Abstractions: Creating a Self_sustaining Culture of Learning

Joe Mastey’s talk on Building a Self-Sustaining Culture of Learning was really great. He talked about establishing a learning plan and structure in a company based on what he’s found has been effective. The slides are really excellent so definitely take a look in order to get the highlights of his talk and recommendations if you’re looking to do the same at your company.

There are lots of benefits to having learning built in to your culture mainly related to attraction and retention of talent. There are three phases when putting a learning plan in place. For each phase, Joe covered what the phase is, what the approach is and then what worked and what some of the pitfalls could be during this phase. I’ll go through the phase and approach for each but will leave you to check out the slides for what worked and the pitfalls.

When no learning plan is really established, you’re likely going to start with phase 1, Guerrilla learning. This is often ad hoc learning, boarding from stoties, only a few folks are driving the learning initiatives if there are any, and there’s resistance to taking time away from shipping. The approach to use here is to think opportunistically, focus on things that will provide fast returns without a lot of time investment and things that improve people in their primary roles. At this point it’s less about learning what you want to learn and more about learning something that could make you better every day so that you can prove to managers that spending time learning is important.

The second phase is when you expand to others. This is where new hires learn a bit, people want more but maybe aren’t quite empowered yet, there’s often some group learning initiatives, a slightly more standardized on boarding process, and still a core group of people who drive the learning forward. For this phase, you want to look at cross-trainings, leverage internal experts, make sure you’re shining a light on good role models, mentoring the mentors (this is big! You want to do this so the mentors don’t burn out and so they feel they’re getting something as well as opposed to just organizing and giving), and you start to initiate learning opportunities with a longer payoff.

Finally, you want to make it stick. In this phase, learning should start to be self-sustaining. It should be so normal that it’s borng. You want to build momentum so that it’s sustainable and there is likely dedicated learning for all engineers. For this approach, you want to make people forget that learning was ever NOT part of their job. Everyone in every department gets involved and you can try some riskier things.

Creating a learning culture is difficult but so great when you can actually make it to phase 3 so good luck and follow the suggestions if you’re working on it!

ps: Both Joe and I work with companies in order to help them put plans like this in place so if it’s something you want to do or that you’re struggling with, please reach out! We’re happy to chat.

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