Creating a Culture of Learning - #7

Braveheart is a film that tells the story of Scottish hero William Wallace, and his leadership efforts to stop the British invasion of Scotland. Although the film takes much creative license with it’s historical retelling of the story, there is a climactic scene before the Battle of Stirling, which is fairly accurate in it’s translation of William Wallace’s original speech.

In the film, Wallace rides on horseback in front of the Scottish army, telling them the truth - “Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live” - but bravely imploring them to fight for the value of the freedom for Scotland. Although vastly out-numbered, the Scottish army routed the British army that day, in what was a significant victory for the Scottish sense of national pride.

Of particular note, however, is the position of William Wallace in this scene.

He is on horseback, dressed for war, at the front-lines. In front of him are the Scottish militia - men who have only heard of their leader but may never have seen him before. At this pivotal moment, their leader is with them and leads them into a new future. He does not direct from a lofty office or castle; he does not talk to them - he communicates with them.

The fascinating article ‘On How To Manage Disruption’ (found in December, 2012 edition of Harvard Business Review) stresses the importance of the key leader (often the CEO) being a visual leader in guiding the organisation into a new culture. The CEO is the figure of leadership for the organisation, and too many organisations today underestimate the value of their presence, and the leverage that their leadership can have with all employees.

© Carsthets | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Carsthets | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

To create an innovative and new learning culture in your organisation, this has to start from the top. It must be believed in by top level executives, practiced by the leaders and - most importantly - be talked about across all employee levels by these leaders. CEO’s need to rub shoulders with the receptionists, and encourage them in their co-creation of a learning culture.

There is professional training available to assist your organisation and leaders in this training, but here are some beginning tips:

Don’t Delegate Learning

In the rush for their time, too many top-level executives delegate the act of learning to others and are only interested in the conclusions and results.

Whilst this may be efficient, it will not lead to a culture of learning and of innovative ideas being developed within your organisation. Spend time yourself engaging in learning about your product and your competitors, your market, new marketing ideas, new processes, new ideas about organisational psychology.

Skipping this step will ensure that your organisation maintains the status quo, without developing exciting new ideas.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat

New cultures are like leaky buckets - if you don’t keep filling them up, they drain away before your eyes.

Creating a culture of learning will be a challenging exercise that will take time, and will have to be consistently repeated across your organisation. Calling a meeting and telling your employees that they should learn more will not solve your solutions. Regularly talking about ideas that you have been thinking about, and questioning your employees and co-workers about their ideas and readings - this will help create a culture of learning.

Expect it to be awkward and difficult at first - it will have a culture shock! After persistent time, your organisation will change.

Begin At The Top

This is a tip that has been repeated several times throughout this blog series, which highlights its importance. Creating a learning culture starts with the top of the organisation. It is possible to subversively create a learning culture - but this is much more difficult.

If you are in a position of responsibility within your organisation - do not put the cart in front of the horse by insisting your employees start learning. Begin with yourself, and move outwards. It will take time, but you will create an effective culture of learning that will generate innovative ideas and creative opportunities.