Learning Organizations and Effectiveness – Part I

Published May 15, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Introduction

The world has become more interconnected and, as a result, conducting business is more complicated.  Individuals are constantly discovering how to work together in a world business community to survive and are committed to higher levels of excellence in doing so (Galsworth, 2005). As a result, companies are transiting into learning organizations for sustainability. Organizational leaders, therefore, are creating an environment that embraces group learning practices. In other words, company leaders are discovering new ways to inspire commitment and the capacity to learn from personnel at all levels in order to excel.  The issues we  examine in this research, look at the methodologies that organizations incorporate to achieve higher levels of success by fostering a culture that facilitates the learning process. We analyze how cultivating a climate of trust can support an environment that consists of decentralized decision making, and how integrating people, systems, and technology are utilized to achieve those goals. We will also identify characteristics of ideal learning organizations, observable behaviors, barriers that prevent goal achievements, and scrutinize various strategies that are incorporated to help overcome these barriers.  Our research concludes that when it comes to what makes an organization successful, applying efficient systems to encourage the learning process is a key component that allows an organization to flourish.

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Characteristics

Learning organizations are experts at producing, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge specifically focused on the modification of behavior to reflect the new knowledge. One characteristic that organizations adopt as part of the learning paradigm is social learning. Social learning occurs where people receive knowledge from others, with others. It transpires inherently wherever individuals gather – at town meetings for example – and between colleagues having lunch, just as easily as it happens in a school situation. In addition, social learning appears in the workplace when we pose a query or text message a friend with the same inquiry. Social media tools also allow learning to take place unconstrained by distance or time boundaries. Most of the knowledge acquired in today’s organizations, in fact, comes from engaging in networks where people collaborate, co-create, and process information with full participation. Successful corporate leaders encourage group networking to help acquire further knowledge and experience. Social learning, for example, is easily observed in new hires. When an individual is initially engaged in a new occupation, they seek knowledge from discerning the performance of others and modeling their behavior, or by asking another employee for assistance. In the meantime, training still serves as a valuable tool in the learning process because it provides individuals solutions to challenges that have already been mastered by others (Bingham & Conner, 2010). A new hire employee in the fast food industry, for example, during the initial training period may constantly resort to others for guidance in remembering various elements like product prices, contents for special meal packages, and other applicable systems of operation.

Another significant characteristic of learning organizations are the educational tools they implement.  Wick et al. (2010) purport that corporate training and development programs can and should provide strategic significance to the learning process. Leaders must support training programs because of the benefits, rewards, and improvement in workplace performances. The most effective executives comprehend that each individual’s learning experience, however, is shaped by a variety of components including: (a) his or her expectations, (b) aptitude and emotional experience, (c) prior experiences, (d) learning style, and (e) attitude. Therefore, the success of acquiring new skills and training programs rely on the design, facilitation, and absorption of the program (Wick, Pollock, & Jefferson, 2010). Effective training programs, therefore, should include follow-ups, assessments, and continual re-evaluation to keep skills honed and the creative energy stimulated to maintain a cohesive organization.

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Observable Behaviors

Baack (2012) explains that artifacts are one example of an organization’s observable behavior. They are observed by the overtly stated values and norms that identify organizational behavior (Baack, 2012). Artifacts, for instance, can transmit nonverbal messages in a non-linguistic manner. An organization’s culture, on the other hand, is determined by other behavior and observable artifacts.  They are represented in the physical signs of an organization’s dominant culture like the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood or the Pentagon building in Washington. The logo like McDonald’s golden arches, can become synonymous with quality service as a trustworthy organization.

Schein (2010) discusses the behavior and connection between leadership and culture as a significant factor in both an organization’s macro- and micro-cultures. His research is focused on another kind of observable behavior: the influence superiors have on subordinates.  He contends those who are resistant to change do not experience organizational longevity (Schein, 2010). In the fast food industry, employees were encouraged, for instance, to operate by adopting a modeled behavior which included identical uniformed attire, as well as the manner in which food items were prepared and delivered to consumers.

Another significant behavior learning organizations foster is a climate of trust. This type of conduct encourages openness, integrates people, implements fair communication systems, and utilizes technology efficiently. In this climate, organizations can address larger issues collectively for more effective outcomes (Blevins, 2001). For a theatrical stage manager, for example, the key component is making sure the technical aspects of a show run smoothly, like actors called on time and in place for their performance, that the prop crews run efficiently, and lighting cues are properly administered. Trust and open communication are the elements that can make or break a significant theatrical experience.  In these kinds of learning arenas, building stronger relationships enhances the creative process significantly.

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Behavioral Results

Most experts agree that the ability to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace and recognizing opportunities gives organizations an important competitive advantage. Hanley (2003) asserts that knowledge management is essential for an organization as a method to monitor behavioral results. Behavioral results from effective knowledge management systems include: (a) the reduction of cycle time, (b) the improvement of quality, (c) lowered costs, (d) increased organizational learning, and (e) improved core competencies (Haney, 2003). Learning organizations that effectively integrate technology, people, and systems, produce a cohesive union experience with extraordinary results. Knowledge management is important to the success of an organization because acquiring and processing information increases situational understanding, helps identify systems, analyzes relationships, and enables higher quality decision making.

Efficacious leaders and management teams actively look for information and programs to increase situational understanding which results in behavior that incorporates the use of technology, organizational systems, and socialization. These elements foster higher performances in decision making that can affect the development and productivity which produces value by generating new intellectual property (Ward, 2006). An entertainment production company for example, utilizes information and technology for the production of high quality intellectual property in the form of audio and video files that are distributed to various social media outlets. Organizations that do not apply knowledge management strategies can hinder an organization’s development and productivity.

Barriers to Characteristics

Now that businesses and economies have become global, performance and consumer demands are unyielding. The period essential to reflect, assess, and identify barriers is inadequate. Financial capital emerges at the sacrifice of social and natural capital.  Senge’s (2006) research identifies that one significant barrier organizations encounter is suppressed growth. This comes from their inability to embrace an environment that nurtures the learning process (Senge, 2006). Organizational cultures where individuals learn together expand their capacity to create desired outcomes. In addition, an organization’s failure to evaluate and make adjustments to rapid growth and expansion can cause a company bankruptcy or, in extreme cases, place the public in danger. Where innovative and expansive patterns of reasoning are nurtured, companies tend to experience more success.

At a former place of employment, for example, one of the partners displayed poor leadership skills. Long hours and little compensation began to create stress and discontent among the staff. The partner did not possess highly developed leadership techniques and was therefore unable to motivate staff members. The deficient leader was unable to identify and comprehend the barriers he created by displaying immature, temperamental, out-of-control behavior. This ineffective behavior did not serve to motivate the crew. His actions revealed inadequate leadership from the lack of respect he showed towards his subordinates. His behavior communicated that he did not value his staff. He was incapable of piecing together that workers, who are offered little compensation, rarely receive compliments or support, and are exposed to continual reprimanding, are not inspired or inclined to give their best performance. This unproductive environment was nurtured from poor behavior and feedback from a leader who rather than show appreciation and gratitude for their services, used means of intimidation and fear as his M.O. These kinds of conditions constrict the learning experience and foster low morale in personnel. Needless to say, this leader’s methods were ineffective.  They only served to create more barriers and, as a result, he was never able to achieve the level of success he envisioned.

This concludes the end of part I. Part II will be released this Friday. Stay tuned …

References:

Baack, D. (2012). Organizational behavior. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Bingham, T., & Conner, M. (2010). The new social learning: a guide to transforming organizations through social media. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Blevins, R. (2001). A study of association between organizational trust and decision-making, communications, and collaboration in comprehensive, regional institutions of higher education. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing. Retrieved April24 2013, from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304707494?accountid=32521

Galsworth, G. (2005). Visual workplace visual thinking. Portland, OR: Visual-Lean Enterprise Press.

Haney, D. (2003). Knowledge management in a professional service firm. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Ann Arbor, IN, USA: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing. Retrieved April 18, 2013, from http://search.proquest.com/docview/305334057?accountid=32521

Schein, E. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing.

Ward, T. (2006). Implementing knowledge management to support effective decision making in a joint military environment: Key enablers and obstacles. Minneapolis, MN, USA: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing. Retrieved April 18, 2013, from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304910517?accountid=32521

Wick, C., Pollock, R., & Jefferson, A. (2010). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning. San Franciso, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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