Managing Work-Related Learning for Employee and Organizational Growth
Lang, Dorothy, Wittig-Berman, Ursula, SAM Advanced Management Journal
During the past decade, many authors have recognized the need for all types of businesses in the U.S. to become more productive, competitive, and flexible in meeting the needs of customers in an increasingly global and information-intensive marketplace (e.g., Kanter, 1989; Reich, 1992; Solomon, 1999). Many organizations are responding to rapid and discontinuous market changes with an increased customer orientation as well as an internal focus on adaptability and work-related learning. There is widespread recognition that learning on both individual and organizational levels has become essential. A workforce with superior skills is considered a primary vehicle for sustainable competitive advantage (Olian, Durham, Kristof, & Brown; et al., 1998).
Organizational transformations into learning organizations bring about changes in the relationships of managers and their subordinates. The nature of management is evolving from assigning tasks and controlling performance to encouraging and coaching subordinates to learn continuously and beyond the requirements of their present jobs (Heckscher, 1995). Managers are increasingly called coordinators, project heads, or team leaders (Handy, 1989). According to Chase (1998), a leader, in the role of a mentor would be best suited for fostering learning environments in organizations. Thus, firms in transition to learning organizations or just attempting to increase their competitiveness need managers who are capable of facilitating work-related learning. However, little guidance is available to show supervisors how to increase work-related learning among their subordinates. Garvin (1993) points out that much of the literature about organizational learning is inspirational rather than action-oriented and provides lit tle help to managers attempting to increase work-related learning. Managers need practical advice and behavioral guidelines to help themselves, their subordinates, and their organizations learn more effectively.
The purpose of this paper is to help managers better understand work-related learning and to suggest ways supervisors can facilitate their subordinates' growth and development.
The Nature and Importance of Work-Related Learning
Traditionally, individual learning has been defined as "a relatively permanent change in behavior or potential behavior resulting from direct or indirect experience" (e.g., Moorhead & Griffin, 1992, p. 63). Kraiger, Ford, and Salas (1993) have extended this definition by proposing three interrelated categories of learning outcomes: cognitive (such as strategies for solving problems), skill-based (touch-typing), and affective (increased motivation to perform a task). In work-related learning, an employee develops cognitions, skills, and attitudes resulting in improved actual or potential work performance.
Work-related learning can be formal or informal, can take place on and off the job, and subsumes but is much broader than traditional training activities. For example, employees can learn by talking with customers, observing effective co-workers, reading technical manuals, and attending classes. Individual learning is a necessary but not sufficient condition for organizational learning, and the firm must create mechanisms, such as communications channels, to translate individual learning into organizational learning (Adler & Cole, 1993).
A few world-class firms currently have transformed themselves into highly developed learning organizations, including Motorola, Apple Computer, Xerox, and a number of smaller consulting and high-tech firms (Garvin, 1993; Rosenbium & Keller, 1994; Argyris, C., Bellman, G. M., Blanchard, K., & Block, P., 1994). According to Tobin (1993), the most important characteristics of a successful learning organization are a culture encouraging and fostering innovation and individual learning, an openness to new ideas and solutions regardless of their source, and widespread understanding of organizational goals and how each employee can help achieve them. …