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How Do You Ward Off This Recession? Be A Learning Culture

Learning Culture

Whether we’re officially in a recession or not, it’s clear we’re doing a good job of manifesting it! It seems to be the talk of the town and it’s a weight that’s creating either hesitancy or statis.  

As we creep forward with caution in 2023, many organizations are going through workforce reductions (especially in the tech sector), scaling back on non-essential spending, and working through the fog of budget uncertainty. Outside of work, people are either anticipating or trying to solve how to manage a mortgage that has grown like an unwanted weed in the past six months while the grocery bill keeps on getting bigger. It’s all a bit of a crap sandwich. 

In the midst of all of this, leaders and organizations are struggling to find their way. After almost three years of constant crisis due to the pandemic and the shape-shifting workplace, a recession and layoffs wasn’t the desired start to the year leaders were hoping for. But here it is and it’s sticking around for a while. 

No matter the length, severity or cause of the current grip, it’s a moment to figure out a path to be a resilient organization and have the flexive intent to find a way forward.  

While organizations go through some reductions in workforce, I’d offer that the bigger risk is the remaining workers that have survived a layoff process. Within those +90% of people still employed are the future leaders, the cultural influencers, and the high-performers that drive the highest amount of value creation and impact. They are often being asked to keep productivity at astronomical levels with less budget, resources, and colleagues than before.  

So, what’s a leader to do in this current context? What actions can you take to retain the people you need for the future? 

In 2022, McKinsey led the way from a research and insight perspective on what drove attrition at organizations during the Great Resignation (or whatever you want to call it). They found two big messages that rolled off the tongues of employees who were heading out the door: 

  1. I didn’t feel valued or appreciated at work. 
  2. I didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to learn and grow. 

For issue #1, the solution is comically simple…as a leader you should be constantly providing positive feedback and appreciation to your team, your peers, and your manager. Our blog on How to Give Appreciation is a simple yet powerful guide to put this onto the field of play. If we want to survive the current tough times, we need to retain and engage the best and most productive members of our team, providing them with the scientifically proven framework of a 5:1 ratio of positive/negative feedback to operate at their peak efficiency and maintain that healthy working relationship we desire.  

Easy work. 😉 

So how do we solve issue #2? It’s a more complex a challenge, but here’s our idea: 

Become a Learning Culture 

This isn’t the panacea in challenging times, but it’s a firm handhold that can help an organization and its leaders scale the tricky pitches and rock faces in front of them right now. Being a Learning Culture is a source of resilience that can help you retain and engage the people that will get you through this chunky recessionary time. If your organization has embraced a Learning Culture, you’re addressing the top attrition risk in today’s workforce and you’re making the investment you need for the future of work. 

The paradox that is now emerging is troubling; during some spending frugality and a push to efficiency, learning and development is an easy target to cut back or ignore for now. But it’s a reckless and ill-advised path to follow. If ever there was a time for organizations and leaders to be investing in learning and growth, this is it. 

So, as we use our futureback thinking muscles, here are three practices we would observe as essential to a Learning Culture for the future. The good news? We can put into action right now: 

Leaders Who Coach 

Coaching is proven to build self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and capacity in people. It’s the leadership superpower for the next generation of leaders. At the core of a Learning Culture are leaders who embrace the coaching mindset to build the problem-solving capabilities of their team. They get curious, they ask powerful questions, and they resist the urge to rush in with their answers and advice. They create a team that can say, “my manager helps me learn every day in some small but important way.” 

Peer Learning Networks 

Even though we’re almost three years into the distributed and hybrid work world, few organizations have solved for the peer learning that has been so diluted in recent times. The lack of knowledge transfer, informal mentoring, and peer-to-peer collaboration is becoming a bigger and bigger liability for organizations, especially those that have the need for innovation and creativity to drive their future success. In the future, a Learning Culture will enable and spark those nested networks of peer conversations, learning, and intelligence exchange. It is the multiplier that defines future success. 

Learning Containers 

In a Learning Culture, organizations and their leaders make the time, space and mindshare for learning and development. They prioritize their team’s investment and growth. They preserve and protect it as a priority for mutual benefit. It can look like many things, from dedicated time for self-learning to group conversations in meetings that get the learning pipes connected within teams. And no matter the requirement for efficiency or productivity, the thoughtful leaders are always making time and space for learning for themselves so their team can pattern-match this critical behaviour and commitment. 


Do you have a Learning Culture? How does that show up in your organization? 

Where does learning and growth happen across your team? 

What would a strong commitment to learning and growth enable for your future? 

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