How to stay off the front page: Create a culture of learning

NewspaperMaking the front page or lead story on the evening news can certainly be a good thing for a company. It could be a big, exciting merger announcement or an uplifting story about your new charitable fund to better educate underprivileged children. Yes, that’s how you want to make the news.

On the flip side, there have recently been numerous companies getting coverage they definitely don’t want. In the polite spirit of not naming names, I won’t; but I bet you could name two or three of these well-known companies within ten seconds.

What’s worse, sometimes the public responses to these high-profile PR nightmares do more damage to their tainted reputations, even as they’re ironically attempting to repair them. For example, defending a really bad policy as “just what we do;” blaming low-level employees for top-down decisions; or setting a maverick CEO loose on social media — these responses often expose policy and cultural failings deeper than the original scandals.

Training Can’t Save You
Most of the situations that have happened of late involved bad internal policies, processes and/or culture set by management and played out by employees “just doing their jobs” or modeling examples set by other team members. Even if they’d trained employees regularly on proper behavior or regulatory compliance, for example, it would doubtfully be enforced, if it’s not baked into the culture.

One of the most disturbing scandals this year involved a company that actually did a great job of enforcing its values. Unfortunately, the values being enforced were essentially to win at all costs and place performance over ethics. I can’t imagine what that training curriculum would have looked like, especially the Advanced Executive Backstabbing and Discrimination: How to Look the Other Way sections.

Those types of companies need a complete cultural reset. These are the organizations with C-suiters and board members opening golden parachutes as fast as they can. These are the organizations scrambling to settle multi-million dollar law suits as quickly and quietly as possible. These are the crash and burn stories made into movies. Training can not and would not have helped them. The problems were too deeply embedded in the leaders and by extension, the organization itself.

A Culture of Learning Can Save the Rest of Us
Assuming your CEO is not ever going to be featured on American Greed, we can talk about training and the value of building a culture of learning. Good leaders have painstakingly crafted mission statements and core values that drive positive and profitable organizations. From the top down, these support individual employee success as well as the collective success of the company and they lend themselves perfectly to ongoing learning about how to uphold and apply these principles.

The beauty of building a culture of learning in organizations that have positive, ethical drivers at the core of their missions is that learning becomes a shared value system. Whether that means nurturing employees who support each others’ continual growth or applauding creativity and innovation, continuous learning translates easily into a more effective workplace.

According to the ATD blog:

“In a learning culture, knowledge and skills are shared freely… Everyone is working to help everyone else learn from the successes and failures across the organization. This creates a more sustainable and adaptable organization. In a learning culture, what matters are the knowledge and skills acquired and applied in the workplace and the impact on achieving the organization’s strategic goals. It’s less about output and more about the difference that learning makes for individuals, teams, and the entire organization.”

Educating employees from day one on the company’s mission and core values is a unifying force. It makes how you do your job as important as what you do in your job. These lessons can be delivered as continuous bite-sized learning opportunities that reinforce the importance of individual and team contributions to strategic goals.

When organizations build this kind of strength from the inside out, there’s an exceedingly small chance that they’ll hit the front page with a scandal of employee malfeasance on the job or top-down breakdown of leadership. When everyone’s learning together, everyone’s improving together. And it goes without saying that you want to talk to Litmos about how to cook this into your culture as soon as possible.