Change your culture to change the way you learn, say L&D experts

MERIT Summit hears the future learning plans of Nestlé, KPMG, Danone and more

Businesses must undertake seismic cultural shifts if they are to make the leap to become true learning organisations, some of Europe’s most prominent L&D leaders said this week.

At the MERIT Always On-Learning Summit in Portugal, experts including Thierry Bonetto, director of L&D at Danone, Anna Walther – senior L&D manager at Nestlé – and Dr Nina Kreyer, head of L&D Germany at KPMG, all argued that new techniques and strategies for learning could not happen in isolation but had to be part of wider strategic efforts. 

Summit delegates heard that as part of its global HR strategy, Nestlé had done just this by beginning to more vocally articulate its values during the last 12 months. As the world’s largest food company, its strategy now focused on connecting people and giving value. 

Walther said Nestlé “makes sure this is embedded into all our employees. We are so diverse with all our different businesses worldwide, but having common value and purpose connects all of us.” 

KPMG’s new approach, Kreyer said, was shifting the way learning took place “from top-down to bottom-up”. That means employees can engage where they want to, “to be where you want to be”. 

At Nestlé, “50 per cent of the workforce is in factories and we want to maximise the ability to learn. We want to nurture that sense of curiosity in our workforce across the world – not just at senior level,” Walther explained. 

Similarly, Danone’s strategy is moving from a culture of training to one of supported learning. “We were convinced that the digital revolution would change learning, and this was important,” Bonetto told delegates. The L&D director said he found it difficult to build a development strategy plan in a traditional way, because this would only reach around 20 per cent of those employees it needed to reach.

The panel suggested that as learning inside organisations moved away from formalised programmes to daily, integrated learning opportunities, it was important to better define what learning meant.

Bonetto said reflective practice, for example, was a positive idea, but was not easy to introduce in reality. He believed in ‘learning by reflecting on doing’ rather than by doing alone – echoing the views of Henry Mintzberg, the celebrated Canadian academic and author. For Danone, a strategy to introduce developmental change was to share learning between colleagues.

The leaders were asked what actions they were taking to ensure that diversity and inclusion were reflected in learning. By default, Nestlé is diverse, said Walther, but it has a learning strategy to ensure it addresses this. Taking Nestlé’s pet care brand, Purina, as an example, the company formed a distributed network of leaders and exposed them to an outside team of experts, who ensured they were mindful of diversity when setting strategy.

Elsewhere at the event, Dr Nick van Dam, global chief learning officer at McKinsey & Company, said immersive learning experiences within multidisciplinary teams were particularly effective ways to introduce change.

“Lessons based on developments in neuroscience have shown that people make brain connections through emotional touch and active processing. The more people talk, the more learning happens” – and therefore L&D should be based on insight from developmental psychology, he said. 

“Learning is a profession with a deep science behind it – [McKinsey] would rather have people with that knowledge behind them”, said Van Dam. “We need to take L&D professionals and develop them to understand the science of learning.”