Learning organization can be defined as an organization which proactively makes efforts both in the form of investment and encouragement to educate their employees so that the company can adapt with the rapidly changing technology and business environment.
In addition to education, a learning organization gives support to its employees to take risks with innovative and creative ideas. In this way, they inculcate creative thinking and learning from experience and experiment in its employees.
What is a learning organization?
A learning organization is an organization of modern times. In the present times, technology and method of business and operations are changing so fast that it is possible that the method opted by a company becomes obsolete fast before it realizes and it makes difficult for the company to survive in such environment.
Therefore, nowadays, more and more organizations are becoming learning organization’s to stay ahead in the competition.
The simplest concept behind a learning organization is that new ideas and new skills are necessary for learning. New ideas born by risk-taking and creative thinking or sometimes can be obtained from the outside of the organization such as from knowledge experts.
However, a true learning organization is that which improves the way it’s working style by adopting new ideas and knowledge.
Even though it seems so simple to convert an organization into a learning organization, but it is not that simple as there have been many unsuccessful examples of organizations which tried to become a learning organization.
Because despite acquiring new knowledge, they were failed in implementing that knowledge to their day-to-day activities. However, there are examples of a few organizations such as Honda and Corning, which have successfully implemented new knowledge acquired into their methods of operations.
Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines of the learning organization
The concept of big learning organization become popular when Peter M. Senge wrote about the concept in his book “The Fifth Discipline” in 1990. Peter M. Senge defines the concept of a learning organization as an effort of a group of people to learns and to improve their capabilities to create that they want to create.
He has mentioned the characteristics of a learning organization in the form of “five disciplines of a learning organization.”
#1. Shared Vision
A shared vision is an important characteristic of a learning organization as it provides a common goal to the members of the organization. As a result, they feel motivated to learn to achieve a common goal.
The vision for the organization must be built by the interaction with the employees, not the organization.
A shared vision is essential for a learning organization as it provides focus and energy to the employees for learning. In a non-learning organization, the vision of the leader is forced on the employees, and they are asked to work to realize that vision.
In such scenarios, employees don’t feel motivated to put efforts. However, when vision is built by interacting with employees and by compromising an individual’s vision and the organization’ vision is referred to as shared vision and the benefit behind choosing the shared vision is that the employees will feel that their thoughts have been given values and they are working for something that they want to do rather than what they were told to do.
Therefore, implementing the practices of shared vision creates an environment where people trust one another and collaborate their ideas to fulfill the goals of the organization.
Employees take more interest in the work that they are doing and also share their knowledge and experience in enhancing the learning of the organization.
#2. System Thinking
System thinking is a base concept of the learning organization. It’s mean that business managers should not Analysis a problem individually as a business is made of many small objects. That means all the decision taken by the organization and their consequences are correlated to one another.
A learning organization adopts this method of thinking while assessing the performance of the company and rather than focusing on the mistake made by one employee focuses on the actions of the whole team.
According to system thinking it is important an organization to have all these characteristics to become a learning organization and if in case any of the characteristics is missing the company will fail in realizing it’s true goal.
However, as mentioned by O’Keeffe, these characteristics can be acquired over time by making continuous efforts and can be developed simultaneously.
#3. Team learning
The concept of a learning organization can only become successful if a company focuses on the learning of the whole team rather than the learning of an individual. However, team learning is constituted by the accumulation of individual learning.
Learning organization adopted strategies such as openness and boundary-crossing, which encourages team learning and when a team performs better when they learn together.
Team learning also creates a positive work environment where people listening to one another carefully and also present their views and can openly talk about their disagreement about the ideas of one another.
There are many benefits of team learning such as the understanding among the team members improves, members, become insightful about the complex issues, together they can make innovative actions, and coordinate their actions to achieve goals.
With the help of team learning, even the smallest information about the project can be shared with members of the team. In such an environment, the creativity of the whole team is used for the project at hand. However, there are requirements which should be fulfilled for successful team learning.
Followings are the requirements for team learning:
- Team learning requires Emily to participate in the discussion and present their views without hesitation.
- An effective team learning requires knowledge management structure so that knowledge acquired can be used properly.
- Team learning requires discipline and routine otherwise poor knowledge management structure might result in wastage of time and energy, not team members.
- An open environment for employees to present their views honestly.
The fourth discipline of Peter Senge’s five disciplines of a learning organization is Personal Mastery. The meaning of personal Mastery is when an individual puts his 100% to Learning related to the project.
An employee put efforts to learn so that he can bridge the gap between his knowledge and skills and the knowledge and skills required for the task at hand.
An organization is always a competitive edge of its employees learn fast and willingly than the employees, not other organizations and employees not only acquire information but they also learn how to implement this information to get better results.
An organization can organize staff training, self-improvement programs, or training for the latest technology, but it will only be useful if an individual is ready to learn. It has been seen that people learn more when they take an interest in the work they do rather than by participating in formal training.
Personal Mastery is much more than just learning. It is clarity for personal vision, personal drawbacks, and interpreting reality clearly.
Therefore, rather than providing training for a month or a week to employees to help them learn an organization should create an environment where learning becomes an essential part of day-to-day activities of the organization.
According to Peter, we should not only provide technical knowledge but should train the subconscious of an individual because if a person gels powerful, they can perform even what they don’t expect to form themselves.
Personal Mastery has many positive results, such as commitment, sense of responsibility, patience, self-motivation, and focus. Therefore, personal Mastery should be encouraged in the employees.
#5. Mental Models
The last discipline of Peter Senge’s five disciplines is a mental model. A mental model can be defined as what employees think about the organization and its goals.
A mental model is the ability of the brain of an individual to perceive the world and its assumptions about the system. What people think and assume is known as their mental model.
It is necessary to set the mental model of the employees of an organization according to the norms and values of the organization. Discard obsolete and unnecessary values in order to unlearn. Work on current business practices and integrate new skills at the workplace.
Here is a video by Marketing91 on Learning Organization.
Benefits of a learning organization
A learning organization has many benefits. Let us learn about them one by one.
#1. Competitive Edge:
A learning organization has a competitive edge over other similar companies. In a learning organization, there is a continuous flow of new knowledge and talent. A learning organization makes the use of this new obtained knowledge and skills to beat their competitors.
#2. Improved decision-making:
Decision-making is part and parcel of every organization. People are required to make decisions on a daily basis. In a learning organization, there is a better flow of information and rather than blindly following the decision made by the higher authorities all employees of the organization participate in the decision-making process and don’t hesitate to present their own point of view.
As a result of this, the decision-making of the organization become effective because the decision is not taken on the basis of the expertise of one person but using the experience and knowledge of many people.
#3. Improved Efficiency:
In a learning organization, employees are encouraged to learn and use their knowledge for innovation, and there is no restriction on the flow of the information.
The knowledge and skills of employees are improved on a daily basis. As a result of this, the work efficiency of the organization improves, and it makes more profits.
#4. Knowledge sharing in the organization:
As I have mentioned, in a learning organization, employees are encouraged to use their new knowledge and skills in the work in their hand and sharing knowledge with other employees to get better results.
#5. Improved use of resources:
A learning organization makes the best use of resources available to fulfill the needs of customers. Having knowledge of new technologies, they can constantly improve their customer service, which helps them to retain customers for a longer period of time and also satisfy their needs better than other organizations.
#6. Better corporate image:
When an organization consistently improve their service and provide products of the best quality, the corporate image of the company automatically improves. With the improved corporate image, the organization not only get more business, but it also attracts investors and business partners.
In addition to this, your organization also attract new talent which will help your organization grow.
#7. Encourages teamwork:
In a learning organization, all employees have an equal right to provide their views and share their ideas without hesitation. Managers in an organization make employees work as a team rather than giving orders to them.
Such behavior raises the sense of community in the organization and employees of the organization work towards a mutual goal by helping one another rather than playing politics in the organization and the productivity of employees improves because of the positive environment in the organization.
#8. Fast change adaption:
In the present competitive world, change is inevitable, and change happens way to fast. If an organization is not a learning organization and is not working to gain new knowledge and skills than it is always going to stay behind in the competition.
But if an organization is consistently improving and gaining new knowledge than it will not find difficult to adapt to change and stay ahead in the competition.
Challenges to become a learning organization
Even though the concept of learning organization looks quite lucrative but it is not free of challenge. Turning a traditional organization into a learning organization is not an easy task and followings are the challenges that an organization might face when trying to become a learning organization.
#1. Not all employees are honest:
Some employees will take advantage of the freedom given to them and feed on the talent of other employees.
#2. Difficult to give credit:
In a learning organization, a decision is made with mutual communication and when this happens, it becomes difficult to give credit to one employee.
#3. Lack of respect for senior:
when employees at all levels work together and take a decision after discussing with each other. People at lower rank happens to cross their line and sometimes become disrespectful to their seniors.
#4. More arguments and lower productivity:
More people come with more ideas and it becomes difficult to convince everyone to get agreed with one idea. As a result of which people start arguing with one another and rather than quick decision making it takes a longer time to take even simple decision.
All of this affects the real productivity of the organization.
#5. Employees waste time when the boss is not around:
Employees who are accustomed to working in a traditional organization take advantage of liberty given to them and they don’t work when there is nobody around to supervise them.
#6. People run out of new ideas:
Creativity is not a regular process. Sometimes an employee will come up with 2-3 innovative ideas in a day and sometimes he can’t even think of one good idea for months. This can impact the work of the organization.
In such scenarios, some employees prefer a traditional environment where they are only supposed to follow the order given to them and not having the constant pressure of coming up with innovative idea regularly.
What is required to develop a learning organization?
An organization is not a learning organization when it develops organically. Therefore, major changes are required to make to turn an organization into a learning organization. Learning organization can be developed with the efforts of the leaders of the organization.
As they hold the power to lead their employees and with their involvement, it would be easy to make an organization a learning organization. In this section, you will learn about the steps that you should follow in order to create a learning environment in the organization.
#1. Make training and development programs formal:
In many organizations, the training is considered by employees as a mini vacation. They don’t give much importance to the things taught to them during the training because of the lack of the formal status of the training program.
If you want to make your organization a learning organization then, first of all, make all the training programs mandatory for all the employees of the organization and there should be an evaluation system to evaluate the knowledge of the employees who have taken the training.
In addition to the internal training program, deserved and willing employees should be encouraged to take courses to learn about the new and latest technology which can be used for the development of the organization.
#2. Give recognition when an employee learns a new skill:
Being a leader, it is your responsibility to keep your team up to date on their skills. Because the success of your organization depends on the skills of your employees. Therefore, an organization whose employees have good learning capacity stays one step ahead from their competitors.
Leaders not only should encourage the employees to learn new skills but also give recognition to them when they do the same. This will not only boost the confidence of the employees but will also give encouragement to other employees of the organization.
It will be beneficial for your organization if More employees will learn new skills. Therefore, never forget to give proper recognition to employees who learn a new skill.
#3. Get feedback from employees:
Your employees are the true judges whether training sessions were helpful for them or not and how much the training provided to employees helped them to improve their skills and what courses they want to to be included in the training program of the organization.
#4. Motivate them to learn:
Competition is the best motivation to encourage employees to enhance their skills. When there is a new position opening in your organization announce it in the organization and tell them what skills and knowledge are required for employees to be at that position.
This will encourage your employees to learn fast. By doing this you will not only save your expenses on recruitment of new person outside of the organization but you will also ingrain the idea of “learning will bring promotion” in your employees.
It will be a win-win situation for you and also your employees.
#5. Finance external training:
Technology changes rapidly and it will be both difficult and expensive for your organization to include develop training program every time a new technology comes in the market. Moreover, not all employees have equal learning capacity and will to learn new skills.
Therefore, rather than organizing a training program let your desired employees take a course on a relevant technology from outside and finance their expenses. This will not only bring new skills in your organization but it will also save extra expenditure on a full-fledged training program.