The Adidas Blog asks the question, “What should a true learning organisation look like?” In response to this question, Harold Jarche writes that a learning organization has "shared power." In a learning organization, individuals control their own learning and they share this learning with others. The organization supports learning and sharing of that learning by creating spaces and networks for conversation. Learning is a constant that is an essential part of working.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about David Garvin and Amy Edmonson of Harvard University Business School and their three building blocks of a learning organization: 1) environment; 2) work processes; and 3) leadership. I explain these building blocks in this way:
I interpret “environment” to mean organizational culture. This includes the values, basic assumptions, beliefs, expected behaviors, and norms of the organization. These aspects of culture must be aligned with continuous learning about and from the work of the organization. “Processes” are the routine ways in which the work gets done. Work and learning must be part of the same process. And by “leadership” they mean what top level leaders do to support, encourage, and remove barriers to learning and performance improvement. All three of these “building blocks” must be in place for an organization to be a truly learning organization.
So the question becomes, “How do we make work and learning part of the same process?” One way is to help people develop new knowledge in the course of their work when faced with a new task or a new challenge, whether that is operating a new tool or becoming an effective leader. This is done by making information accessible and by making the tools to create knowledge from that information accessible, too. We can teach people how to fish, but if they don’t have the rod, reel, and hook to catch the fish and the techniques and technology to find the fish, knowing how is useless. If we are going to democratize learning in organizations, we need to teach everyone how to learn and how to use tools to discover useful information. We need to make learning tools accessible to all employees when and where they need them.
One example of a learning tool is "Inspire", developed by RealTime Performance. This is how RealTime describes this product:
Employees are able to quickly and easily identify strengths and weaknesses, create relevant and useful development plans and engage in meaningful discussion with their manager about leadership development.
At the core of this solution is a dynamic resource library of on-the-job activities, books, articles, blogs, videos, classroom-based learning and e-learning. Each activity or resource is mapped to a leadership competency or behavior.
This wiki-like tool makes leadership development information timely and relevant. It’s a tool for organizing information for easy access and application.
A learning organization also needs tools that people can use to discover information about themselves, about teams, about the organization as a whole, and about the wider community in which the organization exists. The tools could be surveys that collect new information about groups of employees, models of the dynamics of organizational behavior, or methods for solving the organization’s most pressing problems. Some learning comes from applying these tools, but most learning comes from the reflective conversations about information that is generated.
Therefore, while the building blocks of a learning organization are environment, work processes, and leadership, a learning organization is also using tools to continually produce new information that becomes the focus of networked conversations.