Create the Learning Organization

by Lynn Szostek, Ph.D.

Work can be fun and fulfilling. To make that happen, you must first create a learning organization. 

Work can be fun and fulfilling! That's a bold statement for a generation who grew up with the philosophy of "that's why they call it work." As we cross the threshold into the next brave new world, "work" will take on a new focus beyond traditional business systems. Development of a conceptual framework using creativity and innovative action to complement the process for collaborative work, will be the key. System's theory, leadership styles, continuous quality / performance improvement, teams, productivity are all the current business channels for this application. However, in order to be competitive, global perspectives, transformational change, and futuristic strategic planning will need to be evidenced beyond these current business applications. How do we get there? And how can it be fun?

It is estimated that in a few years, individuals will have intelligent agents available anywhere and at anytime through personal communication systems called Knowbots. These virtual entities will be able to access information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, performing tasks such as data searches, electronic memory management, and communication with other Knowbots. These intelligent agents will be customized to us, coordinating knowledge that suits our lifestyles, learning needs, and perspectives. As more and more information becomes available to us, networks will create an opportunity for a global, collective brain trust, processing through an emerging web of intelligence. This will result in an increased need for perpetual learning as people keep pace with technology and lifestyle self improvement.

Generation X and Net Generation expect to be part of this transformation, not simply observers as in past generations. They thrive to collaborate, drive to innovate, and don't distinguish work, learning and play. Duly dubbed the "plug in" generation, they are shaping the future of organizations. These new employees seek organizations that are values based, sharing their same values and vision. Organizations are beginning to respond. It is not enough to have the correct job qualifications, rather beliefs and attitude are becoming more fundamental to the hiring process. Employees will remain "plugged in" to an organization that shares similar values, is fun, challenging, exciting and innovative. This is the definition of a learning organization. At a time where jobs will out number skilled employees, and "company loyalty" is a thing of the past, this is a critical variable in the retention of future employees.



A learning organization balances individual with organizational needs. It invites those with shared vision to network, enhancing the human potential in a collaborative environment. It offers an opportunity to learn from history, creating the future. The organization will continue to grow and develop as its "plugged in" employees grow and develop. To suggest that this is a new paradigm limits the potential of the learning organization. A paradigm suggests a structured thinking process, fixed, though new. The beauty of the learning organization is its ability to reflect the holistic view of the individual. It considers the mind - body- spirit connection inherit to us as human beings, giving way to a flexible structure, challenged learning, and collaborative spirit seeded in shared values. The spirit is demonstrated by the stewardship and commitment to contribution. It gives us a global perspective with a local commitment. It offers an inter and intra connectedness. It is limitless in its possibilities and seizes all opportunities to learn, grow and be better.

The most visible differences between the corporation of the future and its presents day counterpart will not be the products they make nor the equipment they use, but who will be working, why they will be working, and what work will mean to them.
- Robert Haas, CEO of Levi Strauss and Company

Since the 1950's, there have been a variety of theorists who espouse philosophies addressing continuous quality improvement. Organizational learning takes that into the next realm, collaborative quality teamwork. In the case of hospitals, that is evidenced in enhanced effective quality care. In manufacturing, superior product outcomes deliver superior products. In service systems, customer service in enriched. The difference is looking at the collaborative team versus the problem solving hierarchy. Collaboration is an interconnective working environment to better challenge and enhance team or group process, focused on a common vision. People then come together in a common cause versus a turf orientation, connectedness versus alienation. It tends to be proactive because of the constant challenge of ourselves and each other to do and be better.

This is departure from the reactive stance current organizations take. It fosters a visionary leadership rather than abiding to a hierarchical organization fraught with issues of power and control. Power and control only serve to inhibit the spirit of an organization, thus limiting its potential. We see a shift in philosophy, and out of the collaborative process comes intense trust. It is as if the team or individuals collectively say "I haven't a clue where we are going but trust we will get where we need to be and the outcome will be incredible." This vision will be the new world order. Instead of conforming to "rules", that gave structure to the hierarchy, vision expects that the individuals will challenge themselves and others having no clue but a general and collective sense of direction. The process is the journey and the outcome. This is the essence of a learning organization.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. The important thing is to not stop questioning.
- Albert Einstein

People in learning organizations think outside the nine dots and live limitlessly, instead of being fixed by their paradigms. They have fun and feel enriched, instead of just collecting a paycheck. They feel empowered with opportunities and possibilities. Instead of defensive excuses that create barriers such as "we've never done it that way" or " we tried that before and it didn't work", the new organization engages in the celebration of limitless thinking. Celebration, instead of avoidance of punishment, instills personal and organizational confidence. Thinking is limitless, inclusionary, instilling a sense of belonging and contribution. Team building is evidenced in team budgeting, team goal setting and interdepartmental communication and decision making, reflecting and enhancing the overall vision of the organization. There is managed risk taking, instead of entrenchment. Adages like "we've never done it this way before so it must be wrong" are not accepted in the new organization.

In the learning organization, permission to create and be innovative unleashes the human potential, creating consonance out of dissonance. Power lies with the teams instead of the top in the hierarchical structure. The job description reflects the values of a learning organization, including flexibility, accountability, customer focus, life long learning and growth, and team dedication. How can we maximize our individual and team potential in this new organization? There are pods made up of like minded people who share similar values, beliefs, and vision. Staff meetings focus on a shared vision, paying attention to the individual's role as part of the whole. Team learning is the collaborative and collective contribution. "What do you need to be the best you can be" is the new management mantra. "Who can teach you and who do you teach" is an integral part of the learning organization process. Everyone feels empowered with learning . Everyone has something to learn and to share. Through learning comes progression. Contribution is a human need that is enhanced in such an inspiring environment.

The best companies know, without a doubt, where the real productivity comes from. It comes from challenged, empowered, excited, rewarded teams of people. It comes from engaging every single mind in the organization, making everyone part of the action, and allowing everyone to have a voice in the success of the enterprise. 
- Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric

In this new organizational structure, dialog will replace debate, as debate is a carryover from a power hierarchy. Dialog enhances the individual and team learning and keeps focus on the issue and direction. In a dialog, people are invited to become a part of something. This focus shifts from reacting to creating. To re-engineer is to fix a fixed paradigm. To unleash the creative energies of individual and group potential, leads to unlimited potential. The organization actually takes on a life of its own, empowering the members within. This shared enrollment provides a competitive edge leading to prosperity and reward for hard work.

How can one start evolving into a learning organization?
Confront irrational fears of change as irrational, replacing them with affirmations. Explore what works and do more of it! Explore what doesn't work and do the opposite. BE a good listener, non judgmental, affirming. Listen for understanding not for winning over. Mentor limitless thinking and celebrating. Demonstrate managed risk taking, learning from mistakes and create opportunities for learning. Take time to develop relationships that empower and teach, facilitating growth. Be fair, objective and data driven, while fostering the human connection. Acknowledge the human needs that bind us all by our similarities, trust, respect, and contribution. Acknowledge the role of diversity as contribution to growth. Look for shared vision, shared growth, shared satisfaction and shared incentive. Note, mutual effort leads to mutual satisfaction. Remember, all things should contribute, fostering growth.

Paying attention to two fundamental areas will allow the group to function whole and completely. Evaluate abilities, skills, and knowledge with interest. Personal mastery is most important, building a futuristic, competitive, enriched learning organization from the fundamental areas of knowledge and interest, or shared vision. Focusing on assets versus deficits leads to out of the box, limitless thinking. Focusing on inspiration leads to other inspirations. It is important that we give our organizations, thus the individuals, permission to make mistakes. As in the baseball metaphor, if you never risk swinging the bat for fear of striking out, you can never expect to hit the ball either. Teams challenged to ask why not instead of why, reinforce the belief that all efforts and learning have value. This is true organizational learning!

The future belongs to those who dare. 
- Anonymous

Perspectives of aggressiveness, power, and competitiveness are being replaced by shared vision, ownership, connectedness, and empowerment. We are transcending materialistic beliefs with a sense or quest for greater purpose and meaning. Our social responsibility reflects in community action. There is a tendency toward inner wisdom, and a thirst for knowledge giving way to greater intrinsic sense of self. Flexibility, innovation, inspiration, creativity, growth are values embraced by individual's and fostered in a learning organization. These shared goals and values transcend the workplace into our other organizations, families, social, academic, or religious circles.

Perhaps such new organizations should be renamed the collaboration for enhanced learning and competency, feeding the shared vision and interest. This creates the ultimate life style reflective of a healthy community, defined by purpose and contribution. Maintaining the integrity of who we are within the core values central to us all is critical. It becomes a touchstone that provides balance as we move forward. Shared vision is about BEING not doing, it embodies our beliefs and convictions, reflected in the process of a learning organization that continues to feed the vision through growth, empowerment, innovation and inspiration. It is where individuals can achieve their ultimate destiny.

Work can be fun, exciting, and fulfilling, dedicated to the personal enhancement of each individual, thus the collective organization and global community. When we are empowered as people, we enhance the world around us. As we begin this vision quest we focus on our values, taking responsibility for ourselves while being responsive to others. Living a life of choices empowers us to continue this quest. A creative force to find our own meaning and purpose is what we all embrace as the quest.


Copyright c 2001, by Lynn Szostek. All rights reserved.

 
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