Creating Learning Cultures: we have to do better (March 2020)

As a provider of learning programs over the last 30 years, there has always been a nagging concern that a great workshop does not translate into meaningful change. It’s like that parable of the sower, where much of the seed they scatter falls on less than suitable ground.

There are so many reasons for this. People “sent” on training might not be invested in the learning. Indeed, the very word training has always suggested something that is done to you. It’s a recipe for participants who are hostages or holiday makers and that rarely results in any change.

Another common reason is a mentality within the business that training, or learning is outsourced to the external provider. At best, that’s quite flattering, at worst though it’s an abdication of responsibility. And despite so many articles around the 10/20/70 model and Mckinsey and other’s research about the failure of leadership programs, many, many organisations remain stuck in transactional thinking, with no genuine learning culture at all.

Everyone talks a good game. “People are our most important resource” is a cliché peddled out by CEO’s, MD’s and senior executives but few truly walk this talk. Dig below the surface of most programs in 2017 and you’ll see the same issues that have plagued us for decades.

  1. Senior leaders not fully engaged and involved with the programs and their delivery.
  2. A lot of time and money spent on showpiece, event-based learning with no structured follow through.
  3. Compromises made with too many crammed onto workshops that are too short to make a difference.
  4. Very little data around behaviour change, impact on business or ROI, leaving us to rely on immediate feedback sheets and anecdotal evidence of benefit.
  5. Leaders and managers doing superficial briefing and debriefing of participants, sending a message that it’s not that important.

I could go on. This is still common practice and I see it in Australia, Singapore and Asia as a whole. It’s a while since I did work in the UK and USA, but my network tells me the issue there is the same.

We’re all complicit. Me as well. I have taken briefs too often that I can see are not the right way to get the outcome they want. I rationalize that I will still deliver good work and it will benefit the business and individuals. But by doing that I am perpetuating the problem. We all need to fight harder for the right approach and say “no” to bad compromises. We all need to do better.

The good news is that creating a learning culture is becoming easier. Technology, socialized learning, supported by leader led learning is now low cost, measureable, shaped around business as usual and more practical and relevant to people’s lives, millennials especially, than ever.

The solutions we create for learning must incorporate these elements more and more and move away from externally led training. This isn’t about dumping training onto time stressed managers and leaders. This is giving them the tools to have learning conversations with their people. And once that starts to happen, we start creating the learning cultures that will enable all our businesses to thrive.

Richard Wentworth Ping is CEO and owner of Wentworth People. With offices in Singapore and Australia and a network of consultants across Asia, they help clients handle change, build leaders and shape culture. Contact him on or +61 425 262580 or visit the website