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Creating a culture of curiosity

By James Turner, Chief People Officer, Somo

The late-great Herb Kelleher defined culture as “what people do when no one is looking”. But now, following the arrival of COVID-19 and the global lockdown measures it necessitates, we are living in an era where no-one is ‘looking’ for most of the working day. So how does a learning culture extend into a world working from home? How can businesses foster positive codes and conventions which influence learning beyond the office, to keep staff growing and developing?

Whilst we are working remotely, businesses need to create an environment which actively encourages learning. Leaders need to understand their role in this; they are in a position to influence the direction of travel of a company’s priorities and investments. If businesses want to create an environment that fosters growth and business success, leadership teams need to make learning a priority. If your teams are actively learning when no-one is looking, then you have created a culture that will grow your business – with or without an office.

Lounge Learning

COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the growth and maturity of the online learning sector, and competition has greatly improved the experience for learners. Not even a year on from the first lockdown the increase in digital literacy and capability for businesses of all sizes has improved markedly.

While these tools mature and become sophisticated enough to replicate face to face learning experiences, businesses can cultivate a productive learning culture from home. To do this, business leaders need to have a mentality which promotes learning and encourages curiosity: build learning time into your business plan; crowdsource the best of breed learning content out there rather than limit people to one corporate platform of content; reward learning, and reward knowledge sharing; recognise that people learn in different ways.

What’s harder to replicate remotely is learning by osmosis: gaining experience from observing how those around you do business, being able to ask questions on the fly, to join meetings on the spur of the moment. At Somo, we have always believed in exposing our people to as much business experience as possible as early as possible. Even on Zoom, inviting an intern to join a senior client meeting – to gain experience and understanding – remains an invaluable experience for them, and reflects a true learning environment.

From push to pull

When your people are working remotely, business leaders should prioritise a culture of learning which is not pushed, but rather encourages colleagues to pull what they need.

It is about giving people the time and the resources to learn, to promote learning and the sharing of knowledge and to celebrate achievements in learning.

At Somo, we have ramped up our lunch and learn sessions, introduced weekly ‘show and tells’ in which we share learnings and experience from all corners of the business, and also sought insight from external advisors through short, sharp training sessions.

We’ve even taken the opportunity to build Somo’s first fully-fledged, two-week online course, Successful Agile for Digital Teams, available on the Futurelearn platform.

Tellingly, many of these initiatives were not organised centrally, but devised and launched by individuals or groups within the business who wanted to see them happen. Much of the time, it’s about enabling your people to create that learning culture, to get out of their way, even.

These are precarious times for many businesses. But putting clients first shouldn’t mean neglecting your own people. In my experience, I have found clients want to work with businesses who invest time and money into learning, research and training. You can’t innovate if you stand still.