Build a Learning Organization

Monday, January 16 2012

Contemporary society changes so rapidly that building and maintaining a learning organization is essential to success. In her Focus article, Caroline Rowan quotes Peter Senge’s description of learning organizations, “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire…”

Everyone in an organization should be learning. To build this culture start by considering each key group, from front-line workers to senior managers, in your organization and ask what is most important for them to learn. Build processes that ensure that what each group has learned can be shared. Toyota, which is recognized as one of the best organizations in the world, spends five times as much time detailing work methods and transferring knowledge to workers than its competitors.

How can you support learning in your organization?

•    Seminars are a beginning; but learning suffers when provided out of context. Seminars usually emphasize what people should do, and say little about how. Asking participants for a brief, written report about what they have learned and how to apply it in their workplace helps consolidate their new knowledge.

•    Programs that take place in the workplace and unfold over time provide learning in the job context. People can interact with concepts and apply skills to their jobs quickly between sessions. They can make real decisions for their actual organizational roles and report results at the next meeting, which enables coaching.

•    Create an expectation of learning from and at work. This is the true sign of a learning organization. Have every person measure performance in key tasks and make the results and methods open to all. Such transparency encourages learning. Successes and methods are shared with others. When individuals fall short, the focus can be on assisting the person to identify system failures, correct them and find a better way.

•    Consolidate the learning. Often, we do our work, encounter problems or achieve successes without seeing what can be learned in the process. By taking the opportunity to reflect about and document what has been done and what’s been learned, valuable experience and knowledge can be transferred to others. Another strategy to consolidate learning is to teach others. This not only spreads the learning, but also ensures the teacher gains a deeper understanding of the subject.

In today’s dynamic and competitive environment one way to stand out ahead of the others is to build and maintain a learning organization.