Unlocking potential: influencing culture

by | Apr 25, 2017 | Articles, Featured

When it comes to culture we do not have to be constrained by the past. How can we influence change? Laura Overton continues to outline the tactics that separate the best from the rest.

Working in an organisation that has a true learning culture is a dream for most L&D professionals. The New Year’s wish for many is for a business environment where all the stakeholders encourage learning, share learning and see every experience as an opportunity for doing more of the same. We want to work in organisations that do not just embrace learning but thrive on it!

However, over the past 10 years, we’ve seen frustration increase with L&D holding line managers, learners and senior business leaders responsible for this dream being unfulfilled. This year 44% of L&D leaders say that learning is just not a management priority and 62% do not believe that staff just lack the skills that they need to manage their own learning.

Clearly, we are a long way from working in L&D nirvana. This is the place that ‘that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself’ espoused by Peter Senge back in 1990 still seems out of reach ten years later.

In our series on Unlocking Potential – we have been looking at what data from 600 L&D leaders shows how to increase the efficiency of traditional learning and how we can go one step further to create and support learning opportunities that boost business agility. We’ve outlined steps on the tactics for using technology and stakeholders around us to respond faster, improve employee engagement and teamwork.

The data also shows us how we can go even further to transform learning delivery support learners but really influence the culture of our organisation.

Influencing Learning culture

The opportunity to influence culture is high on our agenda with over 9 out of 10 L&D leaders looking to:

  • Integrate learning and work
  • Increase the sharing of good practice
  • Drive business innovation
  • Attract and keep great talent

These are broad issues, normally outside of the remit of a traditional L&D role, but learning professionals in 2017 realise that they can no longer be ignored. The big challenge is that only 1 in 5 of us report that we are really making a difference.

So, what can we learn from those that are more successful? Analysis of the tools and tactics of those reporting a culture change vs those that are aspiring to influence culture provides us with several keys for success:

1) Leveraging formal learning opportunities to influence informal learning

Perhaps surprisingly, formal learning continues to play a part. However, the elements of formal learning that are most likely to influence culture is the proactive focus on pre- and post-course interventions:

  • 70% of those successful at achieving culture change agree that objectives and aims of learning are discussed with individuals before they start learning (vs 35% non-achievers)
  • 69% routinely collect information on the extent to which the learning points have been understood (25%)
  • 50% collect information on the extent to which the learning points have been applied (16%)

2) Proactively identifying opportunities to support learning in the workflow

However, our role does not stop at the formal. Those L&D teams successfully influencing culture are three times as likely to help the organisation develop challenging tasks to embed learning into everyday behaviour.

They are twice as likely to actively encourage staff to take on new work experiences as an opportunity to learn. The collaboration between managers and L&D to ensure that staff stay focused on the end goal, influences a positive learning culture.

3) Developing shared ownership for learning

What is more, those reporting an improved learning culture within the business are twice as likely to be creating an environment in which users can contribute to the learning of others through user-generated content.

They are three times as likely to agree that their staff know how to productively connect and share. Successful L&D teams are then making sure that when knowledge is shared, they are helping others to make sense of it using feeds, curation and social bookmarking.

4) Actively celebrating and sharing success

While the culture might not yet be perfect, those that influence culture find opportunities to continually highlight and celebrate great examples as they occur, both on an individual and organisational basis. They are twice as likely to agree that individuals are rewarded and/or recognised via tools, achievements goals and badges.

Perhaps more importantly, they are also twice as likely to continually communicate learning successes, to users as well as to line managers and supervisors.

Turning the key at Citi Bank

The L&D team at Citi Bank, led by Brian Murphy, shows us how to take these keys to influence a culture that has been established for over 200 years. Recently awarded Gold for best social and collaborative learning project at the Learning Technologies Awards, the team knows how to model new ways of learning in order to create opportunities to reflect; and provides permission to learn from experience and share with colleagues and connect with managers.

The future is in our hands

Peter Senge’s original vision of a learning organisation is a place where “… a group of people are working together collectively to enhance their capabilities to create results they really care about.” Our latest research shows that now more than ever, we can pull together to deliver the results that everyone cares about. And I don’t just mean courses, cost reduction and the latest learning technology.

Towards Maturity’s 2016-17 Annual Benchmark Report, Unlocking Potential, shows that when all stakeholders pull together around the performance and innovation agenda, new conversations erupt, new employee engagement strategies emerge and there is a new openness to the tools that deliver both.

L&D has a leading role to play in influencing that culture but we need to roll up our sleeves and get involved – modelling change from within and celebrating successes wherever we can. But we need to believe we can make a difference, a little at a time. The key to influencing learning culture is our own attitude, ability to learn and resilience in the face of adversity!

In Unlocking Potential, we’ve distilled the evidence to identify proven tactics that we need to adopt to realise our vision for the future. What’s more we’ve put them into your hands to help you influence both the culture of your organisations and your own future. The next steps are up to you!


The Towards Maturity 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report, Unlocking Potential: Releasing the Potential of the Business and its People Through Learning, guides L&D teams through the keys to improving efficiency, fine-tuning processes, boosting performance, cultivating agility and influencing culture – 5 essential outcomes for a learning organisation.

Download Unlocking Potential for free at: www.towardsmaturity.org/2016benchmark


This article was originally published in elearning age magazine.


Laura Overton

Laura Overton

Founder and CEO

Laura Overton is the founder and CEO of Towards Maturity. Her work is based on 30 years of practical experience in implementing technology-enabled learning strategies for business advantage, backed by her independent research.

Laura is the author of ‘Linking Learning to Business’ – one of the first industry benchmark studies with both organisations and learners investigating good practices (Jan 04). This seminal work placed business results and alignment at the core of the L&D agenda and this has been at the heart of the research programme ever since. Since then she has authored over 40 independent reports and hundreds of articles sharing benchmarks and effective practices to drive L&D performance which are referenced around the globe. Laura is a respected industry expert and speaker, conducting workshops and stimulating debate around the globe.

Compare your L&D strategy with the Towards Maturity Health Check

Featured content

Women in Work and Learning

Women in Work and Learning

Today is international Women’s Day; the annual occurrence that seeks to revel in how far women have come, and address how far they have left to go in the battle for gender equality. By celebrating what women have achieved, whilst highlighting the continuing inequalities they face, today plays a vital role in shedding light on women, their opinions and their experiences in life. We want to contribute to this insight and explore how you could make work place learning more effective by tapping in to the behaviours and ambitions of women in your company.


3 fresh ideas to reinvigorate busy learners in 2019

3 fresh ideas to reinvigorate busy learners in 2019

Every day your employees face dozens of clients, managers, reports and projects competing for their attention. With 55% of workers saying they lack time to learn, it is clear heading into 2019 that we need to apply some fresh forward-thinking to recapture the attention of the learners and revive their passion for learning.

Our Ambassadors

Our Supporters also influence Towards Maturity's Health Check and research, providing insights on future trends and practices that should be investigated.

Pin It on Pinterest