Hardwiring the Learning Organization

By Redding, John | Training & Development, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Hardwiring the Learning Organization


Redding, John, Training & Development


Here's a step-by-step guide to conducting an assessment to determine whether your company has the characteristics of a learning organization.

"When you measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it. But when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind." William Thomson, Lord Kelvin What do such organizations as Motorola, Xerox, Ford Motor Company, Volvo, Glaxo-Wellcome, National Health Service, and MCI have in common? All have recently conducted learning organization assessments using instruments described in this article and, based on the results of those assessments, are implementing strategies to enhance their capabilities as learning organizations.

The proponents of the concept of the learning organization say it enables companies to anticipate and respond to change quickly. The key premises:

* Organizations and groups, not just individuals, learn.

* The degree that an organization learns determines its capability to transform itself to meet demands for fast, fundamental change.

* A company is a learning organization to the degree that it has purposefully built its capacity to learn as a whole system and woven that capacity into all of its aspects: vision and strategy, leadership and management, culture, structure, systems, and processes.

Advocates say learning organizations are more likely than other organizations to be adaptable and flexible, lack complacency, experiment with and create new knowledge, rethink means and ends, and tap people's potential for learning as a strategic competitive advantage.

The learning organization is an ideal; no pure one exists. Instead of asking whether your organization is a learning organization, ask, "What specific learning organization characteristics does my company need to be successful in its unique strategic context?" And, "To what degree does my company have the characteristics of a learning organization?"

It's not sufficient to copy the approaches used by firms heralded as learning organizations. There is no universal blueprint. Companies must discover their own solutions, not borrow them.

Learning organization assessment instruments can identify, in userfriendly terms, the characteristics of a learning organization. They enable companies to examine themselves and determine to what degree they have the characteristics of a learning organization. Such assessments provide the basis for transforming the abstract, fuzzy notion of a learning organization into specific initiatives and for measuring the results of those initiatives over time.

Here's a step-by-step guide for conducting a learning organization assessment. There's also a guide to learning organization assessment instruments following page 64.

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

Steps to success

This process is one approach to conducting a learning organization assessment, based on dozens of assessments conducted by the Institute for Strategic Learning in Naperville, Illinois. Its assessments used multiple instruments with a wide variety of organizations. This approach won't apply to all situations or all assessment instruments. Once you choose a particular assessment tool, you can obtain guides on administering it from the provider.

Step I: Identify purpose and use. The first step is to clarify why you are conducting an assessment. In most situations, the primary purpose is to determine a company's current status as a learning organization, identify areas for intervention, plan the interventions, take action, and evaluate results. That is typically done through a survey process, in which a problem or issue is identified, a survey is conducted to gather information, results are presented to members of the organization, underlying causes and factors are identified, and improvement plans are developed and implemented. …

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