Overcoming Organizational Learning Disabilities

Chief Executive (U.S.), July/August 1995 | Go to article overview

Overcoming Organizational Learning Disabilities


Learning gets a lot of lip service. Like motherhood, it's a hard concept to oppose. But good intentions notwithstanding, innumerable barriers keep organizations from incorporating learning into their daily lives. Many of these are the same sorts of blinding assumptions and blocking institutions that impair performance in so many areas of management.

Do these sound familiar?

FLAWED MENTAL MODELS

* A narrow definition of learning.

* Not enough incentive for either executives or rank-and-file.

* Organizational chimneys that make cross-functional learning difficult.

* A narrow understanding of just which employees are eligible to learn.

* Ineffective policies for disseminating information.

FLAWED ANALYSIS

* Learning disconnected from purpose.

* Limited performance monitoring.

* Incorrect inferences about cause and effect.

* A lack of fit between employees' job descriptions and the organization's goals.

* The failure to reach consensus.

INADEQUATE COMMITMENT

* Not enough attention from top management.

* Short-term constraints that keep people from focusing on long-term concerns.

* Not enough time to document lessons or experiences.

* The temptation to pursue fads.

* Unwillingness to experiment.

* Inadequate training.

BLOCKED SENSES

* Scanning mechanisms that focus too narrowly.

*The tendency to shoot the messenger.

* The tendency to fit new data into old conclusions.

* Politics and turf battles.

The key to overcoming these organizational learning disabilities is developing an honest understanding of what they are, why they occur, and when and where in the learning process they are likely to surface. Eliminating them involves a combination of tools, techniques, and technologies, all rooted in a concerted, committed, ongoing, and well-designed learning program--one that improves mental models, facilitates effective analysis, forges commitment, and opens the senses to the real world. For example:

* Training can help change mental models, develop teamwork ability, and facilitate systems thinking.

* Managerial teamwork, especially at the top, can set the right example for the entire organization. …

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