Organizational Learning like most Human Resource topics tends to have a shelf life. This shelf life has its peaks and valleys depending on which tenant of the Organizational vision is being missed or appears to be waning. When it comes to Organizational learning it is oftentimes treated like contract support and is the first thing to go when it is time for budget cuts. Because of this, the idea that employees’ individual development is important becomes nothing more than a t-shirt slogan. Do not take my word for it I’ll let Richard Snell say it in a more believable voice “Being a learning organization is a long-term guiding aspiration that can be glimpsed, but is not likely to be achieved in the near future”. Taking care of the people asset in an organization mitigates the risk of issues down the road. A systemic issue has materialized across organizations in the areas of in knowledge sharing, training programs, team dynamics, work experiences, procedural application, and process advancement or development. The initial and most immediate action must be to research the root of the problem and develop a change management plan to help with implementation.
In his book Demystifying Organizational Learning, Raanan Lipshitz states “Divergence begets divergence, giving rise to a secondary stream of organizational learning literature offering typologies and conceptual frameworks for making sense of the theoretical diversity”. Deep diving into these mystifications brings of several topics of reference:
- Mystification of multiple parochial disciplines
- Treating Organizations like People
- Visionaries and the Skeptics
The mystification of multiple parochial disciplines places a strain on the manager to employee relationship as it pertains to learning. Principal learning subjects and models are why an organization cannot simultaneously sustain consistent and evolving learning environments. The scheme of what needs to happen is so grand that it becomes unreasonable when attempting to give shared knowledge parameters or quantitative measurable outcomes. The current organizational learning environment, for the most part, is outsourced to training consultants and established adult learning organizations.
The second mystification is one that has eluded many organizations. This mystification is Treating Organizations like People. Lipshitz suggests, “the transition from individual to organizational learning remains unspecified.” The thought that anthropomorphism is actually a thought process of an organization leads us to understand that there is disconnect. I am reminded of an HR department meeting I attended in a previous organization where a key HR stakeholder discussed the topic of learning from a macro level as this unattainable object. The approach has been treated conceptually versus personally. Not specifying what learning looks like from a development standpoint gives way to being disconnected from the process altogether. Not approaching learning as an intentional part of the business it places little to no emphasis on it ever being a priority in employee development, which adds risks pertaining to retention of top talent. Employees regardless of generation want to know that a financial investment is being made into their future. Helping employees see that they are more than clock punchers and that their personal development is connected to the company’s overall strategy is a powerful tool that must be leveraged.
Lastly, the third mystification is between the Visionaries and the Skeptics. The ideas that persist on the executive level versus the employee level are miles apart. The visionaries hold positions placing emphasis on global ramifications profusely trying to figure out how to leverage internal vs external learning support. While the skeptics are naturally at all levels, trying to figure out why a comprehensive approach to learning should be a shared experience in the first place. Across most companies two schools of thought are battling for supremacy. One thought is that learning is and should be an individually driven activity and that employees know what they want and must take the proverbial bull by the horns. The other is that learning should be an intentional activity that is generated with the organization’s vision in mind deploying and offering courses that enforce team unity. These two notions highlight the divide between a fundamental hierarchal need to self-actualize. Not to go extremely academic on you, but William Huitt recognized that “Each individual’s needs must be satisfied at the lower levels before they progress to higher, to more complex levels.” Self-actualization places a need to develop a learning environment that develops from the bottom up. A knowledge gap exists between management and the employee causing tension that is shifting needs. I believe that the organization that bridges this gap in understanding and fundamental practice will win the race for the retention of top talent. Those same organizations will also figure out that placing a premium on growing from within is actually cost saving to the bottom line.
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