Framing the Learning Organization
Continuous quality improvement programs are a dime a dozen. It makes sense for companies to have a continuous improvement system in place, yet good programs are in the minority and, ultimately, most do more harm than good. How can companies better themselves when failed programs far outnumber successes?
Most performance improvement programs bomb because companies fail to grasp a fundamental truth: before companies can improve, their people must first be able to learn.
For a company to authentically become a learning organization, it must get past grand rhetoric and center its function on three core organizational precepts:
There is a need for a well-grounded, easy-to-apply definition of what a learning organization is. Peter Senge defined them as “…organizations 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.” (Senge, P. 1990)
There must be clear operational descriptions and guidelines for all of its function(s)/performance(s). Purpose, objective, policies and procedures, protocols, service standards, algorithmic “performance pathways”, and accrediting and industry or government licensing standards are all part of this enabling organizational framework.
There must be appropriate, effective, easy to use tools, available to all, for measuring the organization’s rate and level of learning. And this information must be complete, readily available to all equally, and transparent.
Using the three precepts above as a prism, a Learning Organization would be an enterprise skilled in 5 main activities:
- Systematic Problem-Solving
- Experimentation with New Approaches
- Learning from Past Experience
- Learning from the Best Practices of Others
- Transferring Knowledge Quickly and Efficiently Throughout the Organization
Starting a Learning Organization requires an upfront, honest Learning Audit as it is impossible to improve an enterprise you cannot measure. This audit is a comprehensive evaluation, beginning with the “start point” evaluation, and continues to measure cognitive changes, behavioral changes, and tangible improvements in results over time.
No successful Learning Organization has been built overnight. Success accumulates slowly, steadily over time, and materializes from carefully cultivated attitudes, commitments and management processes which are consistently/transparently cultivated and provided over time.
The very first step to becoming a Learning Organization is to foster an environment conducive to learning.
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Peter Senge. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Page 3
D. Gavin. 1993. Building a Learning Organization. Harvard Business Review.
Harvard Business School Press. 1998. On Knowledge Management. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation (Boston: USA)
Author Perspective: Administrator