Leading the Way to a Development Culture

Training Leadership – By Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D.

Here are five tips for leaders who want to create a learning culture

Are people in your organization giving that “they are just not that into this job” energy lately? Maybe there is low participation in weekly meetings, little excitement around a current productor project, or a lack of timely or thorough task completion with no desire to drive impact beyond their role.

Even worse, maybe they are passively quitting on the job or just outright leaving the organization for other opportunities.

Low employee engagement is a common and expensive problem. According to recent research by Gallup, only 21% of employees are fully committed and connected to their organization’s goals. This may result in high absenteeism and turnover, as well as creating negative customer experiences and decreased customer loyalty.

On the other hand, organizations that effectively engage their employees have a strategic advantage. According to Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy of workplace management at Gallup, these organizations are more likely to survive during turmoil and outperform their competition, particularly when times are tough.

One way to improve employee engagement? Invest in individual growth by creating a culture of learning and development (L&D), an organizational environment that encourages and supports continuous advancement.

Leaders Are the Key

With new innovations and technologies emerging on a daily basis, today’s talent knows that keeping their skills sharp to stay ahead and improve their career trajectory and marketability is an advantage. Whether there is a desire to enhance current performance or ready themselves for future opportunities, each employee will benefit from a development-centric environment that supports their career goals.

Who is responsible for creating a development culture?


  • Organizations should invest in a clear and practical development strategy and structure and provide necessary resources.
  • Leaders are responsible for coaching and supporting team members’ development.
  • Individuals have personal ownership for their own development.

This type of work environment can lead to increased job satisfaction, higher levels of motivation and reduced turnover rates. In today’s market conditions, where talent is in high demand, it is especially important for leaders in the life sciences industry to facilitate, interpret and reinforce a culture of development by fully and actively supporting each team member’s development.

Five Ways Leaders Can Help

Here are five tips for leaders who want to reinforce a culture of development:

1. Introduce (or reinforce) development efforts with a bang!

It’s easy to underestimate how little attention we pay to things that are not introduced with a defined why, clear plan and lasting commitment. In the case of formalized development initiatives leaders should align with learning and HR functions to start things off with a high level of excitement by communicating the organizational and personal impact of a development focus.

No formal initiative? No problem! Leaders can still communicate their personal commitment to development and encourage development in their conversations with others.

2. Lead by example – model that development matters at all levels (even for you!).

Effective leaders model the behavior they want to see in their employees. By continuously learning and growing themselves, and sharing developmental goals publicly, leaders demonstrate the importance of development and set the tone for the rest of the organization.

3.  Prioritize what matters – put time on the calendar for development-focused conversations.

If development matters, then it belongs on the calendar. By setting aside time to provide support for growth, leaders signal to employees that development is a priority.

4. Leverage real-world expertise – create on-the-job experiences tied to development goals.

Many organizations provide programming, resources and on-the-job experiences to employees. If that work is underway, leaders should contribute their expertise to the development of structure and materials whenever possible. They may support efforts by brainstorming or co-creating structured, individual and/or team-based on-the-job activities that facilitate skill activation.

5. Coordinate with business partners – share group learning needs with leadership, HR, L&D and other key stakeholders.

No one knows group learning needs better than the group leader. Leaders should consistently gather input on opportunities for development – both perceived and expressed. Organizations should empower leaders to demonstrate their strategic insight about group development needs, current challenges and opportunities for growth by encouraging regular discussions with other leaders, HR and L&D.

How L&D Can Support Leaders

If a development culture has been identified as an organizational priority, L&D plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between individual development needs and available opportunities, and in ensuring a clear linkage to desired organizational outcomes.

L&D can help leaders and the organization reinforce a development culture in several ways:

  • Collaborating with stakeholders:  L&D can collaborate with other stakeholders, such as HR, business partners and senior leaders to align on the goals and objectives of the development culture.
  • Upskilling leaders:  L&D can upskill leaders on development-focused coaching.
  • Providing resources:  L&D can provide leaders with resources, such as structured on-the-job development activities and real-world application exercises to pull-through learning, and support their efforts in building a culture of development.
  • Assessing needs:  L&D is well positioned to tap leaders for insight on group learning needs, ensuring that learning assets are best designed and positioned for maximum effect.
  • Offering programs:  L&D can offer programs, courses and workshops that focus on specific and targeted areas of development.
  • Measuring progress:  L&D can track the progress of leaders and their teams, provide feedback and make recommendations for future development.

Leaders Need Organizational Support

A strong culture of development is a requirement for organizations committed to engaging and retaining employees. No role is more crucial in a development culture than the team leader. Leaders play a crucial role in reinforcing the culture through leading by example, prioritizing development, leveraging expertise, coordinating with business partners and seeking support from learning.

L&D can support leaders by collaborating with key stakeholders, providing resources, assessing needs, offering programs and tracking progress.

The organizational payoff on investment in development can be significant. By focusing on continuous learning and growth, organizations can improve job satisfaction, increase motivation and reduce turnover, ensuring sustained performance and long-term organizational success.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman is president and founder of WLH Consulting.  Email Wendy at wendy@wlhconsulting.com.


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (www.L-TEN.org) is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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