A Learning Company is a Sustainable Company, Tips for Fostering Informal Learning

Learning keeps a company ahead of its competition, which is essential for survival.  Fostering learning in the workplace can be tricky, especially since the most important learning are often informal and difficult to establish and track.  Nonetheless, it is possible to take formal steps to foster informal learning.  I would like to share my examples of informal learning from Cypress Semiconductor, where I worked for 3 years.

Fostering Informal Learning by Fostering Relationships
Cypress has excellent formal and informal learning opportunities.  To start, it an excellent new-hire training program for new grads, where the new grad goes through a 6-month rotation with various departments that he/she will be interfacing with as a Product Marketing Engineer (PME).  This program is extremely successful at building a web of relationship and skills that the new hire can leverage in the new job.  Cypress also matches new hires with mentors, a program I find very successful at informal learning.  Since Cypress hires engineers to do the PME job, which is essentially a marketing job, everyone is learning on the job.  So the PME culture emphasizes sharing of on-the-job lessons.  The job also rotates often.  Each PME is in assigned a few product lines and a geographic region.  This assignment changes roughly every six months.  I'm not sure whether this was by design or as a reaction to higher organizational changes, but it facilitated a lot of cross-functional learning.  I believe informal learning is built upon a web of relationships.  Cypress enabled and fostered these relationships extremely well.  One year at Cypress exposed me to more people inside and outside of Cypress than two years at my most recent company. As a result, I have a massive list of talent that I can call upon to exercise informal learning.  

Teaching as a Learning Opportunity
A side effect of the assignment rotation meant not only do I continuously consult my predecessors about my new responsibilities, I also have to train the person taking over my job.  The opportunity to teach is itself a learning opportunity.  The teaching experience helps me articulate what I know, understand how I learn, and streamline my learning ability.  In teaching I also learn about the student, further fostering informal learning enlarging the relationship web.

Continuous Learning
The brain is a muscle that needs exercising.  New information and learning both related and unrelated to the job is beneficial to keep this muscle active.  While grad school keeps my brain very busy with learning, the work place is significantly less stimulating.  Thus it becomes easy to fall into a routine and stop thinking or learning.  Cypress University, an internal learning organization, partners with outside educators to offer classes to employees.  On campus classes range from leadership, organizational management, marketing, to language classes such as Japanese and Spanish.  Employees can take any class upon approval by their manager and Cypress covers the cost.  This opportunity allows employees to continuously exercise their brain and stay creative.  Although unrelated to my job, I took Japanese classes to break the routine and keep my interest.  The exercise translated to higher interest in my job, not to mention relationships built with fellow employees in the Cypress-only classroom.

Companies stand to gain an edge of competitors by fostering informal learning.  What have your organizations done to foster informal learning?