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Investing in Employee Education and Developing a Culture of Learning

Scott Thomas
Scott Thomas

Building a culture of learning delivers results throughout your entire organization.

Establishing a culture of learning is becoming more and more pervasive in businesses. Organizations are driving their teams to develop on an individual level, supported by external and internal efforts. External methods include supporting endeavors, like college course enrollment or conference attendance, while internally driven methods often take the form of visiting speakers or employee-to-employee programs.  The unifying qualities among these solutions are that the need is tangible and the benefits are lasting. Not only do employee retention and satisfaction improve, but so, too, does overall competitiveness and the bottom line.

Employees who feel invested are 31 percent more productive and enable 37 percent more profitability for the company (Inc.) A well-known imaginary conversation between a CFO and a CEO gets us thinking about this broader importance of advancing existing talent.

CFO: What happens if we invest in developing people and they leave us?
CEO: What happens if we don't and they stay?

We should invest in professional development. But how do we do it right?

How some companies invest in education for employees

Chick-fil-A recently outlined how they invest in education for their team members. In 2019, they're investing $15 million in more than 5,700 team members. As a brand, this is not the only way to prove that you value your team while also building a team that is committed to learning well beyond their time in the classroom. 

Sixty percent of supported team members stated that Chick-fil-A's scholarship made it possible for them to attend college, 20 percent of whom are first-generation college students. Even more impressive, 90 percent of supported team members responded that they intended to continue working at Chick-fil-A, though unrequired.

Of course, not every approach to employee training is designed with retention in mind. Amazon Career Choice gives team members the opportunity to learn new skills and build their career, whether that is at Amazon or elsewhere. Given their focus on automation, machine learning and robotics, Amazon has more reason than most to avoid training employees. However, they still see the value in investing in their human capital.

As Amazon is a data-driven company, they know that a culture of learning drives better business outcomes. This concept of developing skills irrelevant to a position is commonly considered an external employee training experience. Google flips the script on how employee training and a culture of learning is brought to life. Across a network of over 6,000 Googlers, 80 percent of all training is managed via an employee-to-employee network called "g2g" (Googler-to-Googler). This peer-to-peer training may be an actual course offering, designing learning material, or one-to-one mentoring.

Investing in your employees

Developing a culture of learning in your organization with employee-led training should not be considered a cost-saving maneuver. In fact, there is still a level of investment needed to set up teams for success (Google's rework blog shares a few tips for avoiding pitfalls). One of the key requirements is to spend the time defining learning goals and ensure they align with your company's core values. It also requires a high level of trust in the employee, that they are smart, capable and motivated. 

Be objective about whether your company is the right fit to support the culture of learning you have envisioned. For example, an employee-to-employee program may work well in midsize to large organizations, whereas a small business may have difficulty taking on the cost of supporting and training employee facilitators.

Consider both team size and operating cost to help you determine if it is better to provide training by some other means.

Finally, embrace that the learning aspects of an organization do not belong to a single department but are the entire company's shared responsibility to build a culture of learning.

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Scott Thomas
Scott Thomas Member
Scott creates and executes new go-to-market strategies, leads marketing and brand transformations, and implements in-market programs for regional and national clients. Our Founder and Chief Experience Officer has over 20 years of experience specializing in B2B lead generation and working with industry leaders the likes of AT&T, Bank of America, and Dell. Scott has shared his industry knowledge in publications such as Texas CEO Magazine and during speaking engagements including the Integrated Marketing Summit. Scott is an active member of the Entrepreneurs Organization, an avid supporter of Austin's Habitat Young Professionals and Ballet Austin, and was also a two-time finalist for the Austin Under 40 Awards. When out of the office, Scott loves watching Duke Basketball (his alma mater), planning his next adventure abroad, and spending time with his family.