Dear HR Manager,
You have requested for some of my ideas on the how of the application of Learning Organisation in your company. I share with you some of my thought.
Current understanding / approach on Learning Organisation
It is my general observation that many approach Learning Organisation in the conventional ways, although intellectually they place emphasis on "Learning". As a result many processes, systems and structures get developed & implemented, resulting in plenty more activities on top of already many. For example: Lessons learnt database, Networking, Knowledge Database, Extra training program etc. All these activities have the connotation of Learning, or theoretically result in Learning in one way or another. These are logical assumption & premises to work with. However, as we look back, we have also built many processes, systems and structures to support other concepts and theories like Quality, HSE, ReEngieering, Business Performance Improvement, Value Base Management etc. etc. Honestly we feel that something is amiss as the sentiment of a profound and genuine Living and Learning Entity (individual or organisation) does not seem emerging. We recurrently hear the echoes of stakeholders shaking their heads murmuring "we never learn", especially in the face of business crisis, customers complaints, HSE incidents or accidents, defects, rework etc.
I wish to draw to your attention the key focus of Learning Organization i.e. the DISCIPLINES. And there is a set of 5 Distinct Disciplines, namely
It is the constant practice of these 5 Disciplines onto the existing work process, with its system and structures towards realization of organizational goals and mission, that I think is the key approach to Learning Organization. It is similar to mastery of golf skills, through constant practices with sound mental Disciplines besides processes and system like pro-coaching, types of golf sets, techniques, schedule and games etc.
If Learning Organisation is seen as a set of Disciplines to be practiced, then focus should be on creating opportunities for such practices to take place. In organisation, there are plenty avenues : for example in meetings, where a group of people come together to perform some activities, make decisions, improve things, solve problem, conduct review or reflection etc.
Some suggestions on how to explore and create such learning opportunities:
In such group, either during or after the intended activities are carried out, the practices of the 5 Disciplines can be injected or incorporated, preferably with a skillful facilitator / coach with at least some good theoretical learning on the Learning Organization concepts and principles. Any one of the 5 Disciplines can be used as the initial focus, which will somehow relate to other 4 Disciplines. That is, no discipline can be treated in total isolation as the 5 Disciplines are all interrelated and interdependent on each other, in order to produce a profound and effective action and outcome that all members of the group deeply care about.
For example, if there are potential diversity and conflicting opinions on a particular issue or subject matter, [Mental Model] could be a starting point for all stakeholders to explore and share their own underlying assumptions. Dialogue techniques could also be employed. From there, it leads onto [System thinking] to be applied on the subject matters.
[System thinking] could be an exploration area when interrelationship and interdependency of various system components are the subject matters. Or, Principle of Leverage to be effected in an large array of system elements to be considered at the meetings. With the aid of Organizational Iceberg Theory, [System Thinking] could be applied in the design or review of particular Business performance.
Or, [Team Learning] becomes the emphasis, where there is diversity of group members Knowledge, Techniques and Skills that will help to reinforce collective wisdom on the particular processes or subject matters.
Rules & Operating Culture
As the emphasis is the Practice of the Disciplines, certain rules are to be observed and respected. The practice of the disciplines can be (and should be) very personal, the cardinal rule of speak & think from the bottom of the heart is paramount. In this respect, the traditional rules and operating culture with role-play that inhibits atmosphere of candid ideas and opinions sharing needs to be changed. A skillful facilitator role will be useful, more than traditional chairperson role. Hence the organization hierarchy with the authority structure should not be the concern during the 5 Disciplines application. Rather it should be used at the end of the practice field, where decision rests with the persons in accordance to the defined limit of authority structures.
As per the above discussion, your organisation may like to consider experimenting on the followings:
Synergy with Quality Principles
I notice that your organization is in the process of institutionalizing a set of Quality Principles throughout the entire population. Examples of the principles are a) definition of quality as conformance to requirement, b) prevention system, c) zero defects, d) measurement in term of statistical process control and e) responsibility as proactive leadership at every level.
Much synergy and complimentary results can be derived if the 5 Learning Organsiation Disciplines are blended with the Quality Principles. The later essentially focus on the improvement of work / business process, and the former on disciplines to help individuals and group to increase the human capacity and capability.
Future Learning Opportunity
The above are my thoughts on the possible Learning Organization application. There remain plenty of rooms for further exploration, discovery, refinement and improvement. With your critiques and feedback, I look forward to future learning opportunity with you and your organization.
Andrew Wong, 28th Oct. 99
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By Andrew Wong, 29th Oct,1999
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