Organizational Learning and Change Management

Over a past few decades the concept of “Organizational Learning” has acquired increasing importance, due to rapid changes in the business environment and increasing competition.

An extensive review of the Literature stresses on the fact that the organizations which build their learning capabilities can enjoy a leadership edge in the competition, can remain innovative and significantly improve their top line as well as bottom line profitability.

In 1990, Senge in his seminal book “The Fifth Discipline”, provided an elaborate coverage on the core disciplines which contribute towards building a learning organization and those are shared vision, learning of teams, systemic approach, personal mastery and mental models.

Organizational Learning can be interpreted in terms of a continuum from progresses from the stage of no learning to the complete learning stage.

No learning stage is characterized by rigidities, insensitive approaches or closed attitude towards sharing of realities and experiences. While, on the other hand, full learning stage characterizes openness, flexibility and adaptability towards the changing events or experiences.

There are several forces or mechanisms which contribute towards establishment of learning organizations.

Elements of Organizational Learning

  • Organizational Learning is an ongoing process which produces everlasting changes in several areas as a result of integrated initiatives.

  • Organizational Learning involves three main subsystems:

    1. The first subsystem is acquisition of new inputs and its analysis. The new inputs may include any change within the organization, changes in the organizational structure or technology. This stage characterizes innovation in the organization.

    2. The second subsystem is involves retention of the newly acquired input and the successful retention would largely depend on how effectively the new input is integrated with the existing processes. This subsystem can be regarded as the implementation stage of Organizational Learning.

    3. The third subsystem involves stabilization and usage of the newly acquired inputs in the day to day processes of an organization.

  • Organizational Learning results in improving capabilities of an organization for further learning on its own.

Mechanism for fostering Organizational Learning

This can be analysed in five different categories:

  1. Organizational Flexibility and Experimentation: Flexible organizations have improved capabilities in addressing the problems or issues by identifying newer alternatives or various possible solutions. Organizations which remain open for experimentation and trying out newer methodologies, enjoy an edge in the competitive battle and are more profitable. For promoting organizational flexibility and experimentation, the following mechanisms may be used:

    • Invite experienced practitioners or experts who have met success at work by implementing change in the organization. Ask them to share their experiences with a few selected representatives of the organization.

    • Encourage employees to use their problem solving abilities for addressing various issues and apply their creative mind for tackling various problems, even if they may not get success every time.

    • Provide positive reinforcements in the form of rewards to the people who use new approaches for solving a problem and achieve success in it.

    • Review performance periodically and hold periodic meetings for sharing the objectives and experiences, successful initiatives and outcomes of various experiments.

    • Organize seminars and workshops for raising awareness on the new changes and successful initiatives.

  2. Team work and Mutuality: Team work and mutuality is one of the major pre-requisite for promoting organizational learning. The following mechanisms may result in establishing an environment of collaboration, mutuality and team support:

    • Sharing of experiences, new ideas and innovative approaches both within the organizations as well as with other organizations.

    • Create task forces for realizing mission critical goals, implementing new projects and reviewing the project success and for communicating a shared vision to the employees of the organization.

    • Review the progress of new initiatives or projects by holding periodic meetings headed by the top or senior management officials. Top management can play a crucial role in integrating objectives, building internal synergies and fostering a collaborative environment for implementing change successfully.

  3. Contingency and Incremental Planning: A contingency approach to planning or incremental planning foster organizational learning. Contingency planning improves organizational preparedness in identifying alternative solutions for proactively addressing problems of varying nature. The mechanisms can lead to contingency planning:

    • Detailed plans reflecting the contingent approach can be prepared. Time bound goals can be defined, but should equally include the best possible alternatives.

    • Learning gets reinforced if new initiatives are integrated with the existing processes or practices.

    • Record the learnings derived from new experiences and continuously review performance and improvements which take place as a result of effective planning.

    • Create task forces and encourage groups to identify alternative approaches and solutions for implementing a change.

  4. Competency Building: Organizational Learning requires strengthening of desired competencies, which can be done in the following ways:

    • Competency building can be done by inviting experts or practitioners for sharing their experiences or best practices and encouraging people to endorse change.

    • Organizing seminar programmes and representing employees for participating in external trainings for acquiring new skills or competencies.

    • Creating task forces for communicating shared goals to the people involved in the change process, implementing pilot projects for achieving pre-defined change objectives in several areas as per the plans of the top management.

  5. Establishing Temporary System: Temporary systems in the form of task forces or groups or pilot project groups are formed with the objective of achieving quick outcomes/decisions involving various aspects of change. The advantages of temporary system have been provided below:

    • Diverse viewpoints or decisions can be obtained from the members representing cross functional, interdepartmental and inter-regional backgrounds.

    • Time bound objectives can be fulfilled as a result of which the tasks can be completed faster.

    • Temporary system facilitate objective oriented approach for addressing the problems of diverse nature.

    • Temporary system encourage risk orientation and independent outlook for solving complicated issues.

    • Temporary systems are a flexible framework which can be created or dissolved as per the changing requirements.

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Change Management