3 Ways to Build a Culture of Learning

June 3, 2019

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PR practitioners must simultaneously be experts and generalists. We’re expected to have well-honed skills in the science and art of mass communication and connecting clients with audiences — an expertise that must constantly be updated. At the same time, we need a working knowledge of all the disciplines, industries and subject matters that we represent.

Along with these intellectual demands, we work in a fast-paced environment where new technology and ways to connect people with one another are introduced frequently. Teams must be on their toes, constantly asking questions, and learning and adapting to keep up.

That’s why building a culture of learning — whether you’re at an agency or part of an in-house communications team — is so vital. Building this culture doesn’t happen overnight, but there are certainly steps you can take to get there.

1. Let employees lead.

Don’t think of learning as a push system; encourage employees to influence what and how workplace learning takes place. This starts with hiring. Select people with an eagerness to grow and a certain level of core skills. Then, let them guide leadership on what their learning needs are. Use regular mentoring meetings to provide opportunities for these conversations to take place, but don’t neglect the value of encouraging unplanned, in-the-moment conversations either.

It’s also valuable to let your employees teach. Regardless of their seniority in the organization or their experience level, every employee has strengths and skills that they can share with others. Providing opportunities to teach has the dual purpose of encouraging skill sharing, and it gives the person teaching an opportunity to learn leadership and presentation skills. It also builds confidence.

2. Build learning into the workflow.

The nature of work is rarely predictable, especially in public relations when, at any moment, an unexpected need can arise. Without the right planning, it can be too easy for learning to always be pushed aside. Our leadership has worked to ensure that this doesn’t happen by incorporating learning into our standard operating culture.

Most organizations have regular status updates: staff meetings, daily huddles or something similar. To maintain learning as part of our culture, we devote half of these meeting times to learning. This challenges us to keep the operational side of the meetings, which everyone appreciates. And by using a necessary, regular meeting to incorporate learning, it helps us resist the temptation to postpone or reschedule.

We’ve had success following a monthly theme, using each weekly staff meeting and a monthly lunch and learn to dive deeper into the topic. By the end of each month, we’ve successfully covered significant ground, fostered good conversations and encouraged future sharing.

This doesn’t always have to be super structured. Sometimes this takes the form of going around the room and sharing individual challenges that others may be able to help solve. In other instances, it means sharing a success story or walking the team through a particularly stellar presentation or execution. It’s about providing a moment in time for conversational learning to flow naturally.

3. Utilize outside resources.

Insulating your team is one of the largest barriers to learning. Our profession relies on having an intrinsic understanding of the outside world. We’re in the business of connecting with people and, to do that, we have to constantly be attuned to the changing world around us.

In this sense, the best way to improve your organization is to look outside of it. Have an employee sit in on a webinar and then recap the insights to the rest of your team. Send a high performer to an exciting industry conference and let them come back and share that excitement with others. Encourage the flexibility and freedom for employees to take a moment during their workday to read trade journals or put their ear to the ground of social media or the latest news.

This informational input is what fuels creativity and what keeps people motivated. Without it, we stagnate and detach from our colleagues and our careers.

The best thing about a learning-first culture is that we can always learn how to better implement it. There isn’t one right or wrong way to champion workplace learning.

What are your best practices and insights? I’m always looking for new ideas: Feel free to reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Bridget Castellini

Bridget Castellini is the managing partner of Wordsworth Communications and has over two decades of strategic communications experience. She is proud to cultivate a culture that attracts the best and brightest talent. Connect with her on LinkedIn: Bridget-Castellini.

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