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Learn to Grow: How Pursuing Learning Helps Leaders—and Their Companies—Get Ahead

In 2011, Herbert Hainer, the CEO of the Adidas Group, announced the company was going to try something new. It wasn’t a new line of shoes or testing out the latest in athletic technology. Hainer wanted to invest in his company’s employees by creating an in-house infrastructure for them to learn and continue to develop.

Adidas realized that any company hoping to keep up with the accelerating pace of change needs a workforce that’s constantly acquiring new skills and knowledge. But instead of building classrooms, the company came up with a new educational model, outfitted for the twenty-first century. The Adidas Group Learning Campus, as they called it, would offer a cornucopia of interactive online learning opportunities, available to the company’s 51,000 employees at any hour, day or night. Inspired by open informational initiatives like TED conferences and Coursera, the company recognized the correlation between education and growth.

“We believe we need to further and more drastically transform the company into a learning organization by creating a culture of life-long, self-driven learning in a collaborative environment,” wrote Christian Kuhna, who developed the idea for Adidas. In this environment, Kuhna continued, “all employees equally teach and learn, and acquire knowledge and skills in a variety of ways to best suit present and future generations—reflected in our motto: ‘You learn, we grow.’”

As busy as it is, the world is hungry to learn. In 2019, learning was the top-rated challenge for Global Human Capital Trends, and the latest research shows that the number one reason people take a job is the “opportunity to learn.” According to a recent Pew study, 63 percent of working adults engaged in some sort of training to improve their job skills in a single year.

And in no other area are companies more desperate to grow than in the realm of leadership. Sharp and nimble skills are vital for companies to survive in today’s quickly changing environment. Collectively, corporations are spending billions of dollars each year to keep their executives up to speed. Still, 50 percent of senior leaders say they need more.

What Kuhna and the Adidas Group recognized was that 80 percent of learning happens informally, yet as a company they were spending the majority of their learning budget on formal training courses.

This is changing.

Like the Adidas Group, the most successful companies are delivering these opportunities to employees online. McKinsey, Tata, and American Express have all committed to a robust educational program for their employees, joining more than 4,000 other corporations that have added in-house education to the perks of being an employee. One study found that among the highest performing companies, 73 percent are providing job development for their employees every six months.

You don’t need a formal program to encourage learning. Here are some simple steps to help yourself, your executives, and your employees expand their skills.

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Develop a Personal Learning Cloud

One way to encourage education, engagement, and development is to assemble a collection of online learning platforms curated to fit your company’s needs. There are an array of inexpensive, flexible, highly customizable options, like Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, and Degreed. The Harvard Business Review describes these Personal Learning Clouds as “the ‘petri dish’ that fosters the rapid growth of learning communities. And it’s vital to keeping managers engaged and growing on the job.”

Create a Company Library

If there are books or outside resources that you believe would be edifying for your staff, why not make them directly available? It’s not much trouble to create an office lending library – you just need a shelf and a signout sheet. Bonus points if you create a reading nook to reinforce the idea that learning is valued in your organization.

Model the Change You Want to See

You can exhort employees to learn and progress, help them assemble a career learning plan, and publicly acknowledge their successes along the way to meeting their training goals. You can also encourage learning by being an exemplar yourself. If they see that you are committed to expanding your own skills and investing time and energy into your own professional development, it will encourage them to do the same.

Foster Learning Through Collaboration

The best way to truly internalize knowledge is to teach it to someone else. Create a culture in which workers are encouraged to impart what they’ve learned to each other, and view the sharing of knowledge as a vital element of the collaborative process. Periodic meetings in which employees are encouraged to share knowledge can help. So can the right tools.  The project management software Clarizen One, for example, makes collaborative learning easy. It allows teams to share discussions, emails, files, and links with each other, as well as with both internal and external stakeholders.

Promote Learning through Transparency

It should go without saying that employees are more motivated the more they understand why their tasks and projects are important to the company, and how they are contributing to your overall mission. Cross-training sessions can be edifying for employees, improving flexibility, their knowledge of who can help them answer their questions, and their ability to assist each other. Tools that encourage transparency can also facilitate on-the-fly knowledge and resource sharing. Clarizen One helps teams gain a big picture understanding of their project as a whole as they use the software to track progress, share insights, and align goals.

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