5 Benefits of Adopting a Learning Culture

Learning is probably the number one trait that the most vibrant and dynamic cultures possess.  Growth is enabled through learning. Learning enables them to remain nimble, resilient and innovative n the face of constant change. Here are 5 reasons cultures should be focused on learning.

Evolving the Culture

Culture, at its core, is a set of behavioral norms and tacit assumptions of what it takes to be successful.  It is dependent on events – whether successes or failures. A company’s culture must evolve in response to the every changing world we live in.  Or else risk being made a corporate relic of the past. Just ask Blockbuster, Borders, Kodak, Aol or Yahoo. This means becoming a learning culture. One that is able to re-test assumptions.

Learning cultures embrace change

Experimental Leadership

If one of the best ways to learn is through failure, why do so many companies avoid it like the plague?  The fear of failure must be faced and it begins with leaders. Leaders must encourage disciplined risk-taking through experimentation.  Assumptions must be validated quickly well before the final product is rolled out.  Oh, and by the way, rolling out an inferior product to an entire division or business unit is not an MVP.

Enabling Innovation

Let your customers be your teachers.  They have the greatest to offer companies eager to be innovative.  And no, this doesn’t mean asking them what they want. It’s about being human-centered in the approach to product development.  Assess their actual needs. What jobs are they attempting to get done? This creates the shortest path to innovations.

Steve Jobs masterfully explains the importance of starting with customer experience [1:58]

Employee Growth

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you as an employee has at least two jobs. The first is the one you were hired to do. The second is to get grow and become an even better version of the person you were when you were hired. Employees must seek to be curious about their job and things adjacent. Books, articles, podcasts, videos or networking are avenues employees can use to apply learning outside of just doing the work.

Ensuring Humility

Jim Collins Level 5 Leadership model describes great companies with great cultures as possessing great leaders that are humble and have a great professional will. Humility is an acknowledgment of the fact that you don’t know everything.  That your way isn’t perfect and there can always be a better way. Humility is really a gateway drug.  It leads to curiosity, which leads to a learning binge. Learning can hopefully then results in an innovation high.

Learning is the key to the positive evolution of culture. It involves the risk of failure and the leadership to be creatively courageous. Learning is essential to innovation. At the end of the day, learning is everyone’s responsibility. This is all enabled by a willingness to confront one’s own ignorance – aka humility.

Annual Themed Weeks: A Window Into Culture

Annual Themed Weeks

A question typically posed by job candidates is “How can I assess an organization’s culture?” After all, the company’s first interview is typically to assess whether you’re a “fit” for their culture. So naturally, you as the candidate should be just as interested in getting a better feel for their culture.

For the candidate, this can often be a major challenge. According to The HT Group, “It’s common for employers to mistake the culture they aspire to with what their culture actually is.”

Cultural artifacts demonstrate values

You can, however, tell a lot about an organization’s culture based on its artifacts. Organizational Psychology Edgar Schein defined cultural artifacts as the aspects of an organization’s culture which can be easily discerned but not always clearly understood.
These include (but aren’t limited to) :

  • the technology used
  • their dress code
  • company perks
  • schedule flexibility
  • leadership hierarchy
  • and other patterns of behavior

Ask this question for culture insights

One question job candidates can ask their interviewers is “Tell me about your favorite Annual Themed Weeks.” After the interviewer composes themselves with the seemingly obligatory “that’s a good question“. They’ll then likely answer with some of these classics: Safety, Diversity, Health & Wellness, Quality, and Community Involvement.

Assessing your next work culture is important. Annual themed weeks gives you some needed insight.

Annual themed weeks give you that all-important window into discovering what the company really values and celebrates.

My top 5 annual themed weeks

  • Innovation & Creativity: hack-a-thons, brainstorming workshops, pitch contests, innovation games, idea-thons, design sprints, prototyping, experimentation
  • Inclusion & Diversity: company/building wide icebreaker, unconscious bias, walk in their shoes, round tables discussions, random cafeteria seating
  • Customer Appreciation: random acts of customer delight, customer breakfasts / lunch, conference/summit with an awards gala
  • Mental Wellness Awareness: meditation training, yoga classes, workshops, associate profiles, immersive experience simulation
  • Employee Appreciation: company swag bags, leaders make dept shoutout videos, lunch concert, top leader(s) in each building greet associates on arrival, awards gala

I encourage you to make a list of your top 5 themed weeks. Your top 5 will undoubtedly align with what you value most out of work life. Compare your list with what you hear from your interviewers. This will give you a qualitative way to assess how well the prospective company’s culture aligns with your values.

Go ahead and share your top 5 in the comments below!

Why Taking a Gap Year Isn’t The Problem

Gap Year and Values-first

I recently saw the following question posed on Quora: Will taking a gap year de-motivate my kid from going to college? The answer to this is an overwhelming NO.  At least for the 99.6% that aren’t lucky enough to launch a unicorn tech start-up.

Students are not a homogeneous group. They come in all shapes, sizes and levels of self-awarenesses. They all enter high school knowing one of three things:
(1) that they’re going to college and already know what they want to study
(2) that they’re not planning on attending college because what they want to do doesn’t require a 4YD (four year degree)
(3) that have no clue as to what to study (so either are / aren’t sure about school)

The first 2 groups are all well and fine. That 3rd group, they’re the ones that I’m going to give this piece of advice: If you don’t know how you want to contribute to society, DON’T GO STRAIGHT TO COLLEGE.

Tens of thousands of kids are shuttled off to university with no earthly idea of what they want to study. This can lead to wasted time and money (as that 4YD becomes a 5 or 6YD). Or worse yet that student gets into the job force only to have a rude awakening as they find a totally different reality to what they studied.

For those that can afford it, it would be a much better investment of that first-year tuition for that student to participate in a structured Gap Year program. Learn more about the world, others and most importantly yourself.

What if we’re assuming the wrong thing

More than anything, the question makes a subtle assumption.  That graduating college is somehow the biggest prize for that young scholar.  I contend that the goal shouldn’t be going to or evengraduating college. It should instead be to finding a way to “meaningfully contributing to positively impacting the lives of others“. Imagine how many more possibilities that subtle shift would open up for the scholar.

This would shift it from a “what do you want to do” mentality, to a “who do you want to be?” mindset.  Like most things in life, people ask the former question because it’s easier to relate what a person would does to the strengths/skills. You’ve heard it before: “Oh wow, you’re so good with numbers! You should be an Accountant.” “…an engineer.” “…a Mathematician.” This is how parents and society condition students to focus on their strengths when looking for potential careers.

Read also: What I Wish I’d Learned In High School

From Strengths to Values Focused

We want our kids to be “successful” (code for not destitute) way more than we want them to be “happy and fulfilled”. Some may even think “Hey if they get the latter as a side benefit, great. But you have to be successful at all costs.

This is how we end up with 85% of the workforce hating their jobs.  They did what teachers said they were good at (strengths). They got degrees that made their parents proud. They landed jobs that fit society’s definition of success. Yet, it didn’t keep them happy. ?

We should encourage our scholars to find out what is truly meaningful to them. Using a list of Core Values, select 10. Then narrow down to 4. Finally, reduce it to your top 2. After identifying your core values, look for careers that allow you to perform those core values using your strengths and skills. Starting from this place is how you start them on a path of meaningful work.

Be guided by your values and not by your strengths

Strengths: career first then meaning = Frustration
Values: meaning first then career = Fulfillment

How My Life Might’ve Turned Out

From an early age, friends and family told me that I was good at numbers (math) and logical thinking (puzzles). It  wasn’t long before I started hearing “You should be an Engineer.” or “You’re going to be an Engineer when you grow up.”  So that’s what I became.  I was firmly in the 1st group of high school Freshman mentioned above.

However, if I were asked what is it that I truly loved and valued, I might’ve chosen a different field.  I loved and valued creativity, variety, story, resourcefulness. Chances are I might’ve landed in a Design School studying Industrial or Graphic Design.  Instead of solving problems of throughput and efficiency, I might’ve been solving problems of User Experience, Employee Engagement or Content Marketing.


In the end, a Gap Year can be quite beneficial to students unsure of their future plans. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the student wouldn’t lose interest in college. What is most important is making sure parents (with egos divorced from our child’s perceived success or lack thereof) switch from a strengths-first approach to a values-first approach to the child’s future. This way you’ll give yourself a much better chance of being in the 15% of people that are truly happy at work.  That is true success.

Enhancing Culture

Change is Enhancing Culture

For over a century of modern warfare, ground troops have been supported by close air support (CAS).  For instance, the Army’s ground troops are supported by the Air Force’s covering fire.  Either option by itself wouldn’t be guaranteed to have the same effect and efficiency. Both must be employed.  

The process to usher in positive change within and organization, enhancing culture, is quite similar. There isn’t one set way to begin enhancing culture.  But there’s one way that successful culture enhancement efforts end. It always ends with air cover (leadership) and ground support (project teams) playing an active role.

The Senior Leadership Only Approach

The biggest impact on culture can undoubtedly be from Senior Leadership.  Especially when it comes to the CEO’s edict. A change to the culture will never happen without Senior Leadership. Senior Leadership, however is not enough.  Poor change typically sees leaders using their influence to try and roll out the change across the business unit or function.  Way too soon. Without seeing small successes, even senior leadership can’t overcome the way we do things around here mentality that defines culture.

Read Also: /The Soil of Culture

Enhancing Culture
Using only one of these approaches can stop culture enhancement in its tracks.

The Project Team Only Approach

Change can definitely start with the spark of one project team. The spark gets larger as adjacent departments see the success and the pull effect begins to take hold.  People in adjacent areas begin saying “Hey, I want to do that in my department.”   This spark will eventually flame out if not fanned by Senior Leadership.   Large change will require a Champion to help the change to scale past the initial business unit.  

Both Leadership and Teams

When Senior Leadership ushers in the change, they should make sure to patiently wait to scale.  Allow time for successes to gradually catch on with pilot projects. One at first, then two. Then maybe four. Next, try eight.  Then consider going outside of the function or business unit.

When a project team attempts to usher in change, while ensuring the success of the pilots, their attention should also be on obtaining a Senior Leader level sponsor.  Someone to champion the change across functions and business units.


No matter how change (culture enhancement) begins in the company, the change must be supported by leadership and through successful projects teams.

Engaging Employees with Purpose

Employee Engagement through Purpose

In a 2017 commencement speech, Facebook CEO/Founder Mark Zuckerberg urged Harvard grads to pursue purpose over success:

“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for.  Purpose is what creates true happiness.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Every company has a purpose to fulfill. Yet, if you were to survey employees with “what is the purpose of your work?” How many do you think will say something even remotely resembling their corporate mission statement? Employees are engaged when they have a clear sense of the company’s purpose/mission. Here are two key reasons why purpose matters:

Everything Starts with Why (Purpose)

Simon Sinek emphasizes the importance of purpose with his Golden Circle model. Three concentric circles beginning with WHAT on the outside, then HOW and finally WHY in the center.  Sinek asserts that the best way to motivate people toward your desired action is to speak to their emotion, not logic.

Purpose speaks to the emotional core in the limbic system of our brains. Despite what we may think, our decisions have been scientifically proven to be influenced by our emotions. Our logic merely comes behind to justify the decisions our emotions have already made. The company purpose is intended to be a unifier.  People desire to work in service of a cause that’s greater than themselves.

Read also: Engaging Employees with Autonomy

Purpose is a key motivator

Maintain the Vital Connection

From the beginning of time, work has always been in service of others. In the purely agricultural societies, crops were exchanged for livestock/poultry. Artisan societies saw the Blacksmith make the horseshoes for the Rancher.

In today’s Corporate America, outside of Customer Service and Sales, work has become detached from those it’s truly meant to serve. Work seems to be just about getting the widget to the adjacent department to meet the turn around time (TAT). Or it’s about getting the sponsor to approve the project deliverable.  

When employees truly understand who that widget is for focus and quality improves. So does engagement. The deliverables are no longer for the sponsor, they’re for the client or the member.

Read also: Engaging Employees with Mastery

Purpose (the why) is a siren song to customers. When it’s clear, the right customers will find you and tell others.  It’s a steady drumbeat for the heart of employees. It’s the common theme that connects all departments.

Engaging Employees with Mastery

Mastery is making progress in meaning work.

For the past several months I have been teaching my teenager how to drive.  
My role is clear.  It’s more than just keeping her company in the passenger seat. It’s providing clear objectives and timely feedback.  

My daughter is expecting me to let her know when she’s too close to the line. When her speed sags below the limit, she’d appreciate a reminder. As she parks in the shopping center, she’s looking for advice on how to improve.  

How would she ever hope to get better if I just went along for the ride?  She’d probably feel overwhelmed, frustrated, isolated and resentful. It would seem absurd for me to coach with my mouth clothes, wouldn’t it? Yet, this is par for the course in many organizations.  Where many employees get detailed feedback only 1-2 times a year.

Daniel Pink calls mastery the most important motivator. He describes it is as the urge to get better at a skill.  It’s also referred to as making progress in meaningful work. For employees to know they’re making progress, they need clear goals and timely & accurate feedback.  

Also Read: Engaging Employees with Autonomy

In order to help employees feel a sense of mastery, managers must do more.  More than just managing that is. They must also be coaches.

The coaching style is distinct in its focus on developing people for the future as managers help employees improve their performance and cultivate their long-term strengths.

Daniel Goleman

A good manager provides clear goals and objectives. They identify skills needed to succeed at attaining the goals. They provide feedback and encouragement all along the way.  

Engaging Employees with Autonomy

Autonomy is a key motivator in Employee Engagement

In the book “Drive“, Daniel Pink describes three key factors to motivating employees. Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In this post, let’s focus on Autonomy.

Autonomy is having the freedom/flexibility to do something on your own. Freedom can come in many forms.  Creative freedom in how the employee solves the problem. Location freedom in where the employee can be while solving the problem.  Time freedom in when the employee can solve the problem.

Creative Freedom

One of the worst things a manager can do is dictate what the solution should be.  This removes the creative process from the work. Instead, managers should provide clear expectations on the problem to be solved.  Allow the employee to engage their mind in the mental jiujitsu required to solve a challenging problem.

Time Freedom

The jury has been in for quite some time.  There are indeed night owls and early birds. Why still do so many companies expect their employees in by 9 am?  

Flexible schedules don’t only provide employees with job satisfaction, better health, increased work-life balance, and less stress, they also benefit employers. Through higher productivity levels, less turnover, and reduced absenteeism, employers are able to retain qualified employees and save money as well.”
Jessica Howington

Location Freedom

While the work from home debate still rages on, I’ll suggest there’s more to it.  Some people like being at work just not at their desk. Employees should be allowed the flexibility to work in locations that work best for them.  For some, that’s a nearby coffee shop, an outside courtyard. For others, it’s a naturally lit conference room or even an empty cube farm in another building on campus.  Changing sceneries can provide needed insights to unlock stubborn challenges.

Freedom can certainly seen as a spectrum based on the situation and the employee. The flow should always ebb toward the employee getting enough autonomy needed for them to feel productive.  

The benefit of autonomy is that autonomy instills trust and loyalty in their staff.  Employees develop confidence in their skills and abilities to know that they can do the job. Managers are then able to focus on proactive process improvements. In addition to coaching and their own personal and career development.

Inclusion in the Soil of Culture

Inclusion is having a voice at the table.

Culture is the soil in the forests we call organizations.  The trees being planted are its associates. The first critical nutrient to that soil is inclusion.

Google the word inclusion. You’re sure to find lots of corporate links entitled “Diversity and Inclusion”. If you keep reading you’ll also find “Inclusion and Diversity”. The order may seem inconsequential, but order denotes relative importance. One makes you feel good.  The other just makes you look good.

The Difference in D&I

Though they’re often linked, they are quite different. One is easy to spot, while the other is difficult and can get messy. Diversity is about the proportion of demographics around a table. Inclusion is about whether or not that diversity has a voice at the table.

“Diversity does not automatically lead to inclusion. Diversity gets more attention because there’s a formula – numbers to meet. Inclusion is not as easy to define, let alone measure and track.”

– Glenn Llopis

Inclusion is a mindset

An inclusive minded company refuses to view associates as mindless automatons that must be directed. Instead, it switches to welcoming everyone’s individuality at all levels of the company. Your talents, your ideas, your background matter here.

Inclusion means getting smart people and letting them solve tough problems.

“An inclusive organization is one that builds systems that actively enable people to (1) be and express whatever identity they authentically claim, and (2) at the same time, look for ways to elevate the individuality of others.”

– Glenn Llopis

The key to Engagement

The phrase, bring your whole self to work used to puzzle me.  Just as much as Employee Engagement (EE) did. EE often seems more like Employee Entertainment than anything else.  For it to make sense for the company, EE must tie back to the achievement of strategic priorities. Inclusion helps employees be more accountable and engaged. As they’ve been entrusted with bringing their unique perspectives and skills to solve tough problems the result is engagement.

The companies that switch the order of the words to “I&D” have made the shift. They have progressed to viewing diversity as an expectation and not an achievement to be gained. They now focus on achieving ever increasing levels of inclusion.

What I Wish I’d Learned In High School

What learning did you miss out in HS?

HOW TO LEARN

Firstly, schools are only focused on what to learn. Rarely do schools spend any time on howto learn. When students are left to their own devices, they cram. Science tells us that learning retention is maximized by distributed learning. Learning the Picture Palace memorization method would’ve been great as well.

TRUTH ABOUT FINANCES

Next, I would’ve loved to learn how to build and keep wealth? How the 8th wonder of the world (compound interest) works. How it enables money to be put to work for you. Financial Management: paying yourself first, living on 60–70% of your income, avoiding debt, etc. Basically everything from The Richest Man in Babylon. How to complete a tax return, how credit cards actually work, how a mortgage works?

HOW CASHFLOW WORKS

Robert Kiyosaki’s best-selling book Cashflow Quadrant is a game changer. The school system taught me how to be an employee in a corporation. I would’ve loved to have learned about the other four quadrants: Self-employment, Business, and Investor. I would’ve answered “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with – “An Investor!”

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Next, schools usher students out of the cruel world unarmed to wage war against their biggest enemy – themselves and their limiting beliefs. Schools should prepare students to harness the power of your mind. Teach them to develop and maintain good habits. Help them understand how to be more mindful and more in control of your emotions.

DECISION MAKING

Lastly, most student anxiety is due to the fear of messing up their future. Why not arm them with the tool of how to make decisions? This would start by determining your core values and letting that help guide your decisions.

School should offer extra credit to students who complete book projects on the following books:

There are lot of things High Schools can do to help prepare students for the real world. Ultimately, if the student doesn’t get these skills, it falls on the parents to impart the needed knowledge. What would you add to the list? Share in the comments!

A Meaningful Approach to Life

A Meaningful Approach to Life

What is your approach to life summarized in 6 words or less? (asked on Quora)

***Consistently apply values to impact others.***

My answer to this question from Quora is based on Simon Sinek’s recipe for finding your WHY.  I believe living out your WHY every day is the best way to find meaning in it.

Consistency
Consistency is the most essential virtue. With it, you will develop the discipline needed to overcome your ego. Your subconscious will become your ally rather than your saboteur. Consistency will provide you with what Jeff Olson calls the Slight Edge. The ability to turn simple habits into massive success.

Values
One of the most important things you can do is develop a set of core values. Your core values will help you make better decisions. It will also serve as a compass to happiness. If working by your company’s core values leads to an increase in employee engagement. What would happen if your core values complemented those of your company? Employee engagement would go skyrocket as you now experience Inclusion.

Impact
When it comes to meaning in life, fulfillment complements happiness. The best way to find fulfillment is in making an impact in the lives of others. Be in part of something greater than ourselves. Anyone can benefit. Be it your family, a neighbor, your employer. Be it also a non-profit or even the stranger on the street.  It’s why the Bible says, “It is better to give than to receive.” (Act 20:35 NIV)

A meaningful approach to life involves impacting others.

It all boils down to consistency, values, and impact. By consistently applying our skills, talents, and strengths to make a positive impact in the lives of others, you will be well on your way to a meaningful life.