Does Your Organization Have a Culture of Learning?

As the owner of a small private performance training company (SAPT, founded in 2007), I must admit that I am thrilled by the culture of learning that we’ve built. Our company’s culture is the reason, ultimately, that we can deliver great results to our trainees, have happy staff members, and even earn a profit (yes, it is possible!).

This highly successful internal culture is built on a foundation of continued education.

I now know it is the careful cultivation of this foundation that also makes SAPT the kind of place that attracts (and keeps) excellent staff members.

When you successfully build an organization that prizes continued learning - and you do it in the way that checks all your “boxes” - you will find that you and your staff look forward to work pretty much each and every day. This is your life’s work, why not enjoy it?

Why build a culture of learning?

  1. It’s pretty awesome knowing that you and your staff are at the forefront of research and new methods. It puts you and your team in a significant position of power to determine what is worth your time to investigate and what is not.

  2. Let’s face it, some people still view anyone in the strength, performance, and fitness industries as [dummies, meatheads, jocks, uneducated, take your pick]. In my experience, this really couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve had the privilege to work with many amazing minds over my 15 years in the industry. Do your part to change that assumption.

  3. Encouraging your staff to bring their own ideas to the table for discussion will often outweigh any raise or bonus that can be offered. The ones that are motivated by this *perk* are the good eggs, anyway.

    1. My staff are encouraged to explore whatever strikes a chord with them. This approach has turned up real, measurable value for us.

  4. Even if you don’t care about staff satisfaction (which you should) or improving the state of our industry (which you also should), it is your DUTY to continue to learn for the betterment of your athletes and clients. This is your job, after all.

How do you do it?

  1. Expect it.

  2. Build it into the culture.

    1. Remove barriers: they might be related to time, money, actual staff members, your behaviors. Whatever… we’ve all got them, just identify them and figure out how you will remove them and on what timeframe.

    2. Avoid judging people’s ideas - keep the conversation open. You can laugh together after you - appropriately - tell the kid right out of college why benching with your legs in the air is a bad idea. Keep it friendly. This approach builds trust.

    3. Foster creativity

      1. Set aside time to share and discuss new ideas if it doesn’t happen organically throughout the week

      2. Pose big questions. For example, in October 2013, I held a staff meeting where I said we were going to build a software to automate program design and it was the responsibility of all of us to figure it out. We did!

    4. Hire only A-players

      1. Don’t settle for less and remove anyone who isn’t A-player material

  3. Execute and live it

    1. This time cannot be undervalued. It can be pretty hard to commit to this in the beginning if it is new to your organization. But, over time, the value will be impossible to deny.

      1. Consider setting caps on the amount of time used for self-education per week. This may help everyone ease into the new system.

Now, if you have read all this and tell yourself “Sarah, this all sounds great! I love learning, but I just work so much. Where will I find the time?”

To which I say: “You will find the time when you make it a priority.”

Failing to properly prioritize the things that you know will move your organization forward is going to do nothing but guarantee you're about as good as everyone else. Maybe a little better, maybe a little worse. But that’s it. 

Why be 10% better when you could be 10x better?




Sarah Walls

A little about me: I've worked in pretty much every corner of the fitness industry for about 10 years. I've had the great fortune of spending most of this time working with gifted athletes at every level. I've also had the great opportunity of designing and conducting research projects, writing occasionally for various publications and blogs, competing in powerlifting, and just generally having a killer time pursuing my passions wherever they may take me. Now I own two businesses: one is an athletic performance training company that I started in 2007 at age 26 and the other is a software company startup that was launched in 2014. Paramount to all the awesomeness of my professional career, is my family. My kids are a thrill and my husband continues to be my most critical and important supporter.