How to create an ecosystem with a strong culture of learning?

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Today we would like to walk you through a model created by Apoorva Mathur and Kimberly Allison, top L&D leaders who have introduced the model for boosting learning culture: SPONGE. The authors have done lots of research and various L&D projects for the top companies. And they do believe that for organizations not only to survive but to innovate, a strategic question is: how to create an ecosystem with a strong culture of learning?

The SPONGE acronym stands for Skills, Performance, Orchestration of Social Learning, Nimbleness of Learning Delivery, Growth Mindset, Elasticity of Talent. Those are the key conceptual ideas developed by the authors of the model. It can be used as a working framework and includes key questions in each of these categories, and the answers will help with building effective talent ecosystems. Let us highlight the key points for you.

In terms of skills, L&D leaders should ask: what are the top skills the organization needs now and will need in future (2+years)?

Identifying top skills, as well as creating learning and skills development programs focused on current and future skills needs will ensure talent is always ready to help the company succeed.

To shift to a performance-oriented approach, L&D leaders should ask:

  • What are the organization’s goals, and how is the organization performing against them?
  • What are the performance objectives and gaps?  Will the performance challenges require a learning solution?

This will help identify real performance issues, determine causes of the performance gaps, as well as present learning solutions required to close the gaps.

Now we are moving to orchestration. People are constantly absorbing new different things from social sources and are learning socially by sharing information, discussing it with others, and teaching it back. L&D should be playing a key role in orchestrating social learning enabling social connection. Some questions here: 

  • Where do our employees connect socially and how do we embed L&D solutions in existing social channels? 
  • What technology are you using for social connection in the organization?

By answering those questions, L&D can enhance its ability to effectively connect learners and create communities of practice.

Nimbleness of learning delivery is a vital metric for L&D success and essential to evolving a culture of learning, as responding to change and being able to pivot quickly are now highly valued skills. Questions in this regard:

  • What modalities are we using for content creation? Where do our learners consume content?
  • How long does it take to create content?What new processes should we set up for course creation and revisions? 

Responses to those questions help determine where L&D needs to deliver as quickly as possible and make it more effective. An important note here is that agile learning links L&D skills development to the business strategy rather than to knowledge gained. 

Well, creating a growth mindset goes hand in hand with creating a learning culture. And L&D leaders should ask:

  • Do company leaders show curiosity, demonstrate risk-taking capabilities, and learn from mistakes and failures?
  • Does the company reward innovation and recognize failures as learning opportunities?
  • How does innovation & growth differentiate the organization from its competitors?

This section can help L&D leaders identify which growth mindset behaviors it may need to reinforce. A curious organization will always be learning from its successes and failures, plus exploring new solutions.

And getting to Elasticity of talent: reskilling for both soft and technical skill and redeploying talent appears to be cost-effective. Questions for this: 

  • How powerful and relevant are soft skills to the organization? 
  • Has the company adopted practices that promote internal mobility?

Responding to the E questions can help to reskill for current and future needs, prepare talent to face technological advancements, and increase longevity of employment.  

To sum up: a sponge is a vivid metaphor for a person’s ability to absorb new information.The SPONGE model can be considered as a reliable tool to help L&D functions create a culture of learning, growth, curiosity, adaptability, critical thinking, and agile delivery – essential for organizations being future ready.

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