Creating a culture of learning to drive innovation in business

 For businesses across the UK, uncertainty is the order of the day. Recent political happenings have shaken the business landscape, and the need to stay ahead of the game has never been greater.

These tenuous conditions pose a challenge to traditional leadership styles and methods. Now, more than ever, leaders are faced with the challenge of innovating their approach to running a business, and demonstrating their flexibility and ability to operate in unpredictable circumstances.

Traditional patterns and processes no longer hold true. Instead, leadership must be open to creating a climate of innovation within organisations, to help them generate a competitive edge, capitalise on new opportunities and make value-driven improvements to their products and services.

The key to driving innovation is through employee engagement. Recent research from Deloitte found that 85% of global business and HR leaders rank engagement as a top priority for human capital, but only 46% of companies reported they are prepared to tackle the engagement challenge. Low levels of engagement lead to low levels of innovation, which is problematic given the myriad of challenges faced by businesses aiming to ‘get it right’ for the increasingly demanding, multi-generational workforces they have.

Learning is commonly acknowledged as one of the key drivers of employee engagement. Trends point to the fact that today’s employees increasingly want to work for a cause and see the inherent value in what they do. Learning opportunities are central to this, forming part of what Deloitte describes as the employee value proposition. Learning is not simply a means of building skills; it is part of the workplace culture.

Deloitte reports, that despite companies’ spending on learning rising by 10%, to more than $140 billion worldwide, only 37% of companies believe their programmes are effective. It could be beneficial for companies to reconsider the methods by which employees are engaged with learning in their organisation and create a genuine, tangible culture of learning that is spearheaded by leadership.

A pertinent example of how this can work in practice is the Leeds Institute for Quality Healthcare (LIQH), a specialised place-based network, with a strategic objective of creating a culture of quality care across the city of Leeds. While its goal is to improve performance, it recognises that one must first create a culture of learning.

The LIQH was structured around the principle that leaders and leadership are separate entities, each with their own distinct role to play. While an energetic and strategic leader must take a central role, there exists a model of shared and distributed leadership, which works to embrace and disseminate common goals and align activities throughout an organisation, across all levels of seniority.

This model is designed to break the cultural cycle whereby senior and junior members of an organisation are detached and not communicating effectively with each other. Ultimately, everyone works together as a network of peer leaders to impact service changes, recognise the boundaries of quality and value set by senior leaders, and engage senior leaders in the design of their new models. This new structure creates a continuous culture of learning, where different levels and different areas of expertise work harmoniously to achieve a company’s goals.

LIQH is one of many new approaches to organisational structure and the function of leadership. It provides a theoretical framework from which other business leaders can learn. The approach is not too dissimilar from the online classroom. For example, one of the key benefits of studying a business programme online is that students are exposed to the possibilities of frameworks like the LIQH, learning the principles behind them and understanding how to implement this practical theory in different industries. Global classmates with varying expertise and levels of leadership enrich each other’s knowledge. They offer different perspectives on the best practices and approaches to solve problems, and this then allows students to impact their business tangibly in real time.

Exposure to an online culture of learning is a competitive advantage for future business leaders who want to understand how to create and nurture similar cultures in their own organisations. Learning leads to engagement that creates an environment poised to innovate, so businesses and employees can flourish.

Dr Kieran Mervyn is an experienced research and management consultant and faculty member for the University of Roehampton, London Online management programmes.

  • I especially love the part that points to competitive advantage being derived from engaging in 'an online culture of learning'. The direction of businesses today has radically transformed, and to be significantly aligned to best practices; one must harness the collective experiences, suggestions and recommendations of key industry players. The best way to do that as rightfully mentioned is to look at it from the perspective of the business environment being a 'global village'. This is great Sir.