Want a Good Learning Culture? Motivation Is Key.

One of the reasons change is hard is because some people don’t want to change—and this certainly applies to learning, as people may be happy with their current roles and levels of competency. As a result, you’re faced with the challenge of trying to develop a culture where people take responsibility for their learning and development.

In this post, we explore how you can motivate people who think they can’t learn or don’t want to learn as you develop a learning culture in your organization.

Can’t learn, won’t learn

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, is well known for the idea that people can have two mindsets when it comes to learning and improving themselves: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

People with fixed mindsets generally believe the skills and talents they have are fixed and can’t be significantly improved. By contrast, people with growth mindsets believe they can improve and learn new skills through learning and effort. As a result, people with fixed mindsets may need more help than their counterparts when developing a learning culture.

There also might be people in your organization who simply aren’t interested in professional development. These people may be dissatisfied with their jobs and unmotivated to do anything new (which is a separate problem).

Or, some people might be satisfied with their jobs because they’ve reached positions they want to remain in and have no desire to develop their careers further.

And for this post, we’ll use the TV series “Parks and Recreation” to help illustrate our examples as we explore how to make learning feel less like a chore and more like a treat.

Developing growth mindsets at work

An important part of developing a good learning culture is encouraging a shared mindset of growth and improvement. People need to be confident so they can learn new skills, improve themselves, and stretch to new challenges.

One approach to achieve this is by regularly promoting positive stories of colleagues who have successfully used learning resources to build their strengths and improve their performance. Regularly sharing these stories helps normalize the idea that learning can bolster long-term success.

Personal encouragement from line managers is also helpful, especially when that encouragement reinforces attempts to learn, try new skills, and develop (e.g., people who unsuccessfully apply for a promotion should be given encouragement and support to expand their competencies and address any areas for improvement). In other words, channel your inner-Leslie Knope and let your positivity shine through—and maybe try eating some waffles.

Motivating satisfied employees

There’s also the question of people’s motivation to learn, which is a separate challenge from people being generally dissatisfied and unmotivated in their work.

For this scenario, you need to change culture where people are motivated in their work and relatively happy in their jobs, but aren’t motivated to learn and develop because they don’t have interest in expanding their horizons.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a person being content with their current position and not seeking promotion, but a strong learning culture does mean encouraging everybody to be involved in learning and development for two reasons:

  1. The only constant is change. Even people who plan to stay in their current jobs need to continue learning as the world and their roles evolve.
  2. Experienced employees who have been in their roles for a long time can help train and mentor less-experienced colleagues. But those veteran employees can’t exactly help colleagues if they aren’t included in creating the concept of a learning culture or if they’re behind on technology, best practices, etc.

So, as you plan how you’ll develop or change your learning culture, consider those who might not be motivated by promotions. Think about how you will motivate these employees to keep up with the latest industry trends and tech so they can share both their experiences and skills to help develop their peers.

In Parks & Recreation, April doesn’t conceal her lack of motivation when it comes to growing in her role until she finds something she’s passionate about—helping animals and running the local shelter.

The role of line managers

Line managers play a vital role in developing growth mindsets and motivating their people to learn. So it’s important that managers themselves have a growth mindset and are trained to see and encourage the potential in those they manage.

Praise from managers should focus on effort, a willingness to learn, and employees working outside of their comfort zones in addition to success. The aim is to cultivate an environment where people are encouraged to try new things, to sometimes fail, and to learn from those failures. Because as Ron Swanson says, “There’s no shame in failure if you give an honest effort.”

Hiring for growth

As you seek to develop a learning culture, it’s helpful if those coming into the organization have the right mindset.

Make “a desire to improve and learn” part of the criteria you consider for recruitment so new hires add to the learning culture, rather than diminish it. Just take a note from Chris Traeger, who can "literally" make anything sound positive.

How can learning analytics help motivate employees?

Use learning analytics to highlight how people have used training resources to improve and develop skills. These examples can then be showcased to motivate others to learn.

Up Next: Do your learners know where to find resources?

We’ll cover the second barrier to creating a culture of learning and development, and discuss how to ensure learners can find training content and resources they need.

Parks and Recreation is used here only to illustrate the examples in this blog post. Watershed is not associated with, sponsored by, or affiliated with Deedle-Dee Productions, 3 Arts Entertainment, or Universal Media Studios (UMS).

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