The topic of “organizational learning (OL)” has increasingly attracted a considerable attention since its introduction in 1960’s. Let’s first define learning. Learning is defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior resulting from experience and interaction with the environment. Like humans, organizations also can learn. Organizational learning assumes that organizations are capable of intelligent behavior, and that learning is a tool for intelligence. The big picture is that organizations collect experiences, draw inferences, and encode inferences in repositories of organizational knowledge, such as formal rules and informal practices. In this view, organizations are shaped by complex learning processes which combine current experiences with lessons learned in the past.
We define OL as an organizationally regulated collective learning process in which individual and group-based learning experiences concerning the improvement of organizational performance and goals are transferred into organizational routines, processes and structures.
Organizational Learning Process
There is an agreement that OL is founded on the learning process of individuals in the organization. The achievement of learning at the organizational level is fundamentally conditioned upon the purposefulness and effectiveness of individual learning, training, and development in the workplace. Like individuals, all organizations are different in some ways, LO therefore, cannot be prescribed precisely because of the uniqueness of each single organization. There is a wide range of beliefs about what OL is, how it occurs, how it is applied and how it influences an organization’s development. Here an approach describing OL as a continuous process is introduced by taking the influencing factors into account. The model developed by Law (2009) not only describes OL as a continuous goal-driven process, but also allows the picturing of the relationships with various influencing factors and facilitation of the elements of an OL framework.
THE D-E-L-O organizational learning process
As shown in Figure 1, OL as a continuous process consists of four core components—drivers (D),
enablers (E), learning (L) and outcome (O). Drivers are the driving forces of starting up OL within a company. The attributes contributing to this block include vision, mission, and leadership. The enablers are the influencers of the subsequent OL process. Outcomes can be any criterion related to organizational performance including financial, market, employee-related or process efficiency. It has been shown that organizational learning can improve many things such employee satisfaction, rate of innovation, profitability and new product’s success.
Source: Law, 2009
Figure 1: the process of organizational learning and corresponding influencers
Leaders drive organizational learning
As technology advances at a relentless pace, the development of competency becomes a strategic issue for companies which have to prepare for changes and remain competitive. the importance of strong leaders to build shared visions and the facilitating processes has been recognized. To initiate OL, the need and desire to advance and the will of management are the critical drivers, while a strong leader, who is committed to building a shared vision and empowering and inspiring people, is needed to drive in the process of OL.
Organizational Culture. Organizational culture is commonly defined as the pattern of shared assumptions, values and beliefs, or the dynamic and active entity with shared understanding and sense. The elements of organizational culture include values, norms, symbols, rituals, and other cultural activities revolving around them. The organizational culture can be one of the key factors in the OL process, while individual value, one of the likely key influencers of OL, is closely related to culture.
Individuals. Researchers agree that organizational culture and individuals are correlated. An individual’s mindset that interacts with facets of situations within an organization is crucial to the learning. Aspects of individuals, such as values and beliefs, interact with facets of situations to affect the individual’s attitudinal and behavioural responses. OL experts have noted the paradoxical nature that OL is not merely the collection of individual learning, but is more than the cumulative sum of individual learners. In recent years, human resources professionals have been focusing on ways which promote learning in organizations. impacts of the environments of employees are crucial for learning and developmental practice. Employee attitudes have been found to interact with environmental factors that influence job values, and thus the motivation to learn.
Internal Forces. The configuration of effective organizations can be captured by the interplay of the basic forces in an organization. Mintzberg, a management guru, introduces these basic forces as the system of seven forces. The outer five forces are direction, efficiency, proficiency,innovation, and concentration, while the two internal catalytic forces are cooperation and competition. The force for direction and force for innovation are appropriate to describe team learning within an LO. The force for direction is concerned with strategic vision and may relate to the start-up or turnaround situations. This gives a team a common goal. Meanwhile, the force for innovation is concerned with discovering new things and may relate skilled experts or multi-disciplinary projects.
Not surprisingly, team learning has been proved to be gaining importance as an OL strategy. Organization/team performance improvement is a result of collective-intelligence of an organization/team, which exceeds the sum of intelligence of individuals. Knowledge is interpreted, aggregated, and shared at the organizational level through the interactions of members in the organization. Knowledge gained by the teams is associated with realizable benefits in the form of improved performance and opportunities to gain learning for the groups concerned. This knowledge becomes embedded in the routines and practices through the repeated rounds of experiences by individual members. Within an organization, effective teams should always be purpose-driven and autonomous teams have higher levels of motivation and commitment
Creating a learning organization requires attention to each of these elements and the configuration and compatibility of these elements together. The DELO process is envisaged to start with the vision of the management and subsequent intervention through the initiation and propagation of repeated or recurring learning activities within an organization. Organizational learning is not just a concept but an on-going process incorporating theories and practices. We hope that your LO journey is able to show that modern management concept and organizational theory can be put into effective use.