Creating a curious learning culture

By Simon Brown

At Novartis, we took a decision back in 2019 to Go Big on Learning, making a significant investment of $100m over a five year period in addition to our annual training budget of $200m.  


We did this for two reasons. One was to attract and retain the best talent we could, with the second being to build the skills the business needs to deliver on our strategy. We have been on a journey to provide our people with great access to learning through the content we provide, how our people access learning, and how artificial intelligence can help recommend the right courses to the right people.  


Above all, we wanted to create a culture where people could take advantage of learning. The three pillars of our company culture are inspired, curious and unbossed - and learning fits squarely in the curious element.  


At the beginning of our learning project, we examined the challenges our people had when it came to accessing learning. One issue was around having the time to access learning, with another being a lack of support from managers on training.  


The first piece is around prioritisation - our employees were prioritising other factors over their own learning and development. So, in order to move learning up the list of priorities, we set an aspiration for all our people to spend 5% - or 100 hours - of their year on learning.  


Note that this is an aspiration, rather than a target. You don’t have to do it, but we do encourage it. The aim was to create a symbol of the new learning culture we desired, removing any guilt employees felt about spending time on their own learning. As a result, we’ve seen a doubling of the amount of time people spend on learning over the past three years - from 22.6 hours in 2018 to 52.1 in 2021.  


Secondly, we encouraged our leaders to become role models, talking about their own learning and creating shareable playlists of the learning programmes they were taking. We set up curiosity months, with events, webinars and dedicated activities in person and virtually. We even introduced gamification elements, providing attendees with virtual badges based on the number of events they attended over the course of a year. These were so successful that employee feedback meant we extended curiosity month into a year-long schedule of events.  

When developing a learning culture, it’s vital to pay attention to data. Put in place methods to understand the data and analytics behind learning. Not only will it help you to see if you’re on the right path - for example, we can see that our people spend the most time learning about leadership and data and digital, two areas that are important to us as a company - but it will also help you to have better conversations about learning.  


Using data allows you to see where you are doing well and where you aren’t. Where are you ahead of your benchmark and where are you behind? Where are the skills you are lacking? Data allows you to have conversations based on insights, rather than hearsay.  


Why learning is the future of work

We know that the skills needed to succeed at work are evolving fast and will continue to do so ever more rapidly.


At the heart of meeting this challenge is learning.


Without effective learning and development programmes, modern training methods and a culture that puts learning front and centre, reskilling and upskilling initiatives cannot succeed. Read our latest Whitepaper focussing on the Future of Learning.


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Embed learning in your leadership development

Future Talent Learning can help employees develop the human skills needed to transition from managing to leading. 


We provide immersive learning experiences for busy professionals at all levels. Our courses focus on the most in-demand human-centred skills that can be applied and practised in the flow of work. 


We offer a range of ready-to-go short courses and 100% virtual mini-MBA that delivers against two management apprenticeships, funded through your Apprenticeship Levy



See how our levy-funded level 3/5 online management courses have a positive impact on your organisation from day one.

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