HomeEmployee ExperienceCultureLessons from AstraZeneca: Creating a lifelong learning culture to become a high-impact organization

Lessons from AstraZeneca: Creating a lifelong learning culture to become a high-impact organization

  • 5 Min Read

To support individual and company-level learning, organizations need to create an environment that embeds learning into the way they do things. In this article, Marc Howells, Vice President of Global Talent and Development, AstraZeneca explores how to embed a lifelong learning culture that delivers business impact

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When organizations empower employees to take ownership of their development, expand their knowledge, grow their capabilities, and enhance their skills, we enable them to challenge the status quo by sharing ideas without fear of being judged. This is the hallmark of a lifelong learning culture that delivers high business impact.

The lifelong learning culture at AstraZeneca

Being confident to talk openly about development opportunities helps foster a workplace culture where individuals focus on growth, what they can achieve, and how they can work together as a team to achieve shared goals.

As a science organization, continuous learning and discovery is part of the AstraZeneca DNA and this forms part of several core components that contribute to a high-impact learning organization. We recognize that we cannot force innovation, but we can foster it in the right environment. By encouraging behaviors that support a ‘growth mindset’ where people are proactive about their development, organizations can create the conditions to thrive through a culture of lifelong learning. Developing this type of culture is key as it sets a foundational mindset and helps companies to pursue transformational learning and people strategies. This is our approach to creating and sustaining a high-impact learning organization.

A lifelong learning culture is critical to a high-impact organization

To support a lifelong learning culture at an individual and company-wide level, organizations need to create an environment that embeds learning into the way they do things. It should promote a collectively shared vision and support positive change through open dialogue and reflection. A successful learning organization will develop a culture that directly and unambiguously links to its purpose.

However, nurturing this type of culture is not the sole responsibility of learning and development professionals. At AstraZeneca, we have turned learning and talent transformation from an HR issue to a business issue, placing themes such as innovation, agility, leadership, collaboration, and continuous learning at the very heart of business success. It’s this organization-wide vision, buy-in, and action that strengthens our shared perspective; a perspective that values and understands the importance of continual growth.

Technology offers the opportunity for the democratization of the learning environment

Technology can open the door to a lifelong learning culture, unlocking the potential for all employees and making learning easy, accessible, and relevant. Digital learning platforms are powerful tools that can support organizations as they embark on their transformation journey, giving people autonomy over when, what, and how they learn. This motivates employees and makes them more likely to develop lifelong learning skills. Technology is a key component of any learning transformation strategy and with the right infrastructure in place, learning becomes more accessible, allowing people to develop and grow in their own way.

Critically, technology also provides data and generates insights such as what people are learning, how they wish to learn, what capabilities we need to invest in, where we need to focus talent strategy, and how we need to adapt. Through our transformation, we have implemented new learning technologies and reduced legacy systems, to enable 89 percent of AstraZeneca employees to develop new skills and capabilities. At the heart of every successful learning culture is the understanding and measurement of how learning directly impacts the success of the organization.

Celebrating our differences and creating a learning community

Collaboration is key in organizations that adopt a lifelong learning culture. Helping and encouraging individuals to talk openly about their development is critical in building a truly connected and purpose-led learning community. Coaching, feedforward, and mentoring are all important skills that can help to develop more inclusive conversations that spark innovative thinking and help individuals reach their full potential.

Our approach centers on frequent, constructive, and collaborative conversations where we ask powerful questions to prompt reflections that look forward, not back. Initiatives like reverse mentoring are just one of the ways we empower our people to share their expertise and use their strengths to enhance others’ skills and help them meet their development goals. This contributes to a psychologically safe environment that encourages different opinions and lets our people feel comfortable giving open and honest feedback and insights. Furthermore, it facilitates a constant dialogue full of learning opportunities.

Developing skills for the future

Every learning initiative we introduce centers around building the skills, behaviors, and outcomes that are critical to delivering company-wide and forward-looking strategies and goals.

Promoting a genuine desire for growth requires several core components to be in place. No single element alone can adequately provide the foundation for transformational people and learning strategies to take shape. It takes effort, investment, and relentless focus to build an integrated and adaptive ecosystem in which all components, firing together like a finely tuned engine, can unleash the collective potential of the organization.​ Every organization has the power to build its own unique learning culture, equipping employees with the right capabilities to reflect, adapt, and innovate to push the boundaries and reach strategic goals.

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