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Creating a Learning Culture in Human Services: An Expert’s Advice

The only constant is change. To keep up, human services providers must constantly be looking to improve the way they provide services. One of the best ways to achieve this goal is by creating a culture of learning. But what does this mean exactly? According to Peter Senge, a pioneer in this topic:

“Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”

This is a lot to unpack. To help us get a better understanding of what this means, as well as how to go about creating a learning culture in a human services organization, we sat down with Erik Gore, Assistant Director of Training and Development at KenCrest Services. A 30-year veteran of the field, he had quite a few nuggets of wisdom to share.

Know Your Mission When Creating a Learning Culture

While the responsibilities that staff hold may look different, everyone’s work should be funneling up into the organization’s mission. The reason this is so important in creating a culture of learning is because everyone in your organization needs to have a shared vision to which their learning contributes.

At KenCrest, Gore has helped to define its mission as: “Your dream, our vision.” This exemplifies the organization’s desire to positively impact the lives of persons served.

Make sure everyone on your staff knows your mission and identifies with it. To align everyone with this goal, Gore suggests asking staff, “What values can you contribute to your current job?” By asking staff members to reflect on what they bring to their roles, you can help them see how they fit into the organization’s larger mission. KenCrest, for example, has defined three values which add up to their larger mission statement:

  • Mobilizing resources
  • Empowering dreams
  • Exploring possibilities

Finally, make sure you recognize staff members who are actively living the mission. When members of Gore’s team actively demonstrate the values above, they are awarded ‘Pride Pins.’ This recognition goes a long way to helping staff members feel more appreciated by their organization, giving them further reason to align with the mission.

Make Learning a Team Sport

While we often think of learning as a solo activity, it should, in fact, be treated as a team sport. Indeed, learning is often a social event. Throughout our entire lives, we learn from watching and talking to parents, friends, and teachers. The same holds true in a human services setting. While creating a learning culture, it is imperative to foster teamwork within your organization.

Four people in a meeting room discussing creating a learning cultureOne way to do this is to create learning teams among your staff. At KenCrest, Gore creates teams of staff members who all have the same job description and enrolls them in training together. In these sessions, they receive training on tools and techniques they use in their day-to-day responsibilities. This team learning setting gives staff the opportunity to ask their cohorts questions and share information. In Gore’s words, it gives them someone to “lean on.” Given that we’re social creatures, this ability to lean on others not only makes learning more fun, engaging, and effective, but can improve employee mental health as well.

Just as it’s important to have staff members creating this feeling of comradery, it’s important to show that the organization is also on their team. By having a strategic training plan in place, you can take the onus of finding compliance training and continuing education (CEUs) off the individual employee. This will make training more convenient for your staff members, while allowing you to properly align training with larger organizational goals.

Creating a Learning Culture Through Personal Mastery

When discussing how personal mastery of a skill can lead to larger, organizational success, Gore put it rather succinctly:

A better-equipped employee base equals a better-run organization.

When creating a learning culture, it’s imperative to feed your employees’ desire to learn. To do so, give them the resources, time, and space to participate in trainings and take CEUs via your learning management platform.

Two people at work creating a learning culture

A great example of this is the “Try It Thursday” program that Gore has created at KenCrest. One Thursday a month, Gore sends out an agency-wide email that contains instructions around a few aspects of their Relias learning management platform. Gore then goes into a live webinar with supervisory staff to give them personal instruction on using the platform. This program has led to increased use of their learning management platform. According to Gore, “People are not afraid of the platform because they are given personalized attention.”

This program has met with such great success because it gives employees the information and time necessary to learn and practice a new skill while also equipping their supervisors with the ability to help them through any roadblocks they encounter. This is a wonderful example of an organization maximizing their staff members’ potential by giving them the resources they need to master a particular skill.

It’s All Connected

In our discussion about creating a culture of learning at KenCrest, Gore stressed that in order for your organization to be at its best, you must first ensure your people are at their best.

By advocating that your staff members achieve personal mastery of the skills they need and supporting their learning journey through a team-like atmosphere, your organization will take a huge step toward accomplishing its mission.

A learning culture, however, cannot be built overnight. “It’s constant,” Gore said of the process. The investment in a learning culture and the journey is more than worth it. By working to create a culture of learning, your organization will reap the following benefits:

  • Enhanced problem solving
  • Better knowledge sharing
  • Strengthened community
  • Ability to adapt quickly in the face of change or crisis
  • Greater ability to innovate

Creating a Culture of Learning: What Human Services Leaders Need to Know

Watch our on-demand webinar to hear Erik Gore and Leigh Steiner, PhD, Partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias, discuss why a culture of learning is not just essential to surviving, but flourishing in today’s healthcare landscape.

Watch the webinar →

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