Does Your Company Have the 3 Components of a Learning Organization?
3 minutes, 33 seconds read
Continuous improvement demands exploring and applying new ideas. So if your organization is truly ready to make improvements, it’s important to foster a learning organization.
But what exactly is a learning organization? Let’s break this down using a definition laid out by former Harvard Business School professor David Garvin in his article Building a Learning Organization: “A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”
A closer look at these components can help your company achieve the right environment for improvement.
Skill at creating or acquiring knowledge
The foundation of a learning organization is the spark of a new idea or the flow of ideas from sources outside your organization. Of course, finding new ideas takes time. To foster this learning step, it’s important that organizations make time to learn. Applying the following four steps can ensure learning remains a priority.
1. Systematic problem-solving.
A problem-solving mindset demands that employees pay close attention to detail. It encourages workers to consistently push beyond accepted processes to understand underlying causes. Push your employees to ask “why?” rather than accepting “it’s just the way it’s done.” Tools such as PDCA and statistical tools that help organize data and draw conclusions are essential here.
Testing new knowledge as the opportunity arises can push organizations to achieve more than the accepted status quo. There are two common types of experimentation: ongoing programs aimed at incremental knowledge gains (think continuous improvement programs) and large-scale demonstration projects aimed at making sweeping organizational changes. Garvin points out that experimentation moves people to deeper understanding; it pushes past how things are done to why. By examining cause and effect relationships, employees can begin to predict other areas that need improvement.
3. Learning from past experiences.
You know that those “who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Yet too often companies focus only on successes. Instead, put processes in place to learn from “productive failures.” If you can’t point to lessons learned, then it’s time to establish a review process. This can help managers cultivate a mindset that values productive failures over unproductive successes.
4. Learning from others.
Sometimes you have to look outside of what you know to find a better way of doing things. Take, for example, the construction industry. About 15 years ago construction innovators began applying building information modeling software, then used in the aerospace industry to drive greater production efficiencies, to more efficiently build buildings. Today BIM is becoming standard operating procedure on construction of large buildings and driving adoption of new project delivery models. However, other industries don’t hold the only clue to innovation. Your customers also provide valuable outside perspective. Encourage customer feedback, or watch your end-users in action to see where they struggle.
2. Transferring knowledge
Garvin pushes organization take learning further to truly become a learning organization. For true learning to occur, knowledge must spread throughout a company. There are a number of ways you’re likely already spreading knowledge: reports, onsite training programs, site visits, etc. Keep in mind, however, that hands-on experience can be an effective teacher. If you’re looking to better spread knowledge, consider a personnel rotation program to allow staff to try a new strategy in action.
Do you have an especially knowledgeable front-line tech? Consider transferring them to other departments so their colleagues can see them in action, ask questions, and learn from that direct experience.
3. Modifying behavior to reflect new knowledge
One can argue that true learning doesn’t take place until it moves beyond theory to application. If you’re not applying new ideas, then what was the point of the learning process, after all? To capture the benefits of learning, make sure your organization has an implementation plan in place for new ideas. Provide clear guidelines for processes, and operational, over aspirational, advice. Finally, by empowering your entire workforce to drive these learning-based transformations your learning organization can begin to harness the long-term benefits of innovation.
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