Too often, learning is neglected in favor of productivity at startup companies. While it may be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day process of getting things done during the early days, creating a culture of learning is vital to the long-term success of your startup.
First, a culture of learning is crucial for attracting the right talent. Nearly all (87 percent) of millennials—the archetypal employees of startups—as well as 69 percent of non-millennials, agree that professional or career growth and development opportunities in the workplace are essential. For millennials, the opportunity to learn and grow has been ranked as one of the most important factors in their selection of where to work and also in sticking with a company long-term.
Beyond employee retention, workplace learning is a way for your company to enhance the knowledge and skills your team needs to keep up with an ever-evolving industry. Your company will be in a better position to thrive if your employees can adapt. You may set yourself up for failure if you remain stagnant.
As your employees navigate life and work, they automatically add to, refine and reshape their existing knowledge and ideas as they observe and experience new things. As a leader, you can play a role in guiding your team toward creativity and innovation and away from conformity and stagnation.
How to nurture a culture of learning among your team
The road to success involves curiosity, an eagerness to learn, a willingness to take risks, and—perhaps most importantly—the ability to embrace and learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes and failures play an indispensable part in helping your employees learn and grow. Your leadership team should accept and even encourage mistakes as a necessary step on the path to mastery. By celebrating failures as learning opportunities, you can establish a culture that will drive creativity and innovation for years to come, both of which often differentiate the top performing companies from the rest.
In addition, you equip employees with the confidence they need to try new things, explore out-of-the-box ideas, and experiment in order to find the solutions that drive results.
Related: How Leaders Inspire Innovation
In a traditional workplace, we tend to celebrate the wins, like landing a big client, exceeding a sales target, or the completion of a project. Acknowledging and celebrating achievements is part of building a happy, effective and motivated staff. But while it is important for your startup to celebrate outcomes and results, it is equally important to recognize growth and improvement.
Rewarding growth and improvement can have a lasting impact on your employees’ motivation and willingness to take on new challenges, that are ultimately beneficial for your company’s bottom line. While celebrating achievements can be helpful with tasks where the goal is clear and the approach is obvious, rewarding effort and learning is important to motivate employees to tackle more complex tasks and overcome obstacles.
Don’t just manage, coach
Particularly in a startup world, where budgets may be tighter and workloads heavier, those in leadership roles are often left without the time or resources to serve as a coach. But acting as a coach and mentor to your employees, rather than a commander or controller, has been demonstrated to be the most effective way for managers to lead within a startup.
You can help foster a culture of learning through coaching, helping employees develop or hone skills, correcting ineffective practices, and ultimately leading employees to higher levels of achievement. Effective coaches in your leadership team are vital to the growth, productivity, employee satisfaction and the long-term success of your startup.
Offer different paths to learning
Diversity creates a dynamic workplace and benefits your startup in numerous ways. Appreciate that everyone within your team learns in a different way— while some employees may excel with hands-on learning experiences, others may prefer to learn on their commute through podcasts or videos, or via in-person learning events that boost group learning and camaraderie.
In today’s world, each of your employees can benefit from on-demand and micro-learning experiences. When employees are stuck, you want them to get the answer quickly and keep moving forward.
As you build your culture of learning, make sure it reflects the diversity of your learners and offers many paths to learning. In addition, make sure it creates a journey to mastery, starting at whatever level of competence your employees currently have and moves them to the level of mastery you need for them to accomplish your company’s strategic goals.
Helping to increase knowledge, competence and performance within your startup goes beyond providing workshops and training programs—though these offerings are, of course, essential.
Promoting growth and knowledge also requires you to create a positive culture of learning, where employees boldly tackle obstacles and are unafraid to take risks, make mistakes or challenge ideas. By fostering a positive learning environment, you can nurture forward-thinking, motivated and happy employees that will help carry your startup to new heights for your company to be an industry leader.