Continuous Learning: Driving Employee Development and Organizational Performance

In the past, learning was perhaps seen as a singular event: an employee goes on a course and learns something, then returns to their normal place of work where the learning activity ceases. Continuous learning challenges this established view. The concept requires both workers and managers to see learning as an ongoing activity, which is carried out daily and ad infinitum, rather than during a set time frame.

Arguably, there has never been a more important time for organizations to apply this concept. The business landscape is constantly evolving, creating an ongoing need for workers and enterprises to update their capabilities. At the same time, budgets for formal training are being slashed as the tough economic times continue.

Companies which partake in continuous learning can find, if done well, it provides a solution to both these challenges.

Embedding Continuous Learning in a Work Culture

It would be a mistake for companies to believe that continuous learning is a one-way street, where staff are given the tools to learn and then simply left to their own devices.

The process is, of course, employee driven and only they will know when they have truly achieved a state of continuous learning. However, this process must be facilitated through the work culture. A two-way exchange of feedback is needed, allowing employees the time needed to reflect on their progress and what they have learned.

Staff must have a clear understanding of the goals and aims of the organization to put what they are learning in context. This will be especially beneficial by boosting employee engagement during a time of economic struggle, when pay freezes are likely to be in place.

"In today's tough economic environment, how managers manage is even more important in supporting employee commitment and motivation in the face of job cuts, pay freezes and cuts to training and development budgets," Ben Willmott, senior public policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), explained.

Opportunities For Learning

The concept of continuous learning is often described as developing the ability to learn, rather than the actual learning itself. With the feedback and self-awareness aspect of continuous learning being so important, the development of soft skills is also need to help facilitate this.

"By supporting all employees to develop their soft skills, employers are enabling them to successfully navigate the requirements, challenges and opportunities of their job role in pursuit of personal, team or organizational goals," Dr. John McGurk, CIPD Learning and Talent Development Adviser, said.

This in turn, directly impacts organizational performance.

According to the CIPD, Nokia is one company which has successfully linked learning and development to operational performance.

The company has a system in place where 70 percent of learning is done on the job, 30 percent through networking and only 10 percent through formal training activities. This means that all workers are capable of fulfilling their potential in the future as well as within their current role.

A portion of this is achieved through coaching activities, which involve reinforcing what has been learned on a day-to-day basis and is supported within the company culture. This helps drive the organizational developments which lead to improved performance.

To offer a recent example of a company believing its learning culture will help it weather an unexpected change in the businesses environment, the comments from Charlie Rose, Chief Executive Officer of Dong Energy, in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster are perhaps most fitting.

"I think that embedded in our culture is both safety and continuous learning," he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "...we'll review what has happened in Japan and we will learn from that. At the end of the day, that will help us improve the operation of our existing 104 plants in the United States."