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LEARNING ORGANIZATION: WHAT ARE OUR ROLES? sample essay

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• Introduction

During the last twenty years the working environment of all kinds of organizations has been changing because of the external factors like globalization and rapid development of information technologies. Whether the employees or managers like it or not, they all will have to accommodate to this new environment. This change would probably not be as easy as it seems to be, so managers will have to implement different strategies in order to accommodate themselves and the entire organization to constantly changing world of today. In other words, managers will have to formulate new strategies for the learning organization that are different and distinct from the preceding ones.

In addition to specific changes in the roles of managers, employees in turn will also have to implement various techniques that will be discussed in detail in the paper. This way, learning organization is identified by both managers and employees working together to improve the overall organization’s performance by spotting, studying, and correcting errors, and learning from those errors.

• Learning Organization

There are two major suggestions as to what a learning organization is. Peter Senge, a member of Society for Organizational Learning, has offered the following definition, “Learning organizations are 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 to see the whole together”. However, another prominent figure, Mike Pedler, has suggested another version of the same concept, “The Learning Company is a vision of what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. A Learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself.” In other words, an organization becomes a learning organization when all members of the company at all management level cooperatively learn to develop, expand, and improve their abilities and overall performance by the means of openness and continuous learning from preceding experience.

• Characteristics of Learning Organization

Sandra Kerka has suggested in her book The Learning Organization: Myths and Realities that any learning organization possesses the following characteristics. In other words learning organizations:

1. - use learning to teach their goals;

2. - embrace creative tension as a source of energy and renewal;

3. - provide continuous learning opportunities;

4. - link individual performance with overall organization’s performance;

5. - foster inquiry and dialogue, making it safe for people to share openly and take risks;

6. - are continuously aware of and interact with their environment.

Generally, a learning organization can be recognized by specific relationships between organization members on a horizontal level. They communicate easily, they are sensitive to each other’s thoughts and ideas, they communicate more often, they are more honest, they are creative in their thoughts, and they literally learn from one another as well as from the other outside circumstances. In learning organization, workers are encouraged to take risks, which results in more opportunities for the organization.

• Managers’ Roles

What does “managers ought to formulate new strategies for learning organization” mean? First, general and primary managers’ work must be mentioned, which consists in building and applying new organizational capabilities. Second issue to be considered is that feedback from various operations gives notice to changing environmental factors and changing resources to which the new strategy must be adjusted. And last but not least, in order for the organization to stay competitive on a particular market, business strategy must change in response to many factors like the evolving information technologies, new demographics, global structures, as well as changes in markets the organization services, skills of its members, and success or failure of the ideas in which the strategy is grounded. Managers in learning organizations would also want to alter their activities and become new organization builders. This way they will have to ensure that current employees’ skills and capabilities are tailored in one way, and developed in the other.

• Employees’ roles

Workers inside the organization must contribute even more effort than managers. They should view the current situation inside the organization from a new and more emancipated perspective. Also, they must cooperate and work in groups or teams, and help each other by sharing opinions, concerns, and information. To put it differently, employees have to work with each other rather than on their own. Peter Senge has suggested several principles in one of his books, which are relevant when developing a learning organization:

1. Understanding and knowing personal skills and abilities;

2. Testing and quelling personal beliefs;

3. Forming groups or teams, collaboration;

4. Developing the same idea amongst group members;

5. Systems thinking and understanding that each member’s actions affect the entire organization’s performance.

Donald Schon and Chris Argynis have suggested the monumental definition of learning; they claimed that learning is simply detection and consecutive correction of an error. Whenever plans are not met, which means that something in the performance of the team has gone wrong, this very team has to find and define the problem and develop new strategies. This approach is called Single loop Learning. With the single loop learning the process will keep going no matter what happens inside or outside the organization. Many organizations are skilled at single loop learning.

Another approach offered by Schon and Argynis is to question the managerial decisions and study them. This method is referred to as Double loop Learning. Within this concept, the self-questioning ability exists with an auxiliary loop to check for faults. Double loop learning is very limited within organizations because it is hard to do and there are three obstructions to it. Namely:

1. Bureaucratic structure;

2. Bureaucratic accountability (self protection);

3. There is a gap between what people say and do.

• External factors

Unfortunately, prosperous organizations are not forever. Forces and trends external to the learning organization and internal conditions have played a substantial role in transformation of the aspect of management. Here are some examples of what external forces have contributed to a learning organization:

1. Rapid industrialization of many developing countries and sharpening of global competition

2. The development of technologies that make current strategies obsolete

3. The impact of larger financial markets that facilitated major transfers of corporate control

4. Growing utilization of different organizational forms including strategic alliances

5. Development of progressively higher standards for winning and keeping customers

Therefore, in order to stay competitive on the market, organizations have to learn to deal professionally with these external changes. In addition, Internal developments can also make a huge impact on organization’s performance. Here is a more detailed look at these intrinsic measures:

• Internal trends

The decision making process, put forward by Herbert A. Simon, explored the relationship between an organization and people decision making. In it he suggest that:

• People make decisions from incomplete information about possibilities and their consequences.

• People make decisions because they can explore only some and not all decision alternatives.

• People make decisions because they cannot always attach accurate results to outcomes.

Therefore, they must opt for “good enough” relationships rather than a perfect decision. There are some efficient systems for reducing uncertainty; the more uncertainty the greater the need for information processing, and the more this is the case the more the information systems shape the organization.

• Communication

Inside the learning organization information must hurtle throughout easily, and the flow must not be somehow prevented or halted. The idea of free and sincere dialogue is essential within the learning organization. As stated earlier in the paper, all kinds of information flows, upward, downward, and horizontal should be encouraged. However the stress must be put on the horizontal flow of information within the organization because it is the very level at which employees form small groups and teams. Inquiries and responses outside and especially inside these formations should be taken for granted, and candor must be appreciated and sought. The perfect model in such case would be to acquire complete consensus with other team members this way enabling all the team to view the imminent problem in the same way. Of course such relationship require constant and consistent work, they are achieved through hard work on oneself, his or her beliefs, and moral principles.



• Cybernetics and Learning

Origin of cybernetics came from the Weapons Steering System design and the navigation concept of Negative Feedback. In other words, it is a theory of communications and learning which incorporates the following:

1. Systems capable of sense, monitor and scan the environment;

2. To relate the information to operating norms;

3. To detect significant deviations from these norms;

4. To initiate corrective action.

A continuous process is initiated and therefore a system can operate in an intelligent manner.

• Guidelines to develop a learning-oriented approach.

1. Accept errors and uncertainty in a changing environment;

2. Encourage alternative ideas;

3. Avoid imposing action plans, don’t give commands, allow solutions to develop;

4. Create structures to help implement the above principles.

Basically, Learning to Learn is concerned with improving the ability to learn. It is truly essential as well as significantly important to note that a Learning Organization is not an Adapting Organization. Learning and adapting are two totally different methods to improve organization’s performance, where the learning method is considered more effective. As Donald Schon stated, “We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation”.

• Problems and setbacks

There are several setbacks that interfere development of an organization. The conditions that halt transformation of a regular organization into a learning one are recognized by two major categories: individual setbacks and organizational setbacks. Some of the individual setbacks are mental laziness, felling of being too important and too busy, forgetting and ignoring techniques that were effective in the past, uncertainty and anxiety during the learning process, subconscious presupposition of knowing everything necessary, unwillingness to overturn past beliefs and opinions and some more.

Organizational setbacks are more sophisticated and require more a thorough deliberation when dealing with overcoming them. Furthermore, the ultimate number of organizational setbacks is more than twice as great as that of individual setbacks. These comprise scarce information transfer, lack of new up-to-date merchandise, scarce recognition for developing capabilities, inability to encourage new policies, punishing errors in lieu of treating them as a necessity of a learning process, scarce training resources and time, too a self-assured top-management attitude, egoistic approach and lack of desire to share information, discouraged dialogues and sincerity, lack of sympathy and trust, eminent bureaucracy, and inability to honor culture.

There are some definite methods and ways to overcome this list of setbacks including such methods as encouraging employees’ feedback via so-called grievance boxes, hiring highly-trained teachers, bringing innovations and paying close attention to them, and much more.

• Conclusion

In today’s tremendously competitive business world, where rapid innovations and swiftly developing technologies are regular occurrences and where nearly all spheres and infrastructures undergo continuous change, organizations also have to alter their inner structures in order to stay on the market and offer competitive goods or services. Managers of organizations should be open to and ready for new strategies and should also understand that risks and innovation are inevitable. They should also lead the entire organization in a corresponding manner so that subordinates change their long-term views, different ideas and beliefs. In other words, it is managers’ task to make an organization become a learning organization. And only a learning organization can easily and swiftly react in right way to an unexpected problem; only a learning organization can treat the errors as opportunities to gain more knowledge; only members of a learning organization can share problems openly and trust each other fully, respect each other’s ideas and suggestions and honor each other’s culture and personal beliefs. Ultimately, the future of any company should be considered along with considering the transformation the organization into a learning organization.



Bibliography

1. Lawrence, Eton. “Some thoughts on turning the Government organization into a Learning organization”. Public service commission of Canada. June 1998. < http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/research/knowledge/learning_org_e.htm>

2. Walton, Richard and Bower, Joseph. Business policy: managing strategic processes. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1995.

3. Serge, Peter. The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Doubleday Books, 1990.

4. Marquardt, Michael. Building the learning organization. Davies-Black Publishing, 2002.

5. Fenwick, Tara. “Limits of the learning organization: the critical look”. Department of educational policy studies.

6. Smith, Mark. “The learning organization”. Infed encyclopedia. 2004.

7. Thill, John and Bovee, Courtland. Business communication today. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

8. Argyris, Chris and Schon David. Organizational learning II: theory, method and practice. Addison-Wesley Pub Co, 1995.

9. Kerka, Sandra. High performance work organizations myths and realities. ERIC Clearinghouse, 1995.

10. Senge, Peter. The dance of change: the challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations. Execubook.com, 2001.
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