Learning Organization on Leadership and Management Essay

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¶ … Learning Organizations

Leadership and Learning Organizations

Developing a Learning Organization through Informed Leadership

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable advantage. -- Cliff Purington, Chris Butler and Sarah Fister Gale, 2003

The epigraph above is reflective of the ongoing need for organizations to use information and knowledge to its best advantage in order to become more competitive. As the global economic downturn continues, the need for organizations of all types and sizes to develop innovative practices that add value and eliminate waste at every opportunity by using information and knowledge has never been greater. Moreover, in an increasingly globalized marketplace, developing and sustaining a competitive advantage is absolutely essential for success, and many companies are falling by the wayside because they have failed to embrace and respond to these needs. Indeed, many corporate leaders may believe they know what is required to become nimble and flexible in response to these challenging times, but lack the expertise needed to achieve these goals. To determine what is involved in developing and sustaining a learning organization that is responsive to a dynamic marketplace and promotes continuous improvement that provides enterprises with a competitivve advantage, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

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In the Age of Information, the need to translate the barrage of information that floods the workplace into meaningful and value-added activities, but making sense of all of this information is akin to trying to drink from a fire hose. In many cases, corporate leaders, managers and employees alike are confronted with far more information than they can effectively assimilate and apply in meaningful ways to help their companies grow and remain competitive. In some cases, companies are simply overwhelmed to the extent that they lose whatever competitive advantage they may have possessed and will fail to grow and prosper. The solution to this profound problem, Fry and Griswold suggest, is to develop a learning organization. According to these authorities, learning organizations are specifically developed in order to provide a nimble, agile and responsive approach to changing market conditions, particularly with respect to the flood of information that is increasingly characterizing the marketplace today. To achieve this type of transformation, though, requires an ongoing commitment to remaining abreast of what is new and regarded as industry best practices as well as how this information can be used to add value to the enterprise (Fry & Griswold 2003).

Therefore, the relevant literature increasingly and consistently emphasizes that the effective work environment that will characterize truly successful enterprises in the 21st century will be those that are learning organizations. According to Fry and Griswold, though, while the in a growing consensus that there is a need for learning organizations, there remains a lack of consensus concerning what the term "learning organization" really means. A useful definition provided by these authors states that, "At its most basic level, the learning organization is simply an organization that facilitates individual learning processes and cultivates new capabilities by either teams or individuals" (Fry & Griswold 2003, p. 312. Likewise, an effective learning organization is described by Stevenson as being one that is "skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights" (2000, p. 198). Learning organizations, then, are any type of institution that is capable of learning in meaningful and collective ways, in a continuous process that emphasizes the need to constantly improve performance and manage knowledge in optimal ways (Gilley & Maycunich 2000).

Notwithstanding these general definitions of learning organzations, a wide array of researchers have also weighed in concerning their own perspectives concerning what constitutes a true learning organization, including the representative samplings set forth in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Representative definitions of the learning organization and its variants

Author(s)/Date

Definition/Description

Senge (1990)

Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together (p. 3).

Pedler, Burgoyne & Boydell (1991)

A learning company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and consciously transforms itself and its context (p. 3).

Nonaka (1991)

When markets shift, technologies proliferate, competitors multiply, and products become obsolete almost overnight, successful companies are those that consistently create new knowledge, disseminate it widely throughout the organization, and quickly embody it in new technologies and products (p. 96).

Garvin (1993)

An organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights (p. 80)

Watkins & Marsick (1994)

The learning organization is one that learns continuously and transforms itself (p. 8).

Kilmann (1996)

A learning organization describes, controls and improves the processes by which knowledge is created, acquired, distributed, interpreted, stored, retrieved, and used for the purpose of achieving long-term organizational success (p. 208).

As can be readily discerned from the various definitions presented in Table 1 above, some of the common themes and metaphors that typify popular constructs of learning organizations including variations on "constant," "continuous," "everyone," "knowledge," and permutations of "responsiveness." These definitions help to describe what the most current and popular concepts of learning organizations are, but throughout the literature on learning organizations, there is also a specific primary emphasis on empowering everyone in the organization to learn while they work and to apply innovations in technology to achieve superior learning and production (Gilley & Maycunich 200). Learning organizations typically include a number of important dimensions and characteristics, including the following:

1. Learning is most effectively achieved by organizational systems in their entirety, comparable to an ant colony wherein there is a single controlling mechanism directing corporate activity.

2. Organizational members understand the vital significance of continuous organization-wide learning in order to ensure the enterprise's existing as well as its success in the future.

3. Learning in a corporate setting requires ongoing, strategically applied methods that are incorporated with and applied to existing day-to-day routines.

4. Organizations place a high value on innovation and learning processes that benefit from tacit knowledge.

5. A basic requirement is the need to learn and apply this learning in meaningful ways.

6. Organizational stakeholders must be able to access the information they need when they need it in order to promote success.

7. The corporate climate that is in place not only promotes, but also rewards and facilitates learning amongst groups as well as at the individual level.

8. Employees are able to collaborate in a timely fashion to promote innovation where it counts, both within and without the corporate setting.

9. Because change is inevitable and is characteristic of all organizations, the need for change is acknowledge by the organization's stakeholders rather than opposed at every opportunity; moreover, when failures do occur, these are viewed as learning experiences rather than failures.

10. Learning organizations are responsive to the dynamics of the marketplace and are capable of providing meaningful responses. .

11. All members of the organizations are motivated to provide top-quality products and services in a continuous process.

12. All organizational activities are typified by mutually shared goals, visions and operationalizations of where the company wants to go and how these can be best achieved.

13. There is a widepread recognition among all members of the organization concerning its core competencies and how these can be translated into value-added activities to help the company achieve a competitive advantage.

14. Companies are able to take the information and knowledge they have and apply it to eliminate waste, add value wherever possible and empower their employees to create a responsive and nimble organizational structure that builds on its strengths Gilley & Maycunich 2000).

Although the term "empowerment" is frequently bandied about in corporate circles, the concept is rarely applied in substantive ways that are required to create and sustain a true learning organization. According to Longworth, "Empowerment is the guiding principle behind the movement in industry towards establishing 'learning organizations.' The larger companies, especially, have recognized that their survival depends on a workforce that will constantly renew its knowledge and practice in order to stay current with developments in its own field" (2003, p. 20). Longworth, though, also emphasizes that the transformation of a company into a true learning organization involves more than just ensuring that employees keep abreast of new developments and trends in their respective fields. In this regard, Longworth adds that, "In a fast-changing world which renders individual jobs frequently redundant, companies will often require their own people to retrain rather than employ new recruits. Thus there is a continuous process of learning and re-learning throughout every operation of the business" (2003, p. 20).

In support of these assertions, Longworth (2003) cites the following ten characteristics of any and all types of learning organizations:

1. Learning organizations are any type of enterprise, whether… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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