Are You Working In A Learning Organization?

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Since the Information age two decades ago till the Digital age today, knowledge still commands a premium. The more you know, the more you grow. So, are you working for a learning organization?

There are lessons to be learnt

A Learning Organization? What is that?

learning organization is the business term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. The concept was coined through the work and research of Peter Senge and his colleagues. (Peter Senge, 1990 – The Fifth Discipline, Pg. 5-13, Random House)

It is an organization that has a clear picture of his future knowledge requirements. It does not suffer from what Theodore Levitt described as ‘Business Myopia’. An organization that is on the learning curve, knows its business and is up-to-date on everything, from customer profile, to competitors, to target markets, technologies, and even production processes. Yes, it’s the one that pursues information actively.

So how do you know whether your organization is high on the curve?

Does the Organization have a defined Learning Agenda?

Learning organizations have a clear-cut learning agenda. The dynamics of sectors like e-commerce, digital, telecom, information technology and financial services are like quick sand, changing constantly. Learning organizations tend to identify the broad areas where they need to beef up their knowledge. Once these topics are identified, they are pursued through multiple approaches, including experiments, simulations, research, post-audits and benchmarking visits. Education and training alone will not bring in the requisite information.

Does the Organization ‘shoot the guy’ who brings in discordant information?

If an organization regularly “shoots the messenger” who brings in either unexpected or bad news, it’s obvious that the environment is hostile to learning. For, dissent (within limits) is part of learning and growing. An organization that is not open to criticism or contrarian views will suffer. Generally, sensitive issues – dissensions, unhappy customers, preemptive moves by competitors, problems with new technologies – are tackled in hush tones and messages, if communicated to the top at all, are first filtered and if necessary even watered down.

Does the Organization avoid repeating mistakes?

Learning organizations reflect on their past, distill it into useful lessons, they share this knowledge internally and ensure that the same errors are not repeated.

The experiences are varied – Cost, Quality, Service and Speed on the one hand with Product, Information and Documentation on the other. Companies can use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), network databases, training sessions, and workshops to learn from their past. Even more critical is the need for a mindset that enables corporates to recognise the value of productive failure as compared with unproductive success. Productive failures give organizations insights and understanding, and thus strengthen the organization’s wisdom. An unproductive success occurs when a company is able to carry off a project with energy, style and enthusiasm but is unable to figure out the how or why behind this success.

There is a peculiar logic at work here: to avoid repeating mistakes, managers must accept them the first time around.

Does the Organization lose critical knowledge when key people leave?

This is an all too common story. When a talented employees leaves, organizations lose critical skills. Why? As knowledge remained unarticulated, unshared, and locked with one employee. It’s understood that every piece of skill and information cannot be replicated, however, learning organizations ensure that critical ones have some backup.

Learning organizations do not make the mistake of storing information and skills with one individual; they institutionalize essential knowledge and skills. Whenever possible, they codify policies and procedures, retain it in reports, disperse it to many employees and build it into their operating practices. Knowledge becomes common property, rather than the privileged domains of a few individuals. In brief, learning organizations live by the creed that knowledge begets knowledge.

To explain with a very old example; on May 15, 2000 Late. Steve Jobs, Apple Computers Ex-Chief Executive while addressing the World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose said that 3.4 million iMac computers have been sold since they hit the market two years ago. If Jobs is still revered in industry today, it’s not only because he headed Apple Computers but rather that he is been credited with rescuing the company from the brink of collapse. And, how did he do this? He slashed product mix and reinvented its computers and two years ago in May 1998 offered geeks the iMac desktop. Old incident, but golden bright example.

Now the question, did Apple hit the doldrums after Jobs? We did not see that at all.

The post-Job Apple, saw Tim Cook implementing Jobs’s intuition, which he accomplished with a quiet diligence.

According to Bersin & Associates, organizations with cultures of active learning are significantly better at doing business than other companies.

In fact:

  • They are 32% more likely to be the first company to create new products and services.
  • They are 26% better at delivering quality products.
  • Their employees are 37% more productive.
  • Their employees are 58% more likely to have skills for the future.

Does the Organization act on what it knows?

Learning organizations are not just repositories of knowledge, they take advantage of their learning and adapt their behaviour accordingly. Information is power but needs to be used. If it languishes or is ignored, its impact is certain to be minimal. Which means, if an organization discovers an unmet market need but fails to act on it, it clearly is not on the learning curve.

At a meeting early in his tenure, Cook was told of a problem with one of Apple’s Chinese suppliers. “This is really bad,” he said. “Someone should be in China driving this.” Thirty minutes later he looked at an operations executive sitting at the table and unemotionally asked, “Why are you still here?” The executive stood up, drove directly to the San Francisco airport, and bought a ticket to China. He became one of Cook’s top deputies.

The same can be said of corporates that identify their best practices but do not transfer them across departments or divisions. At Coca Cola, for example, success depends on “having people who can identify and act on the vast opportunities that exist for our business” this means building a culture among employees in which learning and innovation dominate their business lives. In support of this effort, in ‘9s, the soft drinks heavyweight set up the Coca Cola Learning Consortium, a group dedicated to making learning a core capability. The Learning Consortium is entrusted with the responsibility of building culture and systems as well as processes that staff needs to “develop the knowledge and skills to discover and act upon opportunities better and faster than ever”. “Learning has got to be connected directly to the business,” say Judy Rosenblum – VP and Chief Learning Officer at the Coca-Cola Co.

That said, even Small & Mid-Size organizations too can be Learning Organizations. They may lack the showy display of a well-built self-owned branded learning infrastructure but they do have the learning mindset in place and that suffices. They prove that learning is a more matter of willingness than ability, They have the mental infrastructure in place to do so. They have serious learning interventions in-build in the system almost for every one at all levels. Their philosophy is “Learning Not Documented, Is Learning Not Done”.

© Satyakki Bhattacharjee

 

 

 

 

The Meaning of Executive Presence

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Young Guns, New Bees or Veterans! Startups or Vintage! Culturally Progressive or Old School! Do take a note. The phenomenon of executive presence is gaining more prominence and permanence. Interesting though elementary, it is notable that what matters much ahead of how you conduct yourselves, is how your presence is perceived in the organization. Should you be the one who sets the tone in meetings, get on-board with confidence, has a sense of balance, composure and dignity of manners, is functionally assertive to constructive conflict, can take a call upon and decide – you could be having it in you what the ‘Selectors’ are looking for in players to ‘play the big match’ and that’s Executive Presence.

Should you be one who knowingly or unknowingly is feeding to your cravings for control, dominance and popularity and realise too late that the bridges are being burnt before they are built – you would rather be perceived as the ringmaster. So good luck on any transformations that you attempt either people wise or process wise.

Executive presence is subtle yet strong. Complex to define and measure but simple to feel and perceive. The best of the competency models and the most of the validated and reliable psychometrics, not sure, if they can make an empirical presentation of executive presence.

A rather significant determinant of your executive presence is your appearance and attire. It is not only about what you wear. It’s also about the way you wear it, the way you appear to others is what others see you as carrying yourselves and that casts the impression and judgements that people form about you. Can’t help! Organizations are made up of human beings and here it is needless to say the rest.

Additionally important is what Daymond John says – “Good grooming is integral and impeccable style is a must. If you don’t look the part, no one will want to give you time or money.”

So, is there a way to increase the Executive Presence Quotient? Researches by Human Processes Scientists and Organizational Development Professionals reveal that executive presence is associated with deeply held values, increased self-awareness to acknowledge one’s own needs and willingly working to manage those needs, seems to help.

© Satyakki Bhattacharjee

Design Approaches to Advance Leadership Development Program Interventions

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In my previous post I had talked about the use of the ‘Know, Do, Be’ model as an approach for Basic Leadership Development. The next iteration in the area of Leadership Development requires discussing, what could constitute an Advance Leadership Development Program,

In Basic Leadership Programs the objective is to tell the incumbent participant about the ‘pre-requisites’ that constitutes Leadership. Pre-requisites refer to preliminary necessary critical behaviors that could barely make a person begin to exhibit signs and symptoms of Leadership Behavior. These are essential components without which a leader can’t be termed as a Leader.

When moving towards Advanced Leadership Development, the focus is on the ‘Be’. In a way, in the Advanced Leadership Program, the incumbent is equipped with the awareness of the several broad long term strategic intents and roles that a leader may have and choices are laid out to pick one that he or she would like to take up in the long run.

Around these, the domain of Advanced Leadership runs on the axis having Situational at one end and Transactional on the other end.

Approaches to Situational Leadership Development

Situational Leadership proposes that effective leaders must have a rationally balanced understanding of the circumstance to respond appropriately. The essence of Situational Leadership is that of Task Orientation. When designing a Situational Leadership Program, enough emphasis must be laid upon the Leadership Style and to link the Style to create an appropriate Climate that facilitates Task Accomplishments.

Since effective Situational Leaders are those who are high on achieving task
accomplishments, any program or intervention to develop Situational Leaders must have modules that cover giving definite instructions, learning structured methods of communication, learning to understand and interpret operational climate dimensions to integrate Product-Services Goals and Processes of the organization.

Such an intervention is expected to have learning inputs around Communication Styles, understanding critical behaviors that characterize Task Oriented Competencies and components of Time Management besides offering other Models, Matrix and Methodology of task accomplishment like Project Management. The criteria to choose these modules are that all of them contribute towards developing the incumbent into a Production-Oriented leader with a Directive approach.

Approaches to Transformational Leadership Development

Transformational Leadership has been ‘the single most studied and debated idea within the field of Leadership’ (Diaez-Saenz, 2011). In the leadership body of knowledge, many instances of business leaders’ turnaround success, middle management effectiveness, charisma-based leadership is attributed to Transformational Leadership.

Transformational Leadership is all about becoming an influencer, having people to follow and in the process scaling up the consciousness level of the followers about the significance and value of desired outcomes and the methods of achieving such resultant.

In organizations, Transformational Leaders are those leaders who are able to influence the team members to rise above their self-level interests and goals in the interest of the organization while also, as a parallel, satisfying the needs of the team members progressively elevating on the Maslow’s Motivational Pyramid.

In this context, Diversity acceptance, Multi-cultural Adaptability and Acceptance, certain Personality Traits and being high on Emotional Intelligence are essential competency areas for Leadership Development.

Contrary to Production Orientation, the focus of the design of the Transformational Leadership Development Intervention must focus on developing the People Orientation of the incumbents. The interventions to develop Transformational Leadership must also focus on and be inclusive of such components that go to develop the individual’s ‘Consideration and Participative’ approach rather than ‘Production and Directive’ approach.

In a way, while Situational Leadership concerns more with the competence of effectively maintaining the day-to-day business operations and “keeping the ship up-float”, Transformational Leadership transcends beyond the daily operational activities and formulates strategies for the organization to move to the higher orders of performance and achievements.

Thus, when designing modules of Transformative Leadership Development – Modules on People Development and Team Building, understanding Motivational Aspects and Orientation of Human Behavior, Collaborative Influencing, System Thinking, Change Management and Constructive Conflict Management are key ingredients.

A psychometric at the beginning of the intervention or program, capturing raw data of original state and extent of “As Is” orientation of the incumbent, always helps the OD Professional to design the intervention in such a way, that best helps to achieve the desired state and extent of orientation in the “To Be” state.

How to conceptualise the designing of a basic leadership development program?

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For any OD Facilitator or even an academic Faculty Member, developing a Leadership Development Program or a teaching module on Leadership is a task of significance and high value. Whereas much is known and talked about leadership in general, when given the charge of developing a Leadership Development Program or a teaching module on Leadership, the person may struggle to find out an appropriate approach to start with.

A search of “Leadership” on Google throws up roughly 84 million hits. Indeed, as a glamorous topic popularly talked about, the interest has grown and hence the growth, availability and popularity of Leadership Courses. The first objectively printed text book on “How to Teach Leadership” was published 25 years ago in USA by Westpoint’s Department of Behavioural Sciences and Leadership, titled Leadership in Organizations (1985). However, the struggle of Faculties and OD Facilitators continue and the following questions are pertinent:

(a) As a faculty or facilitator, where should I go to learn and find out about the wide array of approaches to teach or develop Leadership?

(b) How do I search the sea of practical experiences to arrive at appropriate hypothesis and pedagogical techniques which I can use to design, develop and deliver a leadership course or a Leadership Training Module?

I recommend the following approach which is called the “KNOW, DO, BE MODEL”. The three key components of this Model are based on the three classical domains of psychology.

KNOW (cognitive), DO (behavioural) & BE (attitudinal). As a resource person this leads us to develop a leadership process approach which flows like:

KNOW > DO > BE

KNOW – The underlined concept behind this model is that knowing about leadership helps to prepare future leaders for the organization and allowing them to practice. ‘Knowing’ can happen by way of acquiring concepts and theories from relevant societal concepts and existing Leadership Theories and Models. These then requires to be connected to the situational and perspectives of the leadership development, as faced by the faculty. Faculty is thus recommended to relate its target group and the current situational perspective to existing body of Theories and Models, so as to arrive at a thematic approach to address the Leadership Development needs. Additionally, the OD Facilitators ensure that their learning interventions or inputs in the program are tailored in such a way that they integrate the action of putting the theories and models into exhibited behavioural conduct in their day to day operations.

DO – “Doing” refers to the characteristic behavioural aspects of Leading, often referred also as Competencies. Characteristic behavioural skills, exhibited leadership style and experiential feedback exchange are core to Doing. Knowing and Doing, both refers to acquiring of knowledge and skills by incumbents to become leaders.

BE – “Being” refers to the attitudinal construct of the leader comprising of the leader’s Conscious and Unconscious sense to Identity, Character and Values.

Thus, the fundamental approach that emerges is, to develop an incumbent into an effective leader, the incumbent needs to be ‘Made Known’ of the relevant domain related information, facts and data. The incumbent also needs to be taken through the ‘Do and Acts’ of learning and practicing the critical characteristic behavioural skills. Further, he/she should also be trained to ‘Be’ a Values Driven, Character oriented ‘Being.’

FOR AN ADVANCE LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

The faculty or OD Facilitator may consider to extend the basic tenets of Application Orientation to learning simulations that could help the incumbent to experiment, to be either more of TRANSFORMATIVE or SITUATIONAL leader, as is the demand from him or her in the work situation.

I shall be offering a separate and detailed coverage on Advance Leadership Development in this blog soon.

© Satyakki Bhattacharjee 2014