Learning Organisations

Businesses continue struggling with the growing competition by introducing improvements into every aspect of their business. They strive to make themselves learning organisations by bringing fundamental changes but rarely achieving the desired results. Have we as Leaders, identified the factors that produce sustained transformational changes? While some of us have embraced the language of intrinsic motivation, we forget to see how firmly mired we are in the old extrinsic world.

Management gurus like Peter Senge have questioned   how an organisation can improve without first learning something new. He says all new business processes require seeing the world from a new light and acting accordingly. In the absence of learning, companies and individuals simply repeat old practices, he says. Changes remain cosmetic and improvements are either fortuitous or short lived.

As leaders we have all unknowingly joined the learning organisations fad. Similarly many other scholars are said to have joined the bandwagon beating the drum for learning organisations and knowledge creating companies. But what exact attributes characterise learning organisations?

According to Senge learning organisations are working places where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire. If such new and expensive patterns of thinking are nurtured, there is collective aspirations to be set free and being allowed to continually learn how to learn together. Yes, to continually learn how to learn together! Such organisations should be skilled to create, acquire and transforming knowledge while modifying behaviour to reflect the new knowledge and insights. Senge suggested the use of five component technologies that enable learning in organisations namely: personal mastery, systems thinking, shared vision, mental models and team learning.

Evidence to date shows that so far most organisations have only worked on implementing the potentials for improvement but without the accompanying changes that embrace learning in the work . In essence, organisations are being effective at creating new ideas and knowledge but less successful in applying the knowledge to their activities. Where as leaders we have used metaphors like organisational redundancy to focus thinking and encouraging dialogue we have remained implementing the potentials only and these on their own have not provide the needed framework for action. The trend in the so called learning organisations has been that of only invoking abstract recommendations.

As leadership, we are being called to become adept and translate the new knowledge into new ways of behaving. Remarkably, learning processes occur by design and not by chance. What makes organisations learning entities is inventing the new knowledge and those specialised activities that shape the way of behaving, making everyone a knowledge worker. Learning organisations need to develop plausible well grounded action plans to enable the learning. As an example introducing learning agents will be a critical strategy. Such learning champions should be empowered to collect and share new learning information periodically leveraging the needed learning and turning events into patterns of behaviour. Continual involvement of key decision makers in the learning project and stringing together the events  will sustain the change.

Clear guidelines filled with operational advice as the means to measure own organisational performance rate and level of learning is a requirement. Some of the measures include distinctive policies and practices responsible for measuring success, development of  systems that capture and share learning as well as empowering people towards a collective vision. The entire organisation should undergo through a how to learn program.

Learning organisations have come to the realisation that the way they have done training in the past will not be the way to mould behaviour for the future. Actively monitored learning and development has come in handy as the strategic imperative for learning organisations.

Ikujiro Nonoka, the Japanese organisational theorist best known for Knowledge Management  says once the above had been addressed, managers now have a firmer foundation for launching learning organisations.

World over the use of the model, “Know me, Entice me, Connect me and Improve me” had been adopted as well. Under this model, parties to the learning process basically bring to the fore those other must dos that enable learning to take place. The know me component wants every learner to be treated as an individual, giving them personalised opportunities to learn using their preferred learning patterns. Entice me- the learner has to be connected to the tools, technological processes and certain people for them to do their job. These can also mean new resources.

Improve me- as was rightfully put by Senge, an organisation cannot improve without first learning something new. There is need for new ideas which will act as triggers for organisational improvement. There is need to work on the learner’s skills, experience and education as well as providing with clears performance targets and guidelines. Reward me- all people want to be rewarded for their contribution. It can be an agreed form of recognition but for learning to be continuous it requires that recognition and appreciation.

In conclusion the role of middle management in establishing learning organisations is critical. These have been known to be close to the action and given enough room can drive the overall strategy to stay on the cutting edge.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com