Everything you need to know about learning organisations. A learning organisation is an organisation that has developed the continuous capacity to adapt and change.
All organizations learn, whether they consciously choose to or not-it is a fundamental requirement for their sustained existence. The spirit behind Learning Organisation is that, people at work in an organisation, at all levels continuously and collectively increase their productivity which is inherent in them to produce the results as per the goals set by the Organisations.
“Learning organisations are characterised by total employee involvement in process of collaboratively conducted, collectively unaccountable change directed towards shared values or principles”. — Watkins and Marsick, 1992 .
1. What is Learning Organisation? 2. Meaning of Learning Organisation 3. Concept 4. History 5. Importance 6. Characteristics
7. Elements 8. Types and Levels 9. Emergence 10. Dimensions 11. Important Aspects 12. Discipline
13. How to Create a Learning Organisation 14. Steps 15. Key Management Processes Contributing to Learning Organizations 16. Disturbing Factors 17. Benefits 18. Limitations.
Learning Organisation: Meaning, Concept, History, Characteristics, Types, Benefits and Other Details
- What is Learning Organisation?
- Meaning of Learning Organisation
- Concept of Learning Organisation
- History of Learning Organisation
- Importance of Learning Organisation
- Characteristics of Learning Organisation
- Elements of Learning Organisation
- Types and Levels of Learning Organisation
- Emergence of Learning Organisation
- Dimensions of Learning Organisation
- Important Aspects of Learning Organisation
- Discipline of Learning Organisation
- How to Create a Learning Organisation
- Steps of Learning Organisation
- Key Management Processes Contributing to Learning Organisations
- Disturbing Factors of Learning Organisation
- Benefits of Learning Organisation
- Limitations of Learning Organisation
Learning Organisation – What is Learning Organisation?
A learning organization is an organization that has developed the continuous capacity to adapt and change. All organizations learn, whether they consciously choose to or not-it is a fundamental requirement for their sustained existence. Peter Senge popularized the concept of Learning Organizations in his book The Fifth Discipline.
As per him these are the places “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspirations is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together”.
Proponents of the learning organization envision it as a remedy for three fundamental problems inherent in traditional organizations such as- fragmentation, competition, and reactiveness. Fragmentation is based on specialization. It creates walls and chimneys there by separate different functions.
An over emphasis on competition negatively affect collaboration and team work. Members of the management team compete with one another to show who is right, who knows more, or who is persuasive. Reactiveness misdirects management’s attention to problem solving rather than creation.
The problem solver tries to make something to go away while the creator tries to bring something new into the system.
Learning Organisation – Meaning: Suggested by Peter Senge, Watkins and Marsick
Number of interpretations have been given about Learning Organisation, after the introduction of the concept in 1990 by Peter Senge. Without going into the various meanings, definitions and interpretations, only some definitions are given here to understand the main theme of the concept.
“Learning Organisations are organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” — Peter Senge (1990-Fifth Discipline)
“The learning company is a vision what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals, it can happen as a result of learning at the whole organisational level. A Learning Company is an organisation that facilitates the learning of all members and continuously transforms itself.” — Pedler et al., 1991
“Learning organisations are characterised by total employee involvement in process of collaboratively conducted, collectively unaccountable change directed towards shared values or principles”. — Watkins and Marsick, 1992
These three definitions of Peter Senge and others explain the various dimensions of Learning Organisation. Peter Senge explains the five disciplines, viz., (i) Personal mastery, (ii) Mental models, (iii) Shared Vision, (iv) Team learning and (v) Systems thinking. His two important aspects, viz., (a) Systematic thinking and (b) Dialogue are considered more important in increasing the productivity of the organisation. Particularly, “dialogue” element exhibits its virtues.
The Fifth discipline of Peter Senge, integrates other four disciplines. It acts as a corner stone in developing interrelationship between others. This also provides both the incentive and the means to integrate the disciplines.
Systems theory, the fifth aspect of Peter Senge, attracts three vital aspects.
(i) Systems thinking (theory) tries to analyse the links which connect to the whole organisation and make the people involved to look at the organisation as a whole and beyond. It tells about the people to look beyond the immediate context and to appreciate the impact of their actions upon others. This may happen in reverse process also. This provides a base to understand the organisation as a whole (integrated approach). Every employee can have a holistic view and understanding, rather than just work only on his task.
(ii) The sub-systems or building blocks of the system theory are easy to understand and to develop them. But organisations, using this model can develop more sophisticated Sub-systems. When sophisticated or complete sub-systems are developed and adopted, the people involved can see the whole and appreciate the organisation as a dynamic one. If people at work understand the organisation in a better manner, they complete their tasks in an appropriate manner.
(iii) Systems thinking, as he puts, helps the people involved in the organisations to understand the feedback mechanisms in organisation. These are essential to adopt corrective actions, if the feedback suggests.
He says “that the systems view point generally oriented toward the long-term view. That is why delays and feedback loops are so important. In short-term, you can often ignore them; they are inconsequential. They only come back to haunt you in the long-run.”
The other two definitions are also developed on the lines of Peter Senges opinion. Infact they have only stressed the models of Peter Senge. The second definition of singe says that—Learning Organisation is one which expects that every individual worker must look at the organisation as a whole and have an integrated approach. Continuously learning the happenings of the organisation will facilitate the worker to improve his performance and make him to grow without his knowledge.
The third definition of Watkins focuses on collaborative action of all workers to have a continuous change in work processes through shared values and principles.
Considering these opinions, “Learning Organisation” may be defined as follows:
“An organisation that learns and encourages learning among its people. It promotes exchange of information between employees hence creating a more knowledgeable workforce. This produces a very flexible organisation where people will accept and adapt vision.”
The spirit behind Learning Organisation is that, people at work in an organisation, at all levels continuously and collectively increase their productivity which is inherent in them to produce the results as per the goals set by the Organisations.
Learning Organisation – Concept
“Learning Organisation” concept is used as a tool to implement the themes of knowledge management and change management in an organisation. In a knowledge society (the term which came to limelight only recently) people are thinking-oriented and are always looking for a change in the organisations to improve the quality of operation. “Learning Organisation” concept has been used as a tool to the changes required to improve the quality of operations.
When the concept emerged in a big way, after the publication of Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” in 1990, people began to understand the concept of “Learning Organisation”. Many consultants and organisations understood the commercial importance of Learning Organisation.
It was realised that organisational learning is quite essential to improve productivity of workers, to have Organisation Learning better organisational structure, better work atmosphere in the organisation etc. But still the arguments are going on the issue of effective implementation of Learning Organisation concept in organisations.
Many believe still it is an ideal and abstract concept which cannot be fully understood by the people at work and cannot be practiced with full vigour. However, it should be accepted that Peter Senge’s book has given a new dimension to organisational effectiveness. With the adaptation of modules suggested by him, organisations can have a new look.
With all its limitations, risks involved in implementation, and difficult to practice. Learning Organisation philosophy gives an insight into operational aspects of the organisation which are governed and monitored by human factor. Learning Organisation concept mainly focuses on behavioural aspects of workers and suggest to change their behaviour, if need be, to improve the productivity of the organisation.
It is said that the perfect Learning Organisation cannot be achieved and it is only a desirable concept. It is a tool to achieve a business objective, i.e. improving productivity and profit of the organisation through behavior modification of the employees.
How long this concept will be practised in workplace is a matter to be decided by the time. But, introducing new knowledge to the work practices in organisations to compete in a global market, continuous change—the main theme of Learning Organisation—is the only way out. In this background, let us examine the concept of Learning Organisation.
Learning Organisation – History
Learning Organisation is not a new concept. It gained momentum in 1990 when Peter Senge produced his monumental work. “Fifth Discipline.” The history reveals that Chinese philosopher, Confucious said in 479 BC that — “everyone, without learning, wise become foolish and the foolish become wise.” Further he said that “Learn as if you could never have enough of learning, as if you might miss something.”
These two statements of Confucious stress on the concept of continuous learning of an individual. Now it is extended to organisations. In the corporate world, those corporate enterprises which have considered “continuous learning” as an important aspect of growth, adapt learning process quickly to attain innovations in work practices and change the work practices accordingly to perform better in the constantly changing environment.
Though there was little attempt to understand the concept of “learning”, sincere attempt was made only after 1900. In 1950s, The “Systems approach” was developed as a part of learning process. But this approach was not fully recognised and implemented. Gould- Kreutzer Associates, defined systems thinking as “A framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things; as we see the forests and the trees inside system was like a forest and sub-systems were like trees.”
In system approach, a framework to see interrelationship was developed. The framework made the companies to be aware of organisation as a whole and the workers within the company were viewed as sub-systems. Prior to the publication of ‘Systems’ concept, organisations did not recognise the needs of workers. But ‘System’ thinking though not fully implemented, made the corporates to change their managerial view to increase the productivity of workers, besides achieving the business goals.
One of the tools developed by systems approach was “Decision Support System – DSS”. DSS helped corporate top brass in taking sound decisions in developing strategic plans and also to change the work culture continuously. Different working models were developed to define the system. These working models helped the organisations rather than the development of systems operation.
The models so developed were the ones suiting to the organisational needs and for the future development of the business. DSS tool made “implicit knowledge an explicit one.” It facilitated the availability of extra knowledge to the organisations. The DSS enhanced the communication system of the organisation. However, the system tool did not develop fast.
In nineteen seventies (1970s), the DSS tool was called with a new name “Organisational Learning”. Chris Arygris, a Harvard Professor, published a book depicting the various dimensions of organisational learning in 1978. Even then the concept of Learning Organisation did not attract the corporate world in a big way.
In nineteen eighties (1980s), “TIME” concept was considered as a “Competitive Advantage”. This means that the organisations, if they complete their work schedules as per the stipulated time or ahead of prescribed time, they would be greatly benefitted and compete effectively in the business. This “Time” concept indirectly motivate the firms to be learning organisation, completing the tasks or projects on schedule. It was thought that “time” would develop the capabilities of the organisation. The competition will be “capability- based” one and capability includes “Learning” as one of the components.
The major breakthrough took place in introducing Learning Organisation concept, after the research publication of Peter Singe in 1990 in the form of a book called “Fifth Discipline”. After the publication of this research work, the corporate world is opening it’s eyes in a big way. Many companies have accepted the concept of “Learning Organisation” and are trying to adopt effectively.
The adoption of Learning Organisation concept, although it is dynamic and flexible, is a big task to the top management. Workers may agitate to accept the new work culture. They have to unlearn the old practices and learn new practices. This takes time to implement and the process is gradual. Companies which are capable of striking a balance between stability and change can implement Learning Organisation in an effective way.
However, the business environment is changing at a faster rate after the introduction of the concepts “global market” and “global village”. This has forced the business units, irrespective of the size, to adapt themselves to the changing business environment for their survival.
Learning Organisation – Importance
Companies are seeking to walk on the path of continuous improvement in their products and services, foster creativity and innovation through breakthrough strategies in order to stay into the highly competitive market scenario. This has resulted in a plethora of organizational development initiatives such as TQM (Total Quality Management) and BPR (Business Process Reengineering). This is where learning organizations have a competitive edge over other organizational models.
Learning organizations can help organizations in the following ways:
1. They help organizations to successfully cope with rapid and unexpected changes where existing ‘programmed’ responses are inadequate.
2. They provide flexibility to cope with dynamically changing situations.
3. They ensure that the organization’s front-line staffs are more responsible so as to effectively respond with initiatives based on customer needs.
4. Learning organizations facilitate in developing organizational capabilities for fast-paced innovation and inculcates a strong commitment to learn and love change.
5. As the competitive business environment becomes more complex and challenging, the learning organizations provide a broader range of managerial beliefs, and a greater repertoire of managerial actions so as to facilitate fast paced growth.
6. Learning organizations imbibe a strong people centric approach by linking the strategies of the organization with those with the people and creating an environment encouraging lifelong learning and knowledge sharing.
Learning Organisation – 7 Main Characteristics: Shared Vision, Goal Compatibility, New Ways of Thinking, Open Communication, Boundarylessness and a Few Others
i. Shared vision
ii. Goal compatibility
iii. New ways of thinking
iv. Interrelationships between organization and environment
v. Open communication
vi. Specific culture that values risk taking, openness, and growth
viii. Learning organization supports the importance of disagreements, constructive criticism, and other forms of functional conflict
Learning organizations are proficient in activities like- Systematic problem solving, experimentation with new approaches, learning from their own experiences and history, learning from experience and best practices of others, and transfer of knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. In a learning organization training is a top priority.
Learning Organisation – 5 Important Elements Identified by Laura and Joel Connarton
Laura and Joel Connarton (2004) have identified five key elements contributing to creating and maintaining a successful learning environment. These involve communication rewarding the process, building a collaborative environment, formal company/job orientation, and capturing knowledge.
Elements of LO and Hallmarks:
Element # 1. Communication:
a. The role of communication is truly the central focus in creating and maintaining a learning organization.
b. Learning organizations typically have a free exchange and flow of information at all levels of the organization.
c. Systems are established to all individuals to network across organizational boundaries, broaden knowledge base and develop expertise.
Element # 2. Reward the Process:
a. Processes that encourage cross-organizational interaction are rewarded.
b. Implementing programs that recognize and reward the acquisition of new skills, team-work as well as individual effort help to encourage creativity and enhances the level of employee motivation.
c. Celebration of the successes and accomplishments of the employees and teams also encourages continuous personal development which broadens the organization’s “Knowledge IQ”
Element # 3. Building a Collaborative Environment:
a. Organizational support must flow from the top management downward and even at cross-sectional directions.
b. An environment of openness and trust encourages individuals to develop ideas, speak out, and to challenge actions.
c. Collaboration can be encouraged by having designated spaces for developing and exploiting information—such as conference rooms, bulletin boards, and group wares to share and access knowledge.
Element # 4. Formal Company/Job Orientation:
This involves a detailed presentation for new and existing employees and explains why the oragnization is in business, what the objectives of the company are, and how each department, or job, moves the company closer to its goals.
Element # 5. Capturing Knowledge:
a. This requires systems that facilitate the retention of knowledge and learning that individuals hold within the organization.
b. This also involves developing a system whereby informations on learnings gained are recorded and retained for future use.
Learning Organisation – Levels
Organizational learning is a holistic process, involving interactions among many individuals leading to well-informed decision making. Thus organizations must emphasize on creating a culture that enables people to learn and adapt as a part of everyday working practices. The process of shifting from the individual to organizational learning involves a non-linear transformation that is much complex than what it appears.
For individual learning when somebody learns anything, it is available for his/her immediate use. On the other hand, in case of organizational learning organizations need to create, capture, transfer, and mobilize knowledge before it could be used for decision making. Although IT enabled technology supports this process, the success actually depends oil how well the internal cultural environment is being built and change is managed in these organizations. There are four levels of organizational learning.
These are as follows:
1. Level 1 – Learning facts, knowledge, processes and procedure
2. Level 2 – Learning new job skill that are transferable to other situations
3. Level 3 – Learning to adapt
4. Level 4 – Learning to learn
The above model can be applied at not only for organizational learning, but also for catering to the learning of individuals, and that of teams. Organizations achieving learning to the Level 4 is said to master in terms of creativity and innovation.
Learning Organisation – Emergence
The new species of organisations is called a learning organisation, and it possesses the capability to-
1. Anticipate and adapt more readily to environmental impacts.
2. Accelerate the development of new products, processes, and services.
3. Become more proficient at learning from competitors and collaborators
4. Expedite the transfer of knowledge from one part of the organisation to another.
5. Learn more effectively from its mistakes
6. Make greater organisational use of employees at all levels of the organisation.
7. Shorten the time required to implement strategic changes.
8. Stimulate continuous improvement in all areas of the organisation.
A Learning Organization and its people make use of their experience and others to improve their performance. Continuous learning is built into the system and the value of continuous learning is espoused, driven and role-modelled by the top management leadership within the organization.
Further, communication within all the levels of management is open and widespread. People at all levels are included for decision-making process and are recognized for their contribution towards learning and disseminating the acquired knowledge to other employees.
Some of the success stories that have shown the characteristics of a Learning Organizations are General Electric (GE), Johnson & Johnson, Toyota Motors, Southwest Airlines, Intel, Cisco Systems, Tata Steel, Infosys Technologies and many such organizations. What are common to these companies are their founding values, and their desire to create new products and markets, new approaches and greater customer value.
Learning Organisation – 14 Dimensions
There are a number of dimensions of a learning organisation:
1. Learning is accomplished by the organisational system as a whole.
2. Organisational members recognise the importance of on-going organisation wide learning.
3. Learning is a continuous, strategically used process – integrated with and running parallel to work.
4. There is a focus on creativity and generative learning.
5. Systems thinking is fundamental
6. People have continuous access to information and data resources.
7. A corporate climate exists that encourages, rewards, and accelerates individual and group learning
8. Workers network inside and outside the organisation.
9. Change is embraced, and surprises and even failures are viewed as opportunities to learn.
10. It is agile and flexible.
11. Everyone is driven by a desire for quality and continuous improvement.
12. Activities are characterised by aspiration, reflection, and conceptualisation.
13. There are well-developed core competencies that serve as a taking-off point for new products and services.
14. It possesses the ability to continuously adapt, renew, and revitalise itself in response to the changing environment.
Learning Organisation – Important Aspects
1. It increases communication process in the organisation and creates openness so that employees can work freely. It encourages employees to be honest with oneself to a given situation (self-reflection) and pushes the group to clarity and evaluate the assumptions underlying how work gets done within the organisation. (Participatory reflection). It encourages two-way communication.
2. Learning Organisation has its importance in allowing the workers to become adept at questioning things as a normal course of their work. This facilitates the employees to take risks in improving their work. Positive feedback helps them to learn from their enquiries. This, enhances their knowledge and thinking power. They become proactive rather than reactive or have defensive thinking.
3. In the learning process, TIME plays a major role in communicating, reflecting, feedback, adopting flexibility and making enquiries with immediate top officer to get information to discharge the task properly.
4. Mutual respect and support is one of the important aspects of Learning Organisation. Irrespective of the positioning of persons in the hierarchy, every person in hierarchy should respect and support the others in the same level or in any other level. Treating others (co-workers, supervisors, etc.) equally and constantly with one’s ability to constitute positively to the organisation, is an important aspect.
Thus, the importance of learning organisation is recognised in the form of solving the various problems that are encountered and disturb the performance of the tasks. The solutions found out in, normal course to solve these problems will be only short-term in nature (single loop learning) and re-emerge in the future. Learning Organisation as a tool of solving the problems on a long-term basis, looks at the restructuring the organisation making it flatter or a workable one. This provides strength to the organisation to be more competitive and develop a customer responsive culture.
Argyris says that “The objective and purpose of Learning Organisation is to maintain knowledge about new products and processes, understanding what is happening in the outside environment and produce creative solutions using knowledge and skills of all employed within the organisation. The co-operation and trust between individuals and groups is required to do this. Free and reliable communication is also needed. All these needs can be met by the tenets of Learning Organisation”.
Learning Organisation – 5 Disciplines: Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, Mental Models and Team Learning
There are five disciplines of a learning organization. These are- “Systems Thinking”, “Personal Mastery”, “Mental Models”, “Shared Vision”, and “Team Learning”.
The features of each of these disciplines are discuss below:
Disciplines of LO:
1. Systems Thinking:
a. It involves looking at problems and goals as a part of a whole system where problem acts as the input, the learning process gives to the solution of the problem as the output.
b. It acts like a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than, things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snap-shops’.
2. Personal Mastery:
a. It is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
b. Articulating the goals and objectives an individual wants to achieve also involves personal mastery.
3. Shared Vision:
a. A shared vision is a mutual purpose among a group of people with common interests.
b. Shared vision binds people together around a common identity and a sense of destiny.
c. It builds a sense of commitment and facilitates open communication in the organization.
4. Mental Models:
a. These are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence people how they understand the world and enable them to take necessary actions.
b. They act as a tool for reflection and inquiry, to develop awareness of attitudes and perceptions and define the current reality of the organization.
5. Team Learning:
a. It is facilitated through constant dialog and discussion within small groups/work teams.
b. Collective thinking is used to achieve a common objective or mutual learning.
c. Members of a team learn and grow together so as to develop intelligence and competence and leverage the knowledge of the whole together as one.
Learning Organisation – How to Create a Learning Organisation
In order to develop a Learning Organisation, a strong foundation has to be laid by considering the following issues:
1. Creating awareness about Learning Organisation.
2. Creating a flatter and flexible structure.
3. Providing required resources by the management.
4. Employee empowerment.
5. Learning through real-time labs.
1. Creating Awareness:
The first step in developing Learning Organisation is to make the workers in the organisation understanding the usefulness of Learning Organisation. The concept of Learning Organisation should become an accepted thing in each and every employee. Everyone in the organisation should feel the necessity of restructure and change. This will facilitate the top management to adopt changes and create a new environment for development.
2. Creation of Flatter Structure:
The organisation which wishes to change itself into Learning Organisation should be a decentralised, flexible and flatter. Centralised and vertical structures will have many hindering factors to develop the organisation. This leads to organisational politics and disturbs learning process.
Flatter and flexible structures promote strong information systems, wherein, the worker gets the information uninterruptedly. This facilitates learning process much easier. This also encourages innovations amongst workers. Meaningful dialogues between employees take place for better understanding the need for change and work in new direction.
The flatter and flexible structures develop an open organisation, infuses a new philosophy of questioning and discussing the new work practices before they are accepted for adaptation. The discussions at the initial stages will avoid major mistakes that may creep in at a later stage. The concept of anonymity may be introduced to avoid the fear of identification. Only the matter for discussion will come up and who has raised the issue will not be known. Thus, flatter and flexible organisation can be created to develop a learning organisation.
3. Resource Mobilisation:
Resource crunch will be a permanent problem of every business or non-business organisation. To convert the organisation, the management may feel that it requires huge resources. But when we look at the changing process of an organisation towards Learning Organisation, we observe that it is not the resource that becomes a big problem, but the “Dynamic Leadership” that takes the organisation to new heights.
The good leadership can lead the organisation in critical times. Dynamic leaders besides providing required resources, encourage the workers to understand the concept of Learning Organisation. Leaders should develop “Systems Thinking” (Holistic approach) in the organisation. The resources are to be provided on a long-term basis. The money, people and time they provide will determine the quality and quantity of learning. This goes without saying that the leadership or the management should be prepared to develop a learning organisation at any cost for their success.
4. Employee Empowerment:
In a Learning Organisation, both employers and employees work together. The employer, besides creating a learning atmosphere, should involve workers to become responsible for their actions. They should be encouraged to learn and ignore minor mistakes of workers when they occur. This gives a feel of safety in workers and they develop organisational identify. This helps in bringing out more work from each employee and increases overall productivity of the organisation. Therefore, employers should learn as to how to learn together through simulation games and empower employees through equal participation at all levels.
5. Learning through Laboratories:
The learning process can be implemented through specially designed learning laboratories. Small-sized, real-time models have to be evolved and implemented. During learning, failures can be experienced and corrective measures can be adopted immediately to overcome further failures. The implementation of these modules requires open and flexible atmosphere and therefore a congenial learning atmosphere has to be created. Continuous learning labs will make the organisation a Learning Organisation.
After developing firm base through these five issues, the strategies to develop a Learning Organisation have to be evolved.
There are no time-honored and tested strategies that are considered as “Standard” ones to implement a Learning Organisation. However, certain strategies or approaches that are general in nature can be considered.
The first approach may be quite “Accidental.” This means that an organisation might be in the process of implementing Learning Organisation concept without its knowledge. It might have taken it as a reorganising and restructuring process, which in hindsight fit the framework of Learning Organisation. This is an accidental strategy or approach.
The second approach may be that the organisation may not openly declare that they are implementing Learning Organisation concept, but they know that they are into the process of implementing Learning Organisation. This is what is called “Subversive” approach.
The third approach is to openly declare that the organisation is into Learning Organisation process.
Another aspect to be considered in developing a Learning Organisation is as to how people at work places react to the Learning Organisation proposal.
People behaviour or reaction is fully explained by the five features, viz., (i) Systems Thinking, (ii) Team Learning, (iii) Shared Visions, (iv) Mental Models, and (v) Personal Mastery. These five features, particularly the “Systems Thinking” which Peter Singe called “Fifth Discipline” tell us that an organisation should be looked as a system and there should not be isolated approach for development. Every worker should examine and implement an issue considering the impact on the whole organisation. This worker behaviour will solve many problems at the initial stages itself.
Learning Organisation – 16 Steps Taken by Various Organisations in Order to Become Learning Organisations
It is important to remember that one never fully is a learning organisation. Change always continues, as well as learning. Michael J. Marquardt in his book on Building the Learning Organization, A Systems Approach to Quantum Improvement presents the 16 steps taken by various organisations in order to become learning organisations-
1. Commit to becoming a learning organisation.
2. Connect learning with business operations (direct connections between learning and improved business operations makes it easier to persuade people)
3. Assess the organisation’s capability on each subsystem of the systems learning model.
4. Communicate the vision of a learning organisation (the most sophisticated vision is of no use unless it can be clearly understood by others)
5. Recognise the importance of systems thinking and action (a company cannot become a learning organisation by focusing on just one subsystem or on one part of the organisation)
6. Leaders demonstrate and model commitment to learning
7. Transform the organisational culture to one of continuous learning and improvement
8. Establish corporate wide strategies of learning (encourage experimentation, recognise and praise learners, reward learning, spread the word about new learnings, apply the new learnings)
9. Cut bureaucracy and streamline the structure
10. Empower (to possess the necessary freedom, trust, influence, opportunity, recognition, and authority) and enable (to possess the necessary skills, knowledge, values, and ability) employees. Significant resources of time, money, and people are allocated to increase employees’ skills not only in present job but also for future, unforeseen challenges.
11. Extend organisational learning to the entire business chain
12. Capture learning and release knowledge (quickly throughout the organisation)
13. Acquire and apply best of technology to the best of learning.
14. Encourage, expect, and enhance learning at individual, group, and organisation levels
15. Learn more about learning organisations.
16. Continuous adaptation, improvement, and learning.
Learning Organisation – Key Management Processes Contributing to Learning Organizations
1. Strategic and Scenario Planning:
This involves strategic planning that enables the organization to look beyond the numbers, encourage challenging assumptions, and thinking ‘outside of the box’. They even create opportunities for innovation by encouraging experimentation.
2. Competitor Analysis:
This involves an ongoing process of continuous monitoring and analysis of all key success factors and benchmarks in the external environment, including technology and strategic initiatives taken by business competitors.
3. Information and Knowledge Management:
These involve using techniques to identify, audit, value (cost/benefit), develop and exploit information as a resource and using the same for organizational change and development.
4. Capability Planning:
This involves profiling both qualitatively and quantitatively the competencies of the organization.
5. Team and Organization Development:
This involves the use of facilitators to help groups with work, job and organization design and team development – reinforcing values, developing vision, cohesiveness and a climate of stretching goals, sharing and support.
6. Performance Measurement:
Performance management initiatives should emphasize on applying and implementing appropriate measures and indicators of performance that could deliver continuous improvement in organizational performance. Tools like those of ‘balanced scorecard’ could be successfully instrumented to facilitate organizational development and learning.
7. Reward and Recognition Systems:
These involve processes and systems that recognize acquisition of new skills, team-work as well as individual contributions, celebrate successes and accomplishments, and encourage continuous personal development.
Learning Organisation – Disturbing Factors Prevailing in the Organisations
The Learning Organisation emerges due to various disturbing factors prevailing in the organisations.
The disturbing factors generally observed are as follows:
i. Employees are demotivated or not interested in their work.
ii. Employees lack the skill and knowledge to adjust to the new work culture introduced to improve overall productivity of the organisation.
iii. Only few employees have innovative ideas and ready to experiment them which is opposed by co-workers.
iv. Employees implicitly follow orders without understanding the implications.
v. Many employees simply beat about the old things and lack real productive skills.
vi. Workers in the organisation may be isolated and do not have communication between themselves.
vii. If the sectional manager is absent, the employees may not work as per stipulations.
viii. Whenever the problems crop up employees may not try to solve themselves and push it to the manager to solve.
ix. People at work may not address the customer complaints.
When such issues disturb the organisational work, the importance of Learning Organisation emerges. Learning Organisation addresses all these disturbing factors.
Learning Organisation – Benefits: To Workers and Organisations
1. To Workers:
i. Motivates workers to work more.
ii. Workers will be more flexible.
iii. They become more creative and innovative.
iv. Improvement in social interaction.
v. Knowledge sharing between the groups and teams produces new work practices to improve the productivity.
vi. Interdependency increases for better operations.
2. Organisational Benefits:
i. Ingrained traditional practices are broken to better the organisation.
ii. Improvement in customer relations.
iii. Over a time period, organisation pools up expertise and knowledge within Learning Organisation, which will be larger than average and can be used for solving problems at a faster rate.
iv. Workers being innovative and creative Learning Organisations can adapt to changes quickly and effectively in terms of new technology adoption, market improvement and facing competitions.
Learning Organisation – 4 Major Limitations
Within the Learning Organisation, several issues crop up which bring the learning process to a halt. These issues may not necessarily be connected with the aspects involved in learning process. When problems and issues are properly identified, finding solutions to address the issues may be easy and make the organisation a continuous learning one. But it is really very difficult to find real life examples of Learning Organisations to identify the issues that thwart Learning Organisation.
However, certain drawbacks can be identified in an organisation which are not conducive for the growth of Learning Organisations. The limitations listed below may be the genuine factors or limitation of Learning Organisations, which are to be addressed.
In bureaucratic organisations, the policies and programmes flow downwards as per strict dictums of bureaucrats. Bureaucrats by themselves are rigid in their thinking and operations, will not allow any new practice, out of the accepted ingrained norms, to be implemented. Learning Organisation always demands flexibility in operations. Because of these conflicting features, bureaucratic organisations cannot that easily be converted into learning organisation. But the concept of Learning Organisation can make bureaucratic organisation less threatening and more acceptable to participants.
However, individual and collective learning which has undoubtedly taken place has not really been connected to organisational change and transformation. Bureaucrats suggest to do with the concept of Learning Organisation. But it is not an acceptable aspect as the entire world is hoping to have a new working environment with flexibility and aspiring for change management.
2. Focus mainly on the cultural aspect:
Learning Organisation’s another issue that is subjected to discussion is that Learning Organisation considers mainly the change in organisational culture and gives less importance to other aspects of the organisation. But the argument is that in order to have a full-fledged Learning Organisation, besides the cultural change, the organisation should also consider the change in structure as and when it is required. But it is not so as per the norms of Learning Organisation. Training is the only considered tool for learning, which is made Learning Organisation purely cultural biased. This shortcoming has to be addressed.
Acceptable models have to develop and made popular for organisational learning at all levels so that these models not only link individual and collective learning processes, but also connect to strategic objectives. The organisation learning models should help to understand whether the organisations have become a real learning organisation. It also becomes possible to access the extent to which such learning contributes or not towards strategic objectives.
The ‘true management system’ here refers to committed management which can implement all changed learning concepts. The individual and collective indicators of learning have to be developed which can be used as standard indicators to assess the performance of learning organisation.
Besides these noticeable limitations, there are several problems which go unnoticed and really disturb the adoption of Learning Organisation concept in an organisation. One real aspect which greatly contribute for the development of Learning Organisation is “Zeal and initiative” of employees vis-a-vis management to make the organisation a learning one.
Ever since the concept of Learning Organisation was conceived in 1990, much water has flown in this direction to find out and add various dimensions. The concept of Learning Organisation, today, provides managers and others with a picture of how things could be within an organisation.
Peter Singe’s work is an elaborate one on this subject and exhibits many dimensions of Learning Organisation which enhance the organisational effectiveness, especially where the enterprise is firmly rooted in the “knowledge economy.” But limitations are also existing. Some of the dimensions may not suit to the globalised capitalist economy.
Many other writers since 1990 also have said that there are other issues, if addressed or implemented can make the organisations very strong. These writers think beyond Learning Organisation “The Developing Organisation”. The ever- changing organisation” and the workbooks produced by Peter Senge in 1994, 1999 and 2000 have all given new concepts of Learning Organisation. The latest concept being the “Social Capital” which focuses much on “mutual trust” in the organisation to achieve organisational effectiveness.
“Social Capital” is understood as “The stock of active connections among people; the trust, mutual understanding, shared values and behaviours that bind the members of human networks and communities and make co-operative action possible”
Thus, “Learning Organisation” concept though focuses on organisational effectiveness has barriers to learning both organisational and individual. These barriers have to be overcome to make the organisation a learning organisation. The concept simply says “Unlearn the unwanted practices which hinder the growth of the organisation and learn new practices which make the organisation effective one”.
The concept of Learning Organisation has emerged to cover up the drawbacks in the existing business practices, viz., traditional approach of organisational development, to meet. The demands of economic shifts to globalisation, and to adopt information based business practices. Although many benefits are derived from Learning Organisation, problems in implementing the aspects of Learning Organisation are very many. Top management has to respond positively to a drastic change in organisational business practices.
Huge money is involved in implementing the new and innovative practices. But still the results are indefinite. People at work may not be active always. Sharing of knowledge may not take place as expected. Every worker may not have positive approach towards various activities. These aspects hinder the growth of Learning Organisation.