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 True Measure of Career Success

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 As is the way the work society is, as is the way we seek and give recognition in families and friends, as is the way we mark our milestones in our career – so much skewed it truly is, as a measure of Success of Career.

Navigating the career journey with pseudo and cosmetic milestones decorates only the appearance of the career rather than long term endurance of the career. This treading on an unreal hollow path, puts a lot of pressure on one’s aspiration and the person ultimately reaches nowhere or grows up to be a Bonsai. Bonsai is the art of being ornamental, artificially decorated varieties of big trees in smaller pots. Bonsai’s are characterized by ‘Dwarfness in being Big’. Learn more about this from Dr. R. Gopalakrishnan’s book “The Bonsai Manager”.

Career can be defined as the progress by learning and practice of an occupation that a person undertakes for a long period of his life and continuously improve upon it, so as to offer it at a reciprocal value. Indeed, there can’t be a career where there has not been any ‘progress by learning’. However, and sadly so, the modern societal practice of career measurement ignores the ‘substance’ of career and celebrates the ‘artificial’ beauty tags. Thus, in most cases what we celebrate is our dwarfism in being a Bonsai. Bonsai’s rarely fruit, are mostly appreciated for beauty but a Bonsai Banyan can never give true shade and shelter.

Of all the things that make us a true Bonsai executive, the three most disguised and dangerous are the traps of Power, Title and Money. When Power, Title and Money happens to a professional on a career journey at wrong times, Bonsaism is guaranteed. The ‘look and feel’ is are there but the substance is missing in the inner layers. Nonetheless, how many Managers on the other side of the table truly has the courage and conviction to call a spade a spade. Which Manager would like to bear the perils of making a fast tracker on a societal race, realize that untimely stops at the PTM stations underscore no real achievement. This isn’t to say that aspirations and ambitions are bad traits to have. In practice, however, very few can back them with sensibility and logic.

It’s time to review how to measure the success of your career beyond Power, Title and Money, so as to have a real Career Growth and not a Bonsai.

 Dr. Marla Gottschalk offers interesting perspectives.

  • If, in your organization, you are in a role by which you are ‘Developing a Voice’ in the organization that impacts the organization as well as your professional practice positively… that’s priceless, go for it.
  • Learning and mastering something new – Whether your organization is small, medium or big – look for and get into roles that helps you to learn and master new things in your own professional domain or any other allied domain… you are making meaningful investments towards a long and endurable Career.
  • Find the challenge – In organizations, we exist in stages of “plates are full” and “can double hat”… periodically, depending upon a range of factors. Whatever they may be and wherever you are, look for challenges. It’s simple to find them. Whatever interferes with your ‘sense of comfort’ is a challenge and you would never regret welcoming a challenge now, to build a strong career base for future. Challenges on the first appearance seems to break us but they do give a tremendous high… a great feeling of satisfaction.
  • Create something. In every organization either small or big there do exist numerous chances of creating something new. Often invisible.Look for them. Try and give the organization a Practice, a Process, a Benchmark, a System, new Product, a new Line of Business, a new way of doing Something. This sounds impossible to many, yet, it’s both interesting and elementary. This is an experience which becomes so unique in our career that no traditional matrix can measure them.

As Kidambi Srikanth said after he clinched his fourth Super Series Badminton Title with an incredible straight-game triumph over reigning Olympic and World Champion Chen Long – “It’s just that I’m not thinking of winning or losing. I missed competitive badminton and wanted to enjoy the match. It’s like it happened because I missed that period of competitive badminton. It’s like I wanted to hand in and play as many matches as possible.”

Career success isn’t something you chase. It’s something you put forth with effort constantly and then it comes when you least expect it. Most people don’t understand that and only later realizes that they have become a Bonsai.