Learning Cultures Begin with Smart Hires

By Ingrid Vaughan

Learning cultures within organizations are becoming a standard job expectation of job seekers weighing their options when saying considering an employment offer. Organizations with learning cultures not only attract good applicants, they retain employees and reap the benefit of higher engagement and quality effort from their teams. There is no question that companies need to up their game when it comes to learning and development strategies as newer generations of employees enter the workforce. For these generations it will be an expectation – not just a perk – that learning and development opportunities are available to support career development and progression.

So what is a learning culture? It’s a collection of organizational conventions, values, practices and processes that encourage employees and organizations to develop knowledge and competence. An organization with a learning culture encourages continuous learning and understands the trickle effect that learning has on employees and the organization. Constant learning elevates individual employee performance and opens opportunities for continuous organizational transformation,

Why Organizations Need a Learning Culture

  • Sustainable engagement – organizations who want to attract, engage and retain the best and brightest must nurture them through ongoing development opportunities.
  • Increased critical thinking and problem solving – as employees gain knowledge, they gain confidence, which in turn leads to a problem-solving mindset and helps them make sound, thoughtful job-related decisions.
  • Innovation and keeping up with ever-changing technology – as technology advances and innovation remains one of the most important elements of business survival in this economy, employees who are agile and able to quickly learn emerging technologies and adapt to change will be a cornerstone to business success.

It All Starts with Smart Hiring

There are numerous ways organizations can create and sustain a learning culture, but it begins with the people they hire. Hiring for fit is essential for any company that wants quality employees who will engage with the existing team, emulate the company’s values, and be productive contributors. If a learning culture is part of your organization’s ethos and you want to sustain and grow that atmosphere, you need to hire people who will not only support but enthusiastically buy-in to that culture.

You cannot short-circuit this process. Quality hires take time and if you try to circumvent a deep, thoughtful process, you’ll either be doing it over again a few months down the road, or you’ll struggle to keep those people engaged. Here are some steps you can take to get you closer to a quality hire.

  1. Define the values, norms and practices that describe your business and the learning culture you are building. Do you know how to express exactly what that culture looks like? How people participate in it? The attributes of the people who emulate it? Your expectations around it? Get clear on that before you even create a job posting.
  2. Articulate those values in all of your recruitment efforts, especially job postings. Your job ads must connect back to those values and define in detail what and who you are looking for, as well as your expectations. In some ways, articulating this is more important than the job requirements. You can teach and train someone with basic skills into the job, but you cannot infuse enthusiasm and buy-in to a culture the person doesn’t believe in or want for themselves.
  3. Engage your team in the process – arrange to have potential candidates engage with different members of your team – not just the interview panel. Notice how they interact at every level. How did they engage with the receptionist while they were waiting? How did they react when another team member passed by and introduced themselves? What was their attitude with the person who did the phone screen? Everyone on your team who has a touch-point with potential hires should also have a solid understanding of, and ability to articulate, your business values and culture and refer to it throughout their exchanges with candidates.
  4. Assign tasks to potential candidates to determine if they have a mindset that matches your culture. For example, “We are a learning organization and our team is dynamically involved in continuous learning at every level of the company. How have you demonstrated a learning mindset throughout your personal, work and volunteer experiences?” Ask them to describe the impact of learning on their career path, or to describe their top five work values (see if learning is one of them). There are many creative ways to get to this, but asking for the information explicitly will help you find candidates who “get it” and will more likely fit than not. About 60 percent will choose not to go through this extra step, which helps you eliminate those who don’t really have the same values, or enthusiasms, as you.
  5. Ask probing questions in interviews that move applicants beyond canned answers and require them to demonstrate how they deal with uncertainty, solve problems and approach new challenges. Ask them how they learn best, what things they would like to learn over the next 5 years, or what was the most exciting thing they learned in the last year. Dig deeper into their work experiences and their responses to the assignment. Ask Why and How questions that force them beyond simple, surface answers. Ask questions about behaviours and attitudes you expect from your team.
  6. Invite prospective hires to spend a day (or even a longer trial period, such as a week) in the office to learn about the inner workings and culture of the business. Watch them during this trial. How do they interact with others on your team? What do they talk about when their guard is down? How do they handle assigned tasks and respond to a period of intense learning?

If you are tempted to say that you don’t have time to go through such a rigorous and time-consuming process, ask yourself do you have time not to? Yes, it’s more work than simply browsing through resumes and conducting an interview, but the difference in the results will be significant.

Renee West, former President and COO at the successful Luxor and Excalibur hotels in Las Vegas said, “You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.” Discovering the hearts and minds of potential team members before you hire them will help you bring the culture you desire to life.