A Culture of Learning

In today's rapidly evolving workplace, organisations with a culture of learning are enjoying significant benefits.

In previous articles, we’ve observed how the worlds of design, consultancy and software engineering are colliding. We’ve also noted the benefits of hiring - or moulding - multi-skilled all-rounders to service this model.

Of course, the reality is not so cut and dried. As brands attempt to navigate the increasingly complex digital landscape, some specialist agencies will continue to thrive. In the world of media and advertising, there will always be specialists in certain roles. And almost every creative business needs subject matter experts in support functions such as finance, legal and HR.

However, as the creative services industry evolves, some of the most valuable employees will be those who have a depth of knowledge across multiple areas. For example, a designer who is well-versed in technology and confident presenting to customers, or a strategically-savvy software developer with strong interpersonal skills.

The problem is, these “multiplists” are a rare breed. The education system continues to churn out specialists who have spent several years learning hard skills related to specific disciplines, such as web design, visual arts or computer science.

When graduates enter the workforce, far more is expected of them, including the ability to deal with ambiguity, clearly communicate their ideas and contribute to a functioning commercial entity. In parallel, as new technologies democratise formerly difficult or manual tasks, the soft skills of empathy, collaboration and critical thinking are becoming more valuable than ever.

How to solve this conundrum? At Smudge, we believe the answer is to create and maintain a culture of learning.

A recent study by PwC revealed that millennials consider learning and development to be the number one benefit an employer can offer.

When an organisation gets this right, employee engagement can skyrocket, resulting in improved retention and the holy grail of maximising the impact of every employee.

Consequently, there is a growing need in the knowledge economy for managers to be intimately aware of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses; and more importantly, to work with employees to design a growth plan that will increase their personal confidence, professional influence and career prospects.

The reality is that a subset of employees will always take an intentional approach to their professional growth. These individuals might proactively learn a new skill in their spare time or volunteer for a project that will stretch their abilities.

Other employees have less clarity about their future learning goals, and fewer still have visibility of the opportunities that exist in other parts of the organisation. A manager needs to be alive to this and actively recommend relevant development opportunities that will push these employees out of their comfort zone.

In these situations, there is risk on both sides and we don’t always get it right. For example, a manager can push an employee too far too soon, or advocate for a stretch assignment that results in frustration rather than growth. These events can occasionally have a negative effect on the business but are an important part of the journey (for management as well as employees).

Further, it’s crucial that managers participate in the culture of learning, both to ensure they're up to speed on the latest techniques and technologies, and to help them identify the most appropriate learning opportunities for employees.

At Smudge, our culture of learning starts with the hiring process. We want to hire curious lifelong learners who are not only willing but eager to learn new skills.

Learning new skills means asking for help, so during the hiring process we’re looking for candidates who display humility and vulnerability.

Of course, there’s a natural tendency for candidates to tell us what they know. But we’re more interested in hearing about what they don’t know and the strategies they employ to learn new things.

A culture of learning is not just about gaining new information, it’s about sharing it with others. So when we’re hiring, we’re also looking for a willingness to teach.

Empathy is one of our core values and we want to hire people who enjoy being of service to others. When someone shows the strength and vulnerability to ask for help, they should expect to receive it without question.

Since Smudge exists at the intersection of design, software development and business consultancy, there’s an expectation that everyone in the team should understand enough about each of these areas to contribute across the board.

That said, most employees are typically stronger in one - or sometimes two - of these areas, which means asking for help when they push into the others.

At the heart of this culture is the idea of “learning by doing”. However, for the organisation to function at a consistently high level, it’s also important to assemble project teams made up of employees with complementary skills.

You could say we’re intentionally creating a group of "humble multiplists": individuals who understand their own strengths and are willing to impart them on others but who also have a healthy appetite to learn what they don’t know.

This core group is supported by a small cadre of specialists with skills in finance, communications and so on. These specialists also participate in the culture of learning, often with the goal of gaining a better appreciation for the skills of the core team, so they can offer more meaningful support.

Creating a culture of learning is an ongoing objective - you're never really done - but when you get it right, it’s a win-win-win, with significant benefits for employees, customers and the business as a whole.

We’re hiring. Apply now if you’re a curious lifelong learner.

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