How Strong Is Your Learning Culture?

There's a standard business case for employee education. By investing in training and professional development, your staff executes more skillfully and efficiently.  In addition, education supports internal promotion and retention. Over time, these benefits save your organization money and improve the quality of your product or service. 

That's all well and good. However, to focus exclusively on job-specific learning is to whiff on a tremendous opportunity. Education should also broaden the mind. 

Great cultures deliver great numbers. Great numbers don’t deliver great cultures.
— Jack Welch, GE

Here's the good news: This expanded concept strengthens the business case. In addition to the logic above, employee education can support two advantageous values: creativity and ethics. These values benefit employees personally, of course, but they also benefit the organization. In fact, to call creativity and ethics "advantageous" is to undersell it. When they truly infuse the culture of an organization, a competitive advantage is born.

Bosses, you need to invest more in employee education.

Yes, I'm talking about a learning culture. I'm also talking about a growth mindset. But I'm interested specifically in enrichment, not training.

Don't get me wrong; training is essential. I agree that great employees seek professional development, and I value formal education (profoundly). Yet, I want even more for you. I want you to be genuinely well-rounded, and I want you to develop well-rounded employees. 

I want you to learn ALL THE THINGS.

Sure, I know that no one can really learn ALL the things. And you certainly can't learn them with the depth that you bring to your specialization. (To pretend otherwise would be irresponsible. Don't do it.)

That said, curiosity is a virtue. It's time we give it its due.

Enrichment learning - for the sake of curiosity or exploration - is strategically sound. Not only does it contextualize your work, but it also kindles creative thinking. And, most importantly, it illuminates the ethical dimensions of your field. 

This kind of education should not stop when you throw the cap in the air. Nor should it pause until your annual vacation or -- gasp! -- your retirement. Too many folks stop reading, limit learning to the narrowest professional development (if they even make time for that), and then moan about their boring, too-busy careers. Enough.

Hello there, beautiful trees, let me introduce you to the forest.

Flip the script. Round out your intellect with broad reading. Watch a foreign film. Take an interesting class, one without an obvious link to your job. Become a Renaissance woman, or man. A Jack or Jill of all trades. Watch what these changes do for your creativity, your ethics, and your career.  Reinvest, keep learning, repeat.

I know many of you are thinking, "Lovely, but who has the time?" With all due respect, you are missing the point. This is essential work, not a nice-to-have. Your intellect and your imagination are your greatest assets. Feed them; strengthen them; restore them.

Whatever you do, deal with your busyness and prioritize your most important work. You have developed your specialization, and you can trust yourself to prioritize it. Now make some space -- find some balance -- for ALL THE THINGS.