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Cultivating a Culture of Professional Growth

Jason Diamond Arnold

September 21, 2017

"Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” –Benjamin Franklin 

In today’s workplace, we use words like performance, productivity, and success as if they are as easy to consume as placing a mobile order at your local coffee shop. In reality those habits and disciplines necessary for an organization to leverage its most important asset—their people—is no short order.

Does your organization give you opportunities to learn and grow?

 The very nature of our professional careers demands that we have the mindset to grow as individuals through failure, solving complicated problems, or expanding our knowledge.  New behavioral scientific research has identified the need for competence as one of the fundamental psychological need, inside or outside of the workplace.1

Watch Susan Fowler's Breakthroughs in Motivational Science video to learn more about competence.  

Consider how intentional you and your organization are about cultivating a mindset of growth and learning that makes a meaningful impact on your business. Do you, as an individual, have an active plan that you are pursuing to develop your career? Are you having regular conversations with your manager, your team members, or a coach about your needs to grow and develop specific skills?

 Four Essential Challenges to Creating a Culture of Growth

Because people innately desire to learn and grow, organizations often unintentionally minimize the value of Learning and Development by framing it as a perk to employees—rather than promoting growth as a viable business strategy for individuals and the organization. While there are many reasons why organizations don’t invest in growth and development as a vital business strategy, some of the most common reasons may be easy to address in your organization.

1. Gaps in Career Development Expectations

 In a recent study conducted by Training Magazine and The Ken Blanchard Companies, results showed significant gaps in an individual’s desire to learn on the job and what their managers invest in their career growth and development.2,3 They found that there is nearly a 30% gap between a manager’s and individual’s perception of what the organization provides for opportunities to grow. There was an even bigger gap of nearly 40% when it came to an individual’s perception of meeting their needs for career advancement verses the perceptions of their managers.

The reality of today’s business environment is most managers are too entrenched in the day-to-day activities of their own jobs that they take little to no time, to discuss the learning and career development needs of their team members. However, gaps between a manager and a direct report’s career development expectations can result in lower intentions to stay with the organization, higher unwillingness to endorse the organization as a great place to work, or lead to active disengagement by employees.

 2. Professional Growth Decoupled from Real Work

The traditional method of “training” and developing individuals in new skills through workshops or seminars is an outdated model. While many companies are going to smaller, half day or one day trainings, or even “blended” experiences, the same core problems exist with this learning model—individuals are taken away from their work environments and presented with learning philosophies that may be of sound theory, but the overall learning experience is only loosely related to real work.

A new LinkedIn Learning report cited that employees often view corporate learning as a mandatory, negative experience.4 46% of learning and design professionals say they find it difficult getting employees to engage in corporate learning. The survey also shows that 78% of learning and design for most “soft skill” training still relies on traditional, instructor-led classroom training, which could directly relate to why employees are disengaged.

 3. Don’t Formalize Learning

 Cultivating a culture of professional growth is more than just curating a Corporate University that may create the perception of being an imposed compliance learning experience. One of the barriers to growing is an organization’s lack of effort in identifying the core learning needs of each individual. By identifying core learning needs organizations give employees the autonomy to learn and grow according to their career aspirations and their current skill or knowledge-based needs.

In Forbes Magazine, Josh Bersin noted that learning should not be “owned” by Human Resources, or any one department, but should be integrated into the organizational fabric.5 “If you ask any business leader ‘how people learn,’ their most common answer is ‘on the job.’ And this is correct - sales people learn by making sales calls, engineers learn by doing design, customer service people learn by solving problems. The key to success then is not to provide a lot of formal training, but rather create an environment that supports rapid on-the-job learning.”

4. Failing to Measure Results of the Investment 

One of the biggest challenges to cultivating a culture of professional growth is, of course, money. According to a 2017 LinkedIn Learning, 92% of executives in the United States alone, agree that there is a skills gap in their organizations.4 90% of those executives believe the corporate Learning & Development programs could close the skills gap.4

However, only 8% of CEOs polled currently see the business impact of Learning & Development. Even less, 4%, say they’ve seen Return on Investment (ROI) in Learning & Development. These are alarming numbers since CEOs and CFOs are the ones ultimately held responsible for the financial health of an organization.

Without clear measures of impact on the business, or at least a reasonable connection to ROI, it’s difficult to justify an investment in Learning & Development.


If employees do not have a clear path to develop critical skills to grow their career, individuals are left to consider other opportunities to grow and develop outside of the current organization. By setting learning goals that are relevant to your roles and responsibilities, you’re building the capability of enhancing future performance and even expanding into new roles. Organizations need to be more intentional about having regular conversations about the individual’s learning needs and career aspirations. Informal, on demand learning, that is built into your regular performance cadence is a powerful learning method. Lastly, growing and developing individuals should be considered as a viable business investment; not a nice to have.

Inspire has accumulated years of expertise in creating company culture where employees are excited to be. We've put everything we've learned into a comprehensive guide. Download our Guide to Creating a Culture of Excellence.


  1. Fowler (2014) Why Motivating Others Doesn’t Work (Read)
  2. Training Magazine (2014) Ten Performance Management Process Gaps (Read)
  3. Blanchard (2016) 10 Ways Leaders Aren’t Making Time for Their Team Members (Read)
  4. LinkedIn Learning (2017) Workplace Learning Report (Read)
  5. Forbes (2012) 5 Keys to Building a Learning Organization (Read)