Creating a Learning Culture is a Must-Have to Gain Competitive Advantage

By Affif Siddique

There must not be any doubt on any CEO’s mind that their most important asset in the company is their employees. According to recent surveys, what keeps them up at night is retaining the A-players they already have in their organization. 

The best way to keep them engaged and motivated is to invest in their training and development. A Bersin whitepaper titled “Building a Smarter Workforce” quoted in their key findings that the key to building and retaining a smart workforce is “implementing a continuous learning strategy, using new models of leadership and build a passionate work environment” 

Bersin by Deloitte, 2013

It went on to say, “Forty percent of CEOs indicated in a recent survey that they see training the next generation of leaders as a top challenge, and we understand that learning is key to developing employees and driving higher performance,” The report estimates that global spending on LMS (Learning Management) systems will grow 10.4 percent to more than $1.8 billion this year – 2013 Bersin by Deloitte research report.

The modernization of a company’s workforce and transformation of their thinking to work in collaboration while being agile and nimble requires different leadership skills, mindset and training. A CFO, who argues their case based upon the ROI only, may find it difficult to justify the investment and time it requires to develop a learning culture. According to Peter Senge, a noted scientist at MIT and author of the book The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization states, “The concept of Learning Organization is increasingly relevant given the increasing complexity and uncertainty of the organizational environment” he further remarks "The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable source of competitive advantage."  

Too many managers still view training as a luxury, not a competitive and strategic necessity. They look at training as a nice-to-have instead of a must-have. In today’s ultra-competitive and shifting business landscape, training is not just a matter of survival, but it’s what separates them. “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” – Jack Welch, former CEO GE

Training is more than just building the skills and knowledge of each individual of your team for their own personal benefit, it’s about empowering the employees to do better and how to do better at their job and provide value back to the company. Companies that have invested in training and learning culture also saw higher retention rates of their talent as employees believe their company is seriously looking after their personal growth and making a direct investment in them. Higher retention rates makes a direct impact on ROI, bottom line growth, and output. As the workforce grows more modern, knowledgeable, and skilled, they become more productive, enthusiastic, and motivated to perform and compete against their competition. We know “winners want to work with winners” and successful demonstration of talented and trained workforce attracts top talent and winners into the organization. This sentiment is echoed in Aragon’s research perspective that “the enterprise learning market is beginning to flex and shift to meet these needs”. 

But, like any other strategy or transformation to work, training and learning culture will be effective only when it starts from the top. Top leadership and senior management must embrace training and learning enthusiastically and trickle it down to the staff level by aligning it to the business plans and individual performance goals. They must complete the circle by creating opportunities and allowing employees to apply their newly acquired skills and reward them through their appraisal process. Just having a training and learning courses available but not having a formal process to measure its effectiveness and alignment will create casual “In N Out” learning environment and will not produce the desired outcome, hence making it less effective and loss of interest from the top management to invest into these programs further.

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Affif Siddique is Solutions Consultant with human capital management team at Oracle. He has an established track record of enabling success and leading organizations to increased innovation, transformation and revenue growth. He is a modern thinker and solid results-driven executive with extensive leadership experience in market development, and partner management in strategic and tactical roles. In addition to that Affif has advised and led technology startups in hardware, online media and enterprise software industry. Follow him on Twitter @AffifSiddique


Training and creating a learning culture are two sides of a very different coin, the first is operational the second strategic. Continuous learning and a learning culture does not require organisations to pay for training, it needs to embrace work as a learning activity in its own right, which includes experimentation and learning from mistakes.

Like any other back office function, L&D needs to grow into a strategic Business Partner function and by focussing on culture and engagement empower the workforce to be more self-directed in their development.

If organisations do not recognise the need to be strategic, they will forever be paying for costly (reactive) training packages that do not solve any of the behavioural issues. Why? Because 80% of behavioural problems observed are caused by systemic failures and over-management.

L&D has to grow into a more strategic function which in many organisations is called Organisational Development.

Posted by Heidi De Wolf on March 15, 2014 at 02:35 PM PDT #

Hi Heidi, Thank you for your comments.

You are right about the behavioural problems caused by systemic failures and over-management and on the pure defination basis training and creating a learning culture are two different sets.

However, when an organization is challenged to solve their employee retention problems, both feeds onto each others. You need to develop the strategic and tactical solutions together so the efforts can produce the results and not go waste because of a disconnect between strategy and delivery.

Posted by Affif Siddique on March 17, 2014 at 10:14 AM PDT #

This is an excellent article. This certainly opens our eyes about reality of importance of training especially in corporate environment. All managers in enterprises should read this and that can hopefully lead to benefits for both organization as well as employees including managers.

Posted by Gajanan Bhat on April 07, 2014 at 08:04 PM PDT #

Appreciate the compliment. Yes and it must start from the top and trickle it down to every employee level. Leadership needs training too:)

Posted by Affif Siddique on April 09, 2014 at 08:17 AM PDT #

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