New Research Shows Companies Can Positively Impact Bottom-Line Business Results With Five Specific Practices to Encourage Employee Empowerment and Knowledge Sharing

New study examines 40 practices that strengthen corporate learning cultures and demonstrate strong correlation to positive business outcomes

Jun 15, 2010, 12:02 ET from Bersin & Associates

OAKLAND, Calif., June 15 /PRNewswire/ -- New Bersin & Associates research shows a direct positive correlation between learning culture the collective practices that encourage and enable open sharing of information and all forms of employee development and business outcomes. The same research shows that most companies do not capitalize on this potential advantage, despite the fact that strong learning cultures are not dependent upon budget and staff resources.  

The research is presented in the company's new study, High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise.  

Based on responses from 426 organizations, the study identifies 40 specific practices that have greatest business impact, based on correlation to 10 business outcomes:  customer input, customer responsiveness, customer satisfaction, innovation, employee productivity, workforce expertise, time to market, market share, cost structure, and learning agility.  

Three noteworthy points:  1) Most of these practices relate to operational practices and processes and are outside of the traditional domain of corporate HR and training departments; 2) Leaders and managers play a pivotal role in influencing a company's learning culture; and 3) Most practices focus on informal approaches to learning, further reinforcing the need to expand the concept of learning beyond formal training.  

In studying responses, analysts found that organizations with strong learning cultures are:  

  • 46% more likely to be strong innovators in their markets;
  • 34% more likely to get to market before their competitors;
  • 18% more likely to currently be a market-share leader in one or more of their markets;  
  • 33% more likely to report higher customer satisfaction than other organizations;
  • 39% more likely to report success implementing customer suggestions; and
  • 58% more likely to be successful at developing the skills needed for meeting future customer demand.  

These practices fall into six categories:  building trust, encouraging reflection, demonstrating learning's value, enabling knowledge sharing, empowering employees, and formalizing learning as a process.  Middle management and senior leadership own responsibility for 32 of the 40 practices

The five practices which have greatest business impact are:

1. Leaders are open to hearing the truth, including bad news.  By far, this practice has greatest business impact.  

2.  Asking questions is encouraged of employees at all levels of the organization.  91% of high-performing organizations indicated strength in this practice.

3.  Decision-making processes are clearly defined throughout the company.  This practice showed a strong positive connection with all 10 business outcomes studied.

4.  Employees are frequently given tasks or projects beyond their current knowledge or skill level in order to stretch them developmentally.  

5.  Employees have influence over which job tasks are assigned to them.  Of the top 10 practices, companies struggle with this one the most.  Only 23% list it as a strength.

"High-performing companies rapidly respond to market, customer, and environmental changes.  This research uncovers 40 specific practices used by innovative, market-leading companies to influence success," said Josh Bersin, president. "The study gives business leaders a blueprint which they can use to create, reinforce, and improve organizational learning.  Additionally, the practices point to a new model for business leadership, one which focuses on empowerment, continuous employee development, and open discussion."  

"Those practices that empower employees have very high impact," said David Mallon, principal analyst and primary author of the study.  "Four of the top five practices fall into this category.  Analysis showed a particularly strong correlation between these practices and innovation, market success, and learning agility."

Mallon pointed to Brown Shoe (, a $2.3 billion global footwear company which operates Famous Footwear stores and designs and markets leading consumer footwear brands including Naturalizer and Dr. Scholl's.  The company identifies seven success factors that everyone in the organization should demonstrate and provides a comprehensive toolkit for employees to follow for their own development planning.  "Brown Shoe's leaders drive a culture of learning, and practices that empower employees are built into the company's culture," said Mallon.  

High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise contains case-in-point examples and detailed best practices in companies such as Aetna, Bank of New York Mellon, The Boeing Company, ING Direct, Infosys, Keller Williams Realty, Qualcomm, Telus, and Vestas.  In addition, the report includes seven strategies for building and sustaining a strong learning culture, detailed recommendations for implementing specific practices, discussion on the role of informal learning, and nine appendices with a variety of charts and graphics.    

The 234-page report, High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, is available at no cost to all Bersin & Associates research members.  Members can use this study, along with associated resources, to assess their own learning cultures.  Members seeking more detailed guidance can also take advantage of a high-impact learning culture assessment, based on this research, to identify gaps in current practices and to suggest specific solutions for improving their learning cultures.  Non-members can purchase the study for $795.  

For more details, view the table of contents and listen to David Mallon's audio overview.  A complimentary executive summary of the study is also available for download.

About Bersin & Associates

Bersin & Associates is the only research and advisory firm focused solely on research in enterprise learning, talent management, and talent acquisition.  The company's WhatWorks® membership program offers actionable guidance, improves operational effectiveness, and delivers business impact to companies in all industry segments.  

Bersin & Associates research members gain access to a comprehensive library of best practices, case studies, benchmarks, and in-depth market analyses and research-based services designed to assist professionals in making fast and confident decisions.  Members also have direct access to analysts and a wide range of tested tools and models to address both strategic and day-to-day challenges.  More than 5,000 organizations worldwide have used Bersin & Associates' research and advisory services to guide talent and corporate learning strategies.  Research areas include planning and strategy, learning programs and delivery, talent management, leadership development and succession planning, talent acquisition, technology and infrastructure, informal learning, social networking, measurement and analytics.

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