Changing an industry takes a lot more than a granular focus on the product or service you’re selling. Certainly, you need a skilled team that’s excited about your business, your vision, and the possibilities you see, but your team needs to know you care about their growth, too.
In many organizations, growth means having a continuous learning culture. We’re talking about much more than just tuition reimbursement or in-house, skills-based training. It’s about building an organic support system that allows a wide range of learning to flourish, from formal coursework to informal knowledge-sharing between employees.
Diversified learning cultures are increasingly driving recruitment and retention. The 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey points out that “building the 21st-century career” has emerged as an important trend. The report defines the “21st-century career” as “a series of developmental experiences, each offering a person the opportunity to acquire new skills, perspectives and judgment.” Essentially, it’s about designing a program of continuous learning based on your team, resources, and workforce goals for the future. Many executive thinkers refer to our current stage of technology-driven business development as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and some believe that continuous learning will be the engine behind building the core skills, curiosity, and engaged teams that are necessary not just for growth but for survival.
In my company, our mission is to change how people think about employee benefits, and to do so, we’ve created a closed-loop system that continuously learns and evaluates to create better results. When it comes to retaining talent in our workforce, from the C-suite to the newest employee in the door, providing people with the support they need to keep learning and developing relies on an evolving environment, too.
Here are some of the things we’ve learned about creating a workplace culture of continuous learning:
1. Identify what kind of environment you offer for learning right now.
If your company is subsidizing education or in-house training, one question might be, “Can we draw a straight line between the training opportunities we offer and measurable gains in workforce quality and growth?” If the answer is unclear, it might be time to reevaluate your approach.
2. Determine the kind of culture you want and how learning options can support it.
You may feel terrific about your workforce, but challenge yourself to think about how you can make it better. What formal or informal learning opportunities would help accomplish that, and how will you provide that structurally and financially? Other questions might include:
• What does education mean for your workforce, and what should it mean for your business?
• Should learning be formal or self-directed?
• Should top executives be involved as instructors and/or participants?
• What role should managers play in consistently encouraging their direct reports to engage in professional development?
3. Start building the curriculum.
Whether you’re recommending coursework at local or online universities, or simply having your managers recommend certain skill sets for their teams to develop, keep the topics and suggestions relevant to your workforce. Determine whether soft skills, like making presentations or giving speeches, are worth encouraging for employees who want to cross-train outside their current positions, or if you just want to focus on formal developmental areas. Decide if there are specific learning areas you want to limit your workforce to for now or if you wish to broaden the scope.
4. Make sure everyone takes part and shares their experiences.
It’s important that employees at all levels of the organization understand the value of learning and take part in it. Consider encouraging everyone to share the results of their experiences when appropriate so others can see examples of which learning approaches are most effective. Senior-level employees should be encouraged even more to participate in this and make their experiences known, either informally or through an internal communication to the company.
5. Aim for consistent improvement and evolution.
Continuous learning requires continuous evaluation. Surveying employees about their experiences on a quarterly basis is one way to gather relevant feedback—maybe you’ll learn that more people want formal programs in place or that some people want to hear more about the C-level team’s experiences with learning new skill sets. Check the pulse because the learning culture you create should be making your workforce happier and more engaged in what they’re doing every day.
All in all, remember to do what works best for your employees, business goals, and overall mission. Whether that means offering a tuition-reimbursement benefit and introducing a formal program for it or just having leadership reinforce learning opportunities at companywide meetings, the general support of this idea can have amazing effects on a workforce. That level of satisfaction, engagement, and connection you could see just by instilling the value of continuous learning in your company? That may be the most important lesson of all.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. View it here.