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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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