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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.

Artifacts, Norms and Assumptions

Published April 24, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Baack (2012) discloses in his book, Organizational Behavior, that artifacts are the overtly stated values and norms that identify individuals and organizations (Baack, 2012). Individual artifacts include the car a person drives, the clothing and jewelry they wear, piercings and other forms of items of value. These artifacts transmit nonverbal messages or kinesic cues that are communicated in a nonlinguistic way. An organization’s culture on the other hand, is determined by the observable artifacts. They represent the physical signs of an organization’s dominant culture, like the golden arches of McDonalds.  The most significant observable artifact at Capitol-EMI Industries, my former place of employment is the historic Capital Records Tower building in Hollywood. Like McDonald’s golden arches, the Capitol Records Tower is instantly recognized by the unique design which represents a stack of record discs. As a newly hired employee, I was fascinated with the design of a round building. It’s one thing to marvel at it from the outside, but another experience entirely from within the tower walls. The offices I worked at were located on the eleventh floor, so the views from that height were magnificent. When the Paramount Studios lot caught fire from the set of one of the Star Trek movies, we were able to view it from the office bay windows.  It wasn’t until I was promoted and transferred to the EMI offices down the road that I really began to appreciate the tower building. Although I was content to find employment in a smaller one story structure, where our executive offices were located, I look back now at the tower with fond memories.

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The Capitol Records culture was transmitted in a variety of ways through the espoused values which include emphasis on sustainability and a commitment to high quality entertainment. The combination of observable artifacts which includes the company brand and logo, the tower building, and the catalog of famous artists, along with the espoused and enacted values helped create role clarity for the employees. For example, the lobby of the building displays many gold records from artists including: The Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, and Tina Turner. The personnel who work at the tower encounter these observable artifacts every day that gives staffer a sense of pride. Many of us grew up listening to these artists and were proud to be a part of such a prestigious family.

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Schein (2010) contends the connection between leadership and culture is clear in organizational cultures and micro-cultures. Managers influence the behavior of the subordinates. Those who are resistant to change do not last very long. (Schein, 2010). For example, when I was initially hired, I had just relocated from Arizona where I grew up. I had not resided in California long enough to adapt and blend in with the Southern California culture which was entirely different from that of a desert state like Arizona. My sense of style reflected that of a conservative small town. In fact, I recall one individual compare my fashion style to that of an airline flight attendant, which translated as professional, but not very hip. The dress code varied from floor to floor and department to department. For example, the executive offices where the CEO and high ranking officers worked (all male) and each dressed in suit and tie, while their administrative staff were dressed in professional accouterments that reflected their executive office. The floor where the A&R (Artist and Repertoire) and R&B (Rhythm and Blues) departments were located (where our Business Affairs division was also situated) the executives attire resembled that of the artists they represented. For instance, the executives who signed the rock bands dressed like the rock stars; the executives who signed the rap artists looked like rappers. I was employed with the attorneys that negotiated the artist contracts and eventually adapted a style that blended with the norm of the support staff on that floor, which consisted of a combination of those from the A&R department and the executive offices upstairs. It was a professional style but appropriate for the LA music scene.

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The espoused values and assumptions both helped and hindered moving the company into a learning organization. Executive leaders learned to work together cohesively and in tandem to achieve company goals, but at times engaged in conflicts from policies and actions that were not always supportive. For example, when an artist’s profits and popularity soars after their initial debut album, the artist’s manager and attorney immediately look to renegotiate the contract. The department head of A&R must decide to either go up against manager and artist and refuse their requests, or face the other executive branches to keep in alignment with the artist. It is here the negotiation process begins pitting company leader against company leader as the artist’s camp engages into debates with the policy holders. Each incident becomes a learning experience as each situation is unique and no two artists are the same. Our department became involved when contractual questions or disputes arose so that we could either arm the A&R executive or some case, deflect the A&R department from operating outside the parameters of the contractual commitments. As a rule however, the members of the Capitol Records family enjoyed a positive culture of stability. The recognizable observable artifacts, perceptions of espoused and functioning enacted values, helped generate a greater sense of clarity for the personnel.

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References:

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

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

Global Expansion

Published April 3, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Now that entrepreneurs have engaged in partnerships with other countries, there are many important elements to consider in doing business on an international level. Problem solving strategies should include an aptitude with skills and knowledge in the economic and financial markets of operating a multinational enterprise (Shenkar & Luo, 2008). Entrepreneurial organizations that underestimate cultural influences including legal and environmental ramifications can cause serious problems and in extreme cases, can eventually lead to shutting the organization down. For example, an entrepreneur that considers working or setting up a business in a foreign country will need to know the zoning restrictions in the region and other policies or regulations required to conduct business to prevent from breaking any international laws. US Entertainers that work as a performing artists in Europe for example, must seek permission and obtain work visas from the government in each region to earn an income there. If they do not abide by certain regulations they may face extradition.

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Organizations also need to consider the cultural differences of people before formalizing relationships with foreign partners. Solomon and Schell (2009) point to IBM as an example, when they sold the ThinkPad computer business to the Lenovo Group, Ltd, a Chinese manufacturer of personal computers that sold products exclusively in China. When Lenovo chose to adopt English as the official company language and hired Dell CEO there were immediate clashes. The Americans were frustrated by the Chinese’s need for harmony and their inability to embrace public visibility. This was interpreted as a lack of commitment and an inability to perceive value. Furthermore, because the Chinese were silent in meetings, the Americans interpreted this as their agreement, when in fact they were disagreeing and posited the loquacious Americans spoke so much they weren’t allowed room to express themselves. In addition, IBM made managerial cuts in the company’s global workforce and shifted their marketing forces to India. This was perceived by the Asian company as a threat to their cultural pride. IBM made further adjustments and replaced a highly respected Chinese executive with an American one and as a result, other key Chinese executives quit in protest. These problems hurt them in the marketplace with shares dropping at a time the rest of the market was growing (Solomon & Schell, 2009).

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McDonalds in Paris

Organizations that prepare for expansion into the global arena must take into consideration the differences in emerging markets and economies as well. A multinational enterprise may need to conduct business differently in a foreign market because of strict regulations. Also, the gross national product will vary in each territory. Entrepreneurs will need to take this into consideration and make adjustments to prices, products, and services, that reflect the local economy (Peng, 2011). McDonalds CEO, Denis Hennequin, for instance, has mastered the concept of creating a global presence. His “we were born in the USA, but are made in France, Italy and Spain” motto has given him the edge on the international market. His respect for cultures has helped him succeed in harnessing them to a competitive advantage. While maintaining a global brand, he found a way to adapt to each territory in a respectful manner that honors local tastes and values. For example, in France he made the golden arches more discreet to blend in with neighborhoods. In addition, he eliminated the Ronald McDonald mascot and built restaurants there so that they are more in alignment with the expectations of local French diners. Some in fact, have leather upholstery, while others have incorporated fireplaces and candles as part of the dining atmosphere. Because of these sensitivities to local cultures, McDonalds’ business is thriving in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This translates to sales that have risen 8.2 percent globally and during the middle of a recession to boot! By making changes like adapting a menu to include le petit moutarde (a small burger on a ciabatta roll with a mustard like Grey Poupon) and developing relationships with local suppliers, Hennequin has taken McDonalds to a whole new level (Solomon & Schell, 2009). In conclusion, entrepreneurs that consider expanding on a worldwide level will have trouble succeeding in business today if they don’t appreciate or know how to play by the rules and actively manage global cultural diversity.

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References:

Peng, M. (2011). Global business (2nd ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Shenkar, O., & Luo, Y. (2008). International business. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Solomon, C., & Schell, M. (2009). Managing across cultures. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.