It’s back-to-school time for people — but what about for companies? We normally associate the end of summer with the beginning of a school year, yet there is no such concept for corporations. That’s wrong.

In my first post for 2014 (“The #1 Skill Everyone Needs” [link]), I discussed the importance of a major report on the 10 skills identified in Future Work Skills 2020, a study conducted by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute. Allow me to repeat a few words I shared at that time, based on my reading of this study:

While many of the skills and competencies needed for successfully dealing with future-tense challenges and opportunities already exist within your organisation, what is required from leaders is to reorient those competencies explicitly toward unlocking future-tense opportunities. This is not about starting over; rather, it’s about resetting priorities. You will maximise the potential for 2014 only if you define, now, the strategic necessities that will create the most value for your current and potential customers over the next 12 months. More than likely, this means that your firm will need to change how it creates value.

In other words, your strategy will be influenced more and more by your organisations’s capacity to “learn its way forward” in a world in which making sense of things and renewing your organisation’s identity accordingly is paramount.

In that post, I also shared these words from famed futurist Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

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What’s interesting is that relatively few companies truly build in a learning component to their corporate culture. Oh, sure, many companies routinely say good words on this subject: about how employees are their most important asset, how people make the company unique, and how everyone needs to learn in order to grow.

But nothing happens. Try this quick audit in regard to your own organisation:

(1) Are managers evaluated by how much their employees learn each year?

(2) Can each and every employee quickly identify, from a personal evaluation, their three greatest strengths and their three greatest weaknesses?

(3) Does every employee have a scheduled programme of learning designed to bolster their strengths and repair their weaknesses?

Perhaps it’s time for companies to dedicate September as the best month to make learning inside the company as the prime activity of the month, second only to customer service. Here are two resources for you to consider in this regard.

First, I point you to a unique post by Lily Herman (@lkherman) on themuse [link] website. She uses an extended infographic to explore the corporate cultures of three firms well known for (a) their high-performance standards, and (b) their treatment of people. The companies are well-known, as you might expect: Pixar, Patagonia, and Google. You may recall my recent post on one of the founders of Pixar (@DisneyPixar), Ed Catmull [link]. That company’s commitment to learning is famed.

In terms of Patagonia (@patagonia), Herman points out the company stresses work/life balance but also stresses that they keep up-to-date about one of the primary tenets of Patagonia’s mission: to help the environment. To that end, Patagonia will send teams away from their normal work in order to help on environmental disasters, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Beyond that, Patagonia provides employees “environmental internships” to work for a time at not-for-profit organisations in order to help these firms and to help Patagonia employees learn.

Herman also profiles Google (@google) in quick form. There, the emphasis on teams is driven toward the sharing of ideas: as I see it, this is about employees teaching other employees! The company also allows 20 per cent of an employee’s time to go toward personal interests. While this could certainly come down, on some weeks, to taking children to doctors or other personal needs. But I suspect what Google is trying to do is to encourage people to learn about subjects and areas that may not be directly job-related but which hold vast potential for a tie-in to some Google project in the future. Lastly, the company places such a high premium on the ideas of its people that it actually has a “google-o-meter” to measure employee suggestions.

Second, check out the major meeting to be held 11-14 November in the Orlando area. It’s called “Corporate Learning Week” [link], and it is an event that had taken place over the last 15 years. Hosted by the Corporate Learning Network (@CorpLearnNet) [link], it has numerous sponsors, including The Drucker School.

While the event seems designed mainly for Chief Learning Officers, your company may not have someone who carries such a title. Quite possibly, this may be something you could pursue by making this event your own learning expedition, by attending and then sharing widely inside your firm what others are doing when it comes to corporate learning.

We now have substantial evidence that the best companies are learning organisations. But learning is not a one-time thing. It’s an endless thing. As Einstein suggested, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”