Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Digital Master Tuning #103: A Learning Organization

Learning organizations are comfortable with complexity, ambiguity, paradoxes and they have a penchant for candor.

A learning organization is one in which the majority of the employees at all levels are open to new ideas, experimentation with new ways of doing things, learning from instead of condemning or punishing mistakes, errors and, perhaps most importantly, where knowledge is shared instead of hoarded, thus, expanding power instead of confining it. What Systems Thinking models are called up when organizations "learn"? Can you recognize the interconnectivity between employee learning and organizational learning? What are the characteristics of a learning organization? And does "Learning" trait differentiate Digital Masters from the digital laggards?

There is a distinction between employee learning and organizational learning. While they should complement each other, organizational learning relates to changed learning in an organizational system. That's how organizations, as opposed to its employees' learning. Employee learning does not translate automatically into organizational systems learning. It may appear so though since it feels that if humans in an organization learn, the organization will certainly learn. This seems more like a necessary but not sufficient condition. That is, separately improving employee capability does not equate to improving organizational system performance. But one employee who learns can indeed, influence the organization if the processes and structures are established for that learning to be assimilated into the organization. Organizations are learning through individuals and teams because organizations and their teams are made up by human beings.

Learning organizations are comfortable with complexity, ambiguity, paradoxes and they have a penchant for candor. High organizational learning relates to high response in recognizing and addressing system constraints. Unless constraints are addressed, a range of employees’ frustrations, risks, stress, and poor organizational performance examples can increase. This means, in turn, understanding levels or approaches at which organizational systems operate, and recognizing how and why they should change, and how they learn. In turn, this can influence employee and group learning and development. Thus, for a learning organization, it is not enough to survive only, but for thriving. "survival learning” or what is more often termed “adaptive learning” is important – indeed, it is necessary. But for a learning organization, “adaptive learning” must be joined by “generative learning,” learning that enhances our 'capacity to create.’

To understand a learning organization involves an understanding and application of what is variously referred to as learning loops (Levels of perception, Levels of perspective; Levels of Understanding.) As employees operate within organizational systems (HR performance management systems; production and service systems; ITIL framework; Corporate performance management systems, etc.), the business value systems (culture, beliefs, meaning, paradigms) influence how constraints are managed. These constraints are socio-technical. That is what they consider constraints that affect both employee perceptions (fair treatment), and technical constraints ( processes).

Developing people capability and systems capability raise different "learning" issues: Preferably both attended to in an integrated manner, as organizations are socio-technical. Learning organizations never arrive. Their evolution is not dependent on the availability of budgets! They thrive on structures in a very unstructured manner. Organizational learning is enabling employees to constantly learn so that the organization does not only 'earn enough from today,' but 'thrive in the future.' It, therefore, means to ensure that the organization knows the tasks and knowledge required to 'sustain' itself and create an environment and systems to support those tasks being done by employees. As the tasks are done by frontline employees will be different than managerial employees and 'back end' and 'research' employees, employee learning is different for the different set of employees. And because 'the whole is more than the sum of the parts,' it also involves those tasks 'which enable the transfer of learning from the backend to frontend employees and vice versa.'

The dimension that distinguishes learning organizations from more traditional organizations is the mastery of certain basic disciplines or ‘component technologies.’ The five disciplines that Peter Senge identifies are personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking, which are all essential to innovate learning organizations. All the disciplines are, in this way, ‘concerned with a shift of mind from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactive actors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future. Added to this is the recognition that people are agents, able to act upon the structures and systems of which they are part. As an individual in an organization, learning in the framework of the five disciplines is an idealized setting where the journey begins always from a sense of personal destiny and goes on through teams to be able to align with the organization's ultimate vision. Organizations are socio-technical so organizational learning models should be socio-technical in nature, description, and in modeling.

Building a learning organization is not and can not be a goal or a vision. It is at best a collection of attributes which one would like to see depending on the "WORLDVIEW" about what a learning Organization can be or could be. One may even create a set of characteristics that would be seen as generalized patterns. Any organization exists not to learn but to discharge its mandate whatever it is. As Drucker well pointed out, the purpose of business is to create a customer. In doing so, it may evolve and that evolution may apparently be termed as learning. It's learning because it improves the productivity of an organization, and it makes them get better in terms of innovation, effectiveness, efficiency, and many other attributes of the business and product design. It is a characteristic of a digital organization.

Digitalization is like a flywheel, and Digital Masters are the one riding above it. Surf more Information about Digital Master:


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