A learning organization is a fluid system, one where structures and processes are always in motion, adapting to changes in internal and external systems: market forces, technology, content, data, demographics, and education.
As Peter Senge states in his book The Fifth Discipline, these 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 how to learn together.”
Simply put, becoming a learning organization can take your business to the next level.
Building a learning organization
This may seem like a daunting task, but leaders can make it more manageable with a little planning and reflection.
According to ICF there are five steps to turning your organization into a learning-oriented organization:
- Analyze Strategic Goals of the Organization
- Analyze Learning Performance Across All Levels
- Develop Analytics-Based Learning Method
- Evaluate Performance with Actionable Insights
- Refine Individual Learning Organizational Goals
As part of the analysis there are also four questions that they suggest leaders ask themselves:
- Is your learning strategy linked to organizational goals?
- Is your organization’s performance observable and measurable?
- Is your learning process standardized across the organization?
- Are you training instead of hiring?
These questions are used to help an organization determine if they are getting a good ROI on training investments.
Learning organization strategies
Once organizations have asked themselves where they are and where they need to go to become a more learning-oriented, they can begin to incorporate various strategies.
No matter how much organizations try, there will never be enough time to teach everything that needs to be taught or everything that employees want to learn.
In order to bring the needs of the organization and employees together, organizations can teach learning. By teaching learning, they give employees the resources and skills they need to find information and teach themselves.
In order to teach themselves, employees must have a reliable place to find information easily and quickly. Learning in the moment is a strategy often used by employees who have a question and just want to type it into a search engine and get an answer right then.
Leaders and managers need to set up internal systems where employees can go to access pertinent information. This can be in the form of YouTube videos, articles, infographics, podcasts, and checklists.
Leaders need to know how to help employees learn. They need training in how to teach. These skills will help leaders help employees know what kinds of questions to ask and help guide them through the learning process.
A clear vision
Having a clear vision of the future is essential. Leaders need to be able to explain the goals of the company to employees and tell them how they fit into it. In this way, employees will realize that the company cares about them and their learning goals.
The company offers learning opportunities to meet their goals. Everyone begins to work together as learning becomes an aspect of the organization.
Keep it simple
The transition to a learning-focused organization can be very ambitious. Leaders may want to try to do everything at once. But it is often better to create one or two goals at a time. Any more than that and teams become scattered and inefficient.
Very often organizations focus on the results and not the process. They want to increase productivity, profit, innovation as fast as they can. But often this process of results-driven behavior drives learning to the back.
Employees can become drained and apathetic by sitting behind a computer and going full speed for hours at a time. In order to focus on learning, employees need to have opportunities where they can take a break, socialize, and think freely.
Building a learning organization starts at the top. Leaders need to invest in learning and have the right type of leadership style to promote learning throughout the entire company.
Encourage opinions - Leaders who want to increase learning in an organization encourage all opinions and feedback. They take all opinions seriously and listen rather than direct meetings and brainstorming sessions based on their own agendas. Leaders need to set a tone that everyone is included as everyone has a unique set of skills and strengths that add value to the team.
Cooperative - In learning atmospheres, employees need to check their egos at the door. It is not about who is right, who is in control, or who has more power. All members of the team are looking at the problem in a cooperative manner, not a competitive one.
Slowing down - For many people it seems counterintuitive to suggest slowing down, but this process can often speed up results. Many times leaders set agendas and come to decisions too quickly. They move to make changes without giving the team time to process and learn about the issues first. Instead of using meetings that focus on deciding and implementing, leaders need to use meetings to ask questions and help employees communicate. This leads to a style of learning and deciding.
Going back to the start of this discussion, learning organizations are fluid. These strategies are just a starting point but may need to change along the way as the organization and various external forces change.
With continued analysis and a dedication to learning, organizations will be able to adapt to any situation and continue to survive and succeed as a thriving learning organization.