How to Create a Learning Organization
June 1, 2017 • Organizational Development
A 2008 HBR article asked readers, “Is your organization a “learning organization?” The authors of the article posed this question almost two decades after MIT professor Peter Senge first coined the term. In Senge’s landmark book, “The Fifth Discipline”, he proposed five characteristics of a learning organization. In this post, we explore a new article along with its authors’ new construct of a learning organization, as well as some helpful resources to benchmark your organization.
The Learning Organization Revisited
A new article published in Organizational Dynamics, entitled “Revisiting the learning organization: How to create it” by Ho Wook Shin et al makes the case that that smarter leaders are a necessary, but not sufficient condition to face today’s business challenges.
“Competing in an environment of increasing uncertainty and rapidly changing technologies requires that firms rely on the knowledge, skills, and experience of all of their people by creating a learning organization.”
In this very practical paper, the authors outline five critical elements of the learning organization and argue that each one is necessary to build a learning organization:
- Establish and communicate a clear sense of direction and purpose
- Empower employees at all levels
- Accumulate and share internal knowledge
- Gathering and integrate external information
- Challenge the status quo and enable creativity
Each of the five elements is discussed in detail leveraging case studies, research and other references to make the case for each element. They share five tools and techniques that can help an organization better understand their competitive environments.
Barriers to Becoming a Learning Organization
The authors offer six barriers that researchers have identified, including fear of failure, commitment to the status quo, overconfidence, structural and political barriers and time constraints. They propose four actions to overcome these barriers:
- Create a sense of urgency
- Encourage constructive dissent
- Encourage experimentation and risk-taking
- Get everyone involved
One of the great takeaways from their paper is the “Strategic Inventory” checklist, designed to relate their key concepts and benchmark practices within an organization. (As shown in the graphic on the right.)
References and Reading
- Wikipedia Definition of a Learning Organization
- “What Are Learning Organizations, and What Do They Really Do?” by Warren Wilhelm. Chief Learning Officer, February 22, 2017.
- “Is Yours a Learning Organization?” David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson and Francesca Gino. HBR, March 2008.
- Learning Organization Survey. As described in the article, “Is Yours a Learning Organization?” (Harvard Business Review, March 2008), this survey provides a starting point to help you assess how well your organization meets the criteria for being a learning organization. Use to benchmark your organization against that established in previous research by Garvin et al.
- “Revisiting the learning organization: How to create it” by Ho Wook Shin, Joseph C. Picken, Gregory G. Dess. Organizational Dynamics (2017) 46, 46-56.
- (2017) “The impact of a learning organization on performance: Focusing on knowledge performance and financial performance”, European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 41 Issue: 2, pp.177-193.