develop a learning culture
So, how do you develop a learning culture?
Here is a useful example that we can all learn from.
Go-Jek, a transport and logistics company and the first Indonesian startup to be classified as a unicorn after closing a round of funding in August 2016, has come up with innovative solutions to problems that Indonesians have had to deal with under the reign of Giants like Uber.
In Go-Jeks short history, employees at Go-Jek have learned how:
1. To systematically solve problems that existed in the market– By introducing Go-Pay service as an additional option for customers who prefer to pay by cash instead of just digitally through their mobile app Go-Jek. This has increased flexibility of payment terms, as well as increased privacy of financial information by offering an alternative.
2. They have experimented with new approaches – Go Pay users can actually give the driver extra cash and it is then automatically credited for their next trip. Therefore no bank details or credit card information is required to top up digital payments.
3. They have learned from others experiences– They have learned a lot from Uber’s experiences in Indonesia of not satisfying the need for more diversity in; flexibility and privacy, in transportation services.
4. They have learned from their history or past experiences– That their customers prefer to have a unified app to take care of all their needs instead of having to use several apps. Go-Jek and Go-Pay have been consolidated.
5. They have managed to transfer knowledge rapidly and proficiently throughout the organization. Go Jek is no longer just a ride hailing app. It’s an on-demand empire with; Go-Pulsa for mobile phone top-up and Go-Med for medicine delivery within an hour and so on.
All this rapid changes and transformations that Go-Jek is going through are powered by a learning culture. This learning culture has put them at a tipping point where practical application of everything that employees have learned (and continue to learn) is what is driving their fast growth.
In essence, a learning culture doesn’t just happen by accident. It is a deliberate process where thoughtful, policies and practices are put in place in a measurable way. After all, ‘if you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it’.
Moreover, the 5 building blocks listed above are not just a happy coincidence. They are the core principles that have driven companies like General Electric that are known to have a strong learning culture.
Why is a learning culture fundamental for start-ups?
Whether it’s bringing a new product or service to the market (Go-Pulsa), solving a problem (Go-Pay), engaging employees for happiness and productivity or re-engineering a process, viewing things from a fresh perspective is always important. If a fresh perspective is not used, then old practices, tunnel vision, continuous problems (like Uber protests) and recurrent mistakes become the order of the day. These are the enemies of progress and growth.
Additionally, to avoid cosmetic or short-lived changes that do not have any real impact, the building blocks listed above are fundamental in nurturing a learning culture at a startup.
For startups, the crux of the matter is that they actually do recognize that a learning culture is important, but few invest in a learning culture simply because resources are limited and frankly, a learning culture is not as much of a priority as productivity is.
The thing is, re-prioritization of resources is essential since it is far easier (and arguably less expensive) to grow a team than it is to hire one. For starters, creating a learning culture simply stems a high employee turnover that is associated with younger workers yearning for recognition and better positions. There are of course several other important reasons including:
- You increase the collective knowledge of your team
- You boost employees’ job satisfaction
- You make your company more appealing
- You attract the right kind of in-demand candidates
- You aid your retention strategy
- You make succession planning easier
Instead of relying on happenstance to ensure the success of your start-up, putting a clear policy and procedure in place to develop a learning culture is fundamental to nurturing the start-up.
As such, a learning culture needs to be integrated into the day to day operations of the start-up, so that the learning culture is not seen to be a discrete process but rather an integral part of the startup’s productivity fabric. This way, learning becomes more manageable and growth of the startup is all but guaranteed.