“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

What do you want?  

The managers I work with usually say “you mean, other than more hours in the day? I want my team to be engaged.”

If you’re in Talent? “Employee experience.”  

L&D? “Learning retention.”  

Leadership? “Sustainable high performance.”  

If you’re anyone else, you might say “I just want to do my job well and feel supported, thanks.”

So, all together now, what do you really want? “Learning culture!”

That’s what G Adventures wants to build too—but doesn’t everybody? Unless you still catch your food live and pick it apart with disproportionately tiny arms, odds are you’re actively working to nurture a learning culture at your company. But unless you predicted the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, odds are you have about as much idea how to build a learning culture as I do.  

I should mention at this point that one of my main functions at G Adventures is to help build and maintain learning culture. About that…

What would a learning culture even look like?  

Imagine your managers, appearing strangely refreshed, leisurely conducting regular one-on-one conversations over tiki drinks with their team members. An executive sits with a group of new hires on couches, jamming on the finer points of leadership decision-making when acquiring new companies. A group of learning specialists, liberated from the burden of developing content, draw out gamified learning paths in chalk on the ground. Talent Agency members, liberated from the burden of recruiting new staff, draw out career development paths beside them. Then they all play hopscotch. And staff all over the world, in between sessions on their curated, gamified LMS, are engaged in peer-to-peer coaching, feedback, and chili cook-offs. Aaah, just another day at the office paradise.

Whether or not this is your vision, we know companies are looking for the same things in their culture: employee engagement, high performance, and career development opportunities. At G Adventures, we’ve been fairly successful at achieving these things—so successful that we’re now scaling to the point where communication, connection, and learning are no longer automatic or easy. While we’ve developed a comprehensive performance excellence system, behavior change isn’t something we can simply “implement.” Which is why we’re cultivating a curiosity culture and equipping our staff with basic habits like regular one-on-ones, and fertilizing with skills like coaching and feedback. If we skip that step, we may as well scatter the seeds in an increasingly empty parking lot.  

Why is having a learning culture important to us?

Remember that scene in Apollo 11 when, as the spacecraft slowly fills with carbon monoxide, the NASA engineers on the ground MacGyver a square-peg-into-round-hole solution using toilet rolls and odds and ends so that the spacecraft can return safely to Earth? And what does that have to do with this article?  There are two important elements at play here:

  1. Technically sophisticated behavior results in the achievement of a clear, measurable goal (landing a space capsule on earth; hitting your quarterly goals; etc.).
  2. Socially sophisticated learning culture in which creativity, collaboration and freedom to problem-solve result in specific, spontaneous, spectacular innovation (bunch of really smart, creative, capable people playing around).

We work with smart, creative, capable people. Limiting them to “hit this goal” isn’t just uninspiring, it’s ineffective. Increasingly in the world of work, we’re all facing challenges for which solutions haven’t yet been created. Go ahead and shoot for a star—just realize the actual star is in a different place by the time you get to where you were aiming for. These types of challenges are our opportunity to be curious, experiment, and create Return On Experience alongside ROI.

One reason we’re scared of robots is because nobody wants to become one. That’s why we run from cultures that don’t encourage curiosity. We want to nurture a curiosity culture because it makes us more present to the journey, more creative, better at communicating alignment with each other, and more agile and adaptive to what’s happening when we arrive at an obstacle on the road. Not to mention more engaged. G Adventures is a travel company, after all: without that learning culture in place, we have no way of exploring new paths.  

How would we know we’d got it?

There’s no doubt results are a huge signal, but what’s your bottom line?

The lines between customer experience and employee experience are blurring. More than improving our customers’ lives, we must create an environment in which our staff can improve themselves. We must be curious not only about what they’re capable of doing, but who they’re capable of becoming in order to perform that role. And there is no clear answer to that question.

Our ability to be curious and to play with what we don’t yet know is how we innovate and develop in meaningful ways. When we do that together, we create a learning culture. Here’s how we might know we’d got it:

  • Managers using formal and informal one-on-ones to track progress against goals and learn what motivates and inspires their team members to bring their fullest self to the office every day.
  • Widespread adoption of coaching and feedback as every-day learning tools: we want to establish baselines for KPI’s like staff requests and offers of coaching and feedback on our online staff portal, along with qualitative data from focus groups and engagement surveys.
  • More staff taking initiative for developing in their roles and advancing into new roles in-house (even better staff retention).
  • Increased learning retention, as observed and measured in application of new behavior, supported by increased occurrence of coaching and feedback.

We’re just getting started, but we think this will support better business results, and we think everyone will feel good doing it.