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Continuous learning: creating a culture of improvement

It takes more than metrics to measure a company’s capabilities.

Quantifiable benchmarks such as profits, sales, and net promoter score only illuminate outcomes. Outcomes are critical to any high-performing organization, but they are incomplete diagnostic tools.

They show leaders where their businesses are excelling and lagging behind today, but they say nothing about their ability to improve and evolve tomorrow.

Taking a metrics-only approach to assessing your capabilities neglects the fact that companies are collections of people.

At the end of the day, people are responsible for propelling your business into the future — and it’s up to you to set your people up for success by investing in their skills.

Always Be Learning

Today’s companies need to be like sharks: constantly moving forward, knowing quickness and agility are key to their survival.

Modern markets are constantly shifting, with fierce new competitors emerging every day. Organizations just cannot afford to be stagnant.

If your company isn’t systematically hitting its goals, it is infrequently a case where you have magically lost execution capabilities. More often, it is because in a dynamic marketplace, your strategy may need to evolve. What many leaders neglect to factor is that strategic pivots often require new execution capabilities — and these new capabilities only come from evolving the skills in your workforce or adding new talent.

It is your responsibility as a leader to create a culture that has a passion for adaption and an eagerness to embrace change.

Creating Culture Change

When employees know their leaders solely use metrics to assess the value of their skills, it’s easy for them to hit the “autopilot” button, go through the motions, and do just enough to produce average results.

Nearly 70 percent of employees say their companies aren’t actively involved in their career development. This is not a recipe for agility; it’s a recipe for unhappiness and disengagement.

An investment in professional development, however, sends a vastly different message to teams — one that recognizes their passion for learning and gets them excited about what the future holds.

Continuous learning should be a process of self-examination where old habits are identified, questioned, and — if necessary — replaced by new, forward-thinking philosophies.

Conducting this activity throughout the year will keep your employees’ minds engaged and keep your company at the forefront of its industry’s evolution.

When my company, LegalZoom, faced multiple complex problems that no single organizational silo was equipped to solve, we knew it was time to make a commitment to companywide continuous learning. Now, twice a year, we host daylong professional development seminars where we systematically build new skills that have been identified by our own people as most helpful. Thematically, they are often linked to cross-functional collaboration and communication.

As a result, the company has never had an easier time rising up to meet new challenges, and our employees consistently tell us professional development is the highlight of our off-sites. If a manager cannot look back on the year and identify a specific new skill he or she has learned, the mission has failed.

Continuous learning will provide your company with a competitive advantage and three key benefits:

1. Morale Boost: Positive morale comes from actions, not slogans. Many companies may say they want to develop leaders, but those words ring hollow without a tangible follow-through.

Be the company that walks the talk. Show employees you’re committed to their development by holding regular educational sessions and bringing in experts to lead them. Devoting time, effort, and resources to this endeavor will help your team feel appreciated — and employees who feel like their leaders appreciate them are more productive, creative, and engaged.

2. Habitual Excellence: Consistent organization wide training creates a cultural norm around continuous improvement. It gives people permission to question the status quo and try something different. Once evolution becomes a group effort, employees will no longer look at you quizzically when you present a new initiative, wondering if you’ve been wading in management self-help books in your free time.

Continuous learning creates an empowered workforce. What company will not benefit from a built-in peer network that owns the strategy, the required capabilities, and wants to be involved in steering the ship toward success?

3. Fearless Exploration: People are naturally averse to trying new things. We tend to stay in our comfort zones because we’re afraid to fail and potentially look silly in front of our peers.

However, when a company commits itself to regularly stepping outside its comfort zone and learning new skills, fear of failure starts to melt away. Risk aversion is an obstacle to innovation, and a focus on continuous education helps mitigate this mindset.

Metrics do a great job of telling you where you’ve been, but they tell you nothing about human potential. In today’s fluid marketplace, a company’s survival hinges on human factors: flexibility, openness, and fearlessness.

These crucial traits can only exist when teams are kept in the know about external factors affecting the business. And further, they must be provided with ample development opportunities that keep their minds active and engaged.