Building a Culture of Continuous Learning through meaningful human experiences | Agoria

Building a Culture of Continuous Learning through meaningful human experiences

Published on 19/05/21 by Robrecht Janssens
In March we organised Focus HR 2021: Reset – Recharge – Realise; 4 weeks of articles, interviews and webinars. In one of those weeks we focused on learning. Today we want to present you the organisation case and practices of one of the Agoria members. We sat down with Elke Januarius (Talent & Engagement Leader BeLux), Fleur Klijnsmit (Global Account Executive Talent & Transformation), and Natasja Mol (Associate Partner, Global Talent & Transformation) at IBM, to get an insight in their approach of establishing a culture that fosters learning.

Organizations around the globe have been through an unprecedented year of change in 2020. The race to a new future is on! This is a time of unprecedented change for society, work and indeed workplaces. The demand for trusted workforce data, insight and expertise to protect the health of our workforce, ensure safe workspaces and address new talent and skilling needs is significant. It is a business imperative to provide digitised talent services that offer flexibility to changing business demands recognising the expediential changes technology has on culture, experiences and work.

Learning as a business strategy

At IBM we believe that continuous learning, is an enabler for business transformation and culture adaptation. There is an art and a science to shifting a business paradigm by using learning to change behaviour, performance, and belief systems across the enterprise. A culture of innovation supported by talent management strategies underpin these business models: ‘people practices with a focus on retaining an innovative, start-up-like culture as it scales’ - ‘recruiting based on learning agility (rather than experience) and collaboration skills’ - ‘values before ability’ - ‘an engaged and fulfilled team working in an open and supportive culture’ - ‘allows individuals to create personalised career paths’.

IBM has been through a significant skills transformation over the past 5 years having reset our own business strategy to become the #1 Hybrid Cloud and AI company. This demanded successfully reskilling our 350,000 global workforce and changing our culture in what has been one of the world’s largest organisational skills transformation programmes with significant external eminence and acclaim.

To prepare society and your employees for an increasingly tech and data-driven future, it is essential to create meaningful human experiences. This is why, at IBM, we put skills at the heart of the employee lifecycle. This means that skills inform each stage of the end-to-end workflow for Talent. It requires Talent projects to move from linear format to iterative and to deliver regular, preplanned value. Knowing what skills you have today, what skills you need for the future, defines what the skills and learning strategy you need as an organization as well as an individual.


Our experience shows that only 40% of the challenge is attributed to transforming your talent technology and 60% will be down to how you change your culture, your operating model and underlying processes, whilst delivering a step change in your employee engagement.

Building those meaningful human experience requires a laser focus on the employee experience. Organisations will have to proactively engage with employees to better understand what is really important to them and their careers. Employees are more likely to be their authentic selves and open up when employers have created a culture of belonging. Employees have options. They will gravitate towards employers who are listening and taking action. Fostering a culture of perpetual learning that rewards continual skills growth will make employees to want to succeed and grow continuously. Employers can either create learning cultures to nurture the skills and talents of their people, or wait for the exit interview to find out which of their competitors are.

Lead by example: learning as an attitude

The role of the leadership team is pivotal in the success of the learning culture in setting the vision and leading by example from the outset and during the entire journey, as IBM's CEO Arvind Krishna has demonstrated with our Think40 vision - a cultural convention that encourages a minimum investment of 40 hours of learning per Learner per year. Even in covid year 2020, IBMers kept up with their continuous learning! We achieved an average of 88 learning hours. IBM enables continuous skill and knowledge development through planned and self-directed learning. We are seeing unprecedented learning energy and are observing employees who are investing in their lifelong learning journey with a sincere level of autonomy and commitment to skills growth. This active role in learning is paramount to IBM’s learning culture, in terms of the focus we maintain across all levels to build personal mastery and create an individual commitment to drive IBM’s organizational mission and values.

What is inseparable in building meaningful human experiences is data and emerging technology like AI as they are shaping the future of human experiences. Look at how we are doing shopping today which is such a different experience through the use of tech. We receive recommendations based on our behaviours. Employees expect a similar if not better talent experience at work.

Workforce Agility

At IBM, we have personalized learning journeys that come through our Your Learning platform, an AI-driven digital learning experience that can include immersive experiences. Employees can identify "hot skills"—artificial intelligence, design thinking, security, blockchain, project management—they might like to build towards for a future career.

We have 45,000 employee users daily on Your Learning, and 98 percent of all IBM employees use it each quarter. The platform includes videos, webinars, online lectures and articles, and it offers recommendations to employees based on their role, experience level and interests. It also offers learning in "success skills," such as leadership, mindfulness and business acumen. Part of the 60+ trusted sources, integrated into platform, are the IBM academies. Last year, for example, we launched the AI Skills Academy for employees to help them learn new ways to interact with AI-enabled tech and business problems that range from creating marketing apps to making a supply chain more efficient. That academy also helps employees understand AI tech and how it impacts their careers and the company. Besides our internal trusted sources, we build strong relationships with our core content providers, to ensure a continuous feed of outside-in learning content and experiences.

Integrated into the Your Learning platform, we have a digital badge program that is driving the engagement of upskilling. To date, more than 3.6 million IBM badge certifications have been earned by both our own employees and the external world. We recommend using Open Digital Credentials to encourage learners to be self-directed in their learning and motivate them to engage with, consume and complete learning. Digital badges, aka Open Digital Credentials provide accreditation of strategic skills acquisition that may be shared on social media.

IBM is a very ‘metrics-driven’ global organisation. We have used workforce and skills metrics to drive our own transformation, and continue to invest heavily based on attractive value. We track NPS, daily skills consumption, badge attainment, impact of skilling on employee engagement, % of learning content peer vs non peer created and amount of time per month per employee on skilling. Our eco-system was designed from the outset to offer analytics in real-time, and a core element of our architecture is an aggregated, in-memory analytics engine and data mart. One major benefit of analytics is better talent retention. In promoting or moving employees to better-matched roles, you boost morale, create a more positive experience, and entice talent to stay and develop their careers.

Concluding, to achieve Workforce Agility, it is essential to create a culture of continuous learning. From our experience, these are the three key actions surface as critical to the skills conversation, each of which is exponentially strengthened by AI. Organizations should consider how best to apply each of these within the context of their unique culture, workforce, leadership, and business strategy.

1. Make the Employee Experience meaningful and personal

Personalization has become part of everyday life in the consumer world. Employees expect the same personalized experience in their work world.

Employees want career, skill, and learning development uniquely tailored to their experiences, goals, and interests aligned to their current skills and future aspirations. Companies also want personalization. Employee skill and learning experiences that are tailored both to customer and market needs and to employee goals and interests can help retain the best and brightest and build a future workforce.

2. Turn up the transparency

Stop operating in the dark – place skills at the centre of your people strategy and aim for deep visibility into the skills position across your enterprise. A skills-based people strategy requires solutions that go well beyond under- standing the number of people in a specific role. Advanced analytics, AI, machine learning, and market-based skill data have shifted the conversation to one about obtaining actionable, often predictive, insights – at scale – and then making these insights available to everyone, from individual employees to enterprise business leaders.

3. Look inside and out for a fully integrated solution

Gone are the days when any one company had all of the answers. Gone, too, is the ability to solution the skills challenge without the partnerships of broader internal and external ecosystems. To remain competitive, companies must adopt an open technology architecture and a set of partners able to take advantage of the latest advancements.

The transformation journey to a learning organisation never stops ... indeed, it accelerates. As you embark on ways to strengthen your learning culture and reimagine learning, we hope we inspired you through our own transformation story.

About the contributors:


Natasja Mol

Natasja Mol

EMEA Talent Development Optimisation Lead

IBM Talent Transformation Services

Specialities: employee experience, skilling, talent development, learning transformation, human-centered design, talent experience platform and technology, AI, change agent.



Fleur Klijnsmit

EMEA HR Delivery Project Executive

IBM Talent Transformation Services

Specialties: Leading talent transformation projects, managing global outsourced HR activities, including Recruitment, Learning, Delivery Excellence.


Elke Januarius

Elke Januarius

BeNeLux Talent Transformation Lead

IBM Talent Transformation Services

Specialities: Change & People Readiness, Talent Development, Target Operating Model, Organizational Alignment, HR Process Redesign



If you want to read more:

  • What employees expect in 2021 | IBM Institute for Business Value

To retain top talent in the wake of COVID-19, employers need to understand employees’ evolving motivations and aspirations.

  • The enterprise  guide to closing the skills gap | IBM Institute for Business Value

Three strategies can help organizations tackle one of their greatest challenges: building and maintaining a skilled workforce.

  • The Journey of Learning | IBM Leadership, Learning & Inclusion Point of View

Connecting continuous learning to the rapid pace of change as the workplace accelerates.

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