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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

Why the cultural sector fails to develop its workers

One of the many problems underfunding creates for cultural organisations short termism, by which I mean they focus on delivery alone. When staff come forward looking for some personal development its usually seen a cost not an investment and yet your work is all about helping the wider community earn and yet when you ask the same for yourself that access is denied and not just because of budgets.


Why does the cultural sector fail to develop its workers and what does it mean for you, your work and the sector as a whole?


Let’s look first at the features of a learning organisation:


Simply put, it's an organisation that values continuous learning and growth, not just for individual employees but for the whole organisation. It's a mindset, a way of operating that embraces change and actively seeks out new knowledge and skills to improve its performance.


In a learning organisation, everyone is encouraged to contribute ideas, learn from mistakes, and explore new possibilities. The focus isn't on blaming individuals when something goes wrong but on finding ways to improve and prevent similar issues in the future. It's all about fostering a culture of curiosity, openness, and innovation.


If you can see most of these behaviours then chances are you’re working for a learning organisation:


- Open Communication: Are ideas freely shared, and do you feel comfortable speaking up without fear of retribution? In learning organisations, communication flows easily from top to bottom and side to side.

- Continuous Improvement: Is there a culture of seeking feedback and using it to improve processes and operations? Learning organisations are always on the lookout for ways to do things better.

- Learning Opportunities: Are there regular training sessions, workshops, or other learning opportunities available to employees? Learning organisations invest in their people's development.

- Learning from Mistakes: When something goes wrong, is the focus on finding solutions and preventing similar issues in the future, rather than placing blame? Learning organisations treat mistakes as learning opportunities.

- Innovative Thinking: Are employees encouraged to think outside the box and explore new ideas? Learning organisations welcome innovation and creativity.


These are all possible for any cultural organisation no matter how poorly funded they are and the benefits are huge. They’ve been studied to death by the private sector.


- Adaptability: Learning organisations can quickly adjust to new challenges, market shifts, and emerging trends, making them more resilient and successful in the long run.

- Employee Engagement: When people feel like their opinions and growth matter, they become more engaged and motivated. Learning organisations tend to have happier, more productive employees who are eager to contribute their best work.

- Innovation: A culture of learning naturally leads to innovation. When you're open to trying new things and learning from both successes and failures, breakthrough ideas are more likely to emerge.

- Customer Satisfaction: Learning organisations are attentive to their customers' needs and are better equipped to provide top-notch products and services that meet those needs.

- Attracting Talent: In the competitive job market, learning organisations have an edge.

People want to work for organisations that invest in their development and provide a supportive learning environment.


The biggest example is of course Google. With "20% time," employees are encouraged to spend a portion of their work hours on projects of personal interest. This freedom to explore passions has led to innovative products like Gmail and Google Maps.


There are many reasons why cultural organisations don’t behave like a learning organisation some understandable, some not:


- Short-Term Focus: Tight funding conditions means a short term pressure to deliver in the here and now, rather than investing in a learning process which could benefit the organisation in the long run.

- Resistance to Change: Embracing a learning organisation concept often requires a significant cultural shift. Some organisations might be resistant to change or unsure about how to implement and sustain such a transformation.

- Resource Constraints: Investing in learning and development initiatives is usually seen as an additional cost, especially for smaller organisations with limited resources. It may be challenging to allocate time and budget for learning activities when facing other operational demands.

- Lack of Awareness: Some organisations might simply be unaware of the benefits and potential of becoming a learning organisation. They may not have come across the concept or understood how it could positively impact their performance.

- Fear of Failure: Cultivating a learning organisation involves embracing failure as an opportunity for growth. However, some organisations may have a fear of failure, leading them to avoid activities that could potentially result in mistakes or setbacks.

- Inflexible Hierarchies: Traditional hierarchical structures can hinder the flow of information and ideas within an organisation. If communication is primarily top-down, it might discourage employees from sharing their insights and suggestions freely.

- Lack of Leadership Support: Without buy-in and active support from leadership, it can be challenging to create a culture of learning. Leaders need to set an example by prioritizing their learning and encouraging it among their teams.

- Time Constraints: In fast-paced industries and environments, organisations may feel they don't have the time to invest in learning initiatives. This perspective can lead to a constant focus on "getting things done" rather than taking the time to improve processes.

- Focus on Individual Development Only: Some organisations might focus on individual learning and development but overlook the importance of collective learning as a whole organisation.


Despite these challenges, it's essential to recognize that becoming a learning organisation can lead to improved performance, increased innovation, and greater adaptability in a rapidly changing world. Overcoming these obstacles requires a commitment to creating a learning culture and a willingness to invest in the future of the organisation and its employees.


The question is, will the cultural sector make that step?


My suggestion is, do a diagnosis on your organisation work out if it’s a learning organisation and work out what that means for you.


If you need help developing your thinking around this, message me.


black text on blue background saying are you working for a earning organisation?
Why the cultural sector fails to develop its workers



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