Learning Culture

Creating your SME learning culture is like having your cake and eating it.


Most large organisations have their own in-house training / L&D departments that play an important role, both in developing their people and enhancing the employer brand.


So it can appear that these businesses have a distinct advantage over SMEs that don’t have this type of resource. And that can be challenging when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent, especially when growth is dependent on it.


But SMEs don’t necessarily have to lose out. In fact, creating a learning culture through a clever yet simple mix of infrastructure and coaching often gains remarkable results, regardless of the size of the organisation and whether or not there is an internal L&D function.


Here’s how:


Ensure there is absolute clarity from the leadership team around what you want your business to be (i.e. vision, culture, values and standards), because then your brand can be reflected throughout all your operational and people-related processes and linked with your reward programme. That way, it is quite literally ‘lived and breathed’ by all your people.


This is the starting point for creating a high performance culture that can outperform markets. And it’s why we refer to processes designed in this way as ‘assets’ – because when in place and used effectively by everyone, it is much easier for your people to attain ‘performance magic’.



Here are my top 5 tips for creating and using your assets:


1. Create your outline vision, including culture, values and standards, and include your managers in fleshing it out and finalising it
2. Include managers and other seniors in agreeing the content of operational process assets, especially those relating to sales, service and quality management
3. Repeat point 2 for people management assets, including internal recruitment, onboarding, appraisals and promotions
4. Build in clearly defined measures where appropriate
5. Allow for flexibility and individuality in the application and use of your assets – but ensure the core essence remains


The next stage is to empower line managers to build capability in their teams using the most appropriate methods. After initial induction and training on your assets, your people should be proficient in using them and already achieving good results. So, although training is often requested for deepening existing expertise, it is not always the answer; it’s coaching. So it is important to equip your managers with coaching know-how.


We find that introducing line managers to ‘The Learning Cycle’ helps to illustrate the value of ‘flexing their style’ in developing people. This is important for creating in-dependency, because otherwise people are likely to remain undeveloped, which can cause serious business issues.


The premise of coaching presumes that coachees hold solutions within themselves; coaching techniques enable access to these, so that, rather than relying on others to tell them what to do, they begin an internal dialogue with themselves, learning they are so much more capable and resourceful than they had realised.


This builds their confidence and typically leads to better utilisation of the tools at their disposal, and recall and application of concepts covered in previous training. It also often results in them being inspired with additional innovative ideas of their own. This not only creates that vital sense of independence for the coachee, but also ‘head space’ for managers, who no longer have to use up time and energy coming up with all the answers.


Here are my top 5 tips on developing a coaching culture:


1. As a leader, set a personal example by coaching your top team

2. Equip line managers with basic management know how around The Learning Cycle, so that they appreciate the context for coaching

3. Share techniques with everyone in the business, as that enables people to coach each other (and to coach external customers when appropriate)

4. Remember that as with consultative selling, coaching facilitates through questioning and listening; it’s the opposite to telling

5. Include know how from experienced coaches, e.g. how to remain silent whilst coachees are thinking – always a challenge for managers used to telling people the answers!



“When it comes to selling an SME, one of the biggest challenges is whether the business remains reliant on the founder(s). Not only will these strategies help towards addressing that issue, they will also drive sustainable value through having motivated teams who are committed to the purpose and values of the business.

This is likely to result in the team performing well, enjoying their roles and therefore remaining in post, all of which has a direct impact on the value of the business when it is sold.”  

Philip Ellis, Managing Director and Founder, Optima Corporate Finance


So there you have it: a simple combination of infrastructure and coaching to create your environment for significantly enhanced performance across the board – a solid learning foundation. And any investment in a sprinkling of training / L&D on top is much more likely to have high impact, with a significant ROI for your business.


The icing on the cake – whether delivered by an internal function or not!


Feeling inspired to give it a try? I’d love to know!

Contact me at denise@absolutelybusiness.co.uk