The present enterprises are up against strict challenges, of which the most strenuous are fast technology adaptation, worldwide competition and clients demand for enhanced quality. This is just the tip of the iceberg. A company needs to adhere to changes fast accordingly so as to survive in the global environment. So, in short, knowledge and continual learning are crucially imperative. The competitive advantage for any company is knowledge. But according to Dr. Yogesh Malhotra (2003), initiating chairman as well as chief knowledge Architect of BRINT Institute, LLC states that, 'Knowledge is a competitive tool only in cases where action oriented approach is taken. Competitive advantage is plausible when information is translated into substantial action'. A key method of creating wealth of knowledge and resources into formidable action is via instituting a learning organization (Gardiner et al., 2001).
In this paper, the focus is to examine the learning organization and debate the core issues concerned with developing a modern learning firm in two intermediate government organizations.
The concepts of learning organization
The concept of a learning organization evolved from the work of Peter Senge's book 'The fifth discipline (1990)' (Smith, 2001). In line with to Peter Senge, 'a learning organization will continually expand its learning curve and institute it in the future' (Senge 1990). Many writers (Pedler et al. 1989; Watkins and Marsick 1992) have given their own definitions of a learning organization. All of them do see on the on same page regarding continuous improvement. The benefits an organization can take advantage are multiple for instance; enhanced learning abilities of an individual, a bankable environment, enhanced workplace adaptation, competitive organization performance (Driver, 2002). Driver was held accountable for being very abstract and not referring a concrete framework of action.
Are both organizations on the pathway of learning?
Prior to delving deeper into learning the factors involved in making a learning organization, the present company's status must be taken in consideration.
Argyris and Schon (1978) have proposed three stages of organizational learning. The initial stage is the error detection as well as correction with least alteration in practices and policies of an organization. The second stage arises, when employees challenge the practices and norms of an organization. The third stage is that of 'deutero-learning'; it's the uppermost stage of learning is. In this stage, the emphasis is on 'thinking about earlier experiences, learning from them and honing upon them (Stafylarakis, Eldridge, 2008: 8)'.
The company in question is still on stage one otherwise called single loop learning. Company does have consistent training. It seems that a third party company is hired to execute the training program on the topics selected by the staff development section which ran both compliance training as well as some developmental programs. The topics can range from personal development to team building. The window of opportunity is there for the administrative staff, but rarely for the technical employees. The administrative staff can also attend seminars all round the year depending on their professional issues aligned.
First and foremost, the learning process is reactive rather than proactive. The topics to be learned are selected according to the interests of administrative staff and attention isn't paid to organizational needs. The fact that, they are still flogging three-year-old issues simply means that imperative changes didn't take place. The practiced norms and methodologies of work weren't challenged before and no major changes were made with the exception of office renovation. Argyris and Schon (1978, cited in Walton 1999) think that stage two must be reached in order to become a learning organization.
The opposite is true for the second organization, named Govt2. In fact, one of the first new initiatives was the development of targeted organisational learning which was based on the actual performance deficiencies of staff as well as proactive needs analysis to determine future developmental needs of the organisation. The concept of "performance conversations" between staff and their supervisors was encouraged on a monthly basis and the results of these fed into a database to determine future developmental activities.
Stafylarakis and Eldridge (2008) have given their version of a learning organization, which will be dealt with later in the paper. They are nine steps after which an organization becomes a learning organization. One such concept is an experimental mindset, which is a given and an environment, which promotes experimentation. In the first organization, Govt1, it seems that is very constricted and new ideas are filtered out; they are rendered a deaf ear. This could be because Gov1 is highly unionised and most members belong to the Public Service Association, although some belong to other unions associated with their technical fields. When many of the older workers started working, promotion was based on seniority and while this changed to merit-based selection in the late 1970s, there is still some of this mindset within Gov1. It also seems that the training sessions are actually a time for employees to socialize and that they do enjoy the socializing. It also seems that the employees are aware of the opinion that, during their employment in that particular organization, they are well aware of the fact that new alterations won't apply and their practicality is an improbable. New ideas aren't promoted and their implementation is a near impossibility.
Learning organizations are supposed to share ideas, value them, share information and stress on new information, according to Stafylarakis and Eldridge (2008). But the conventional hierarchical structure of an organization is subversive to such a healthy environment. The communication takes place from top to bottom level, cutting out the employees. While the above is true for the Govt1; the opposite is true for Govt2. This is primarily because, Gov2 has a reputation for being dynamic for a semi-government organisation and the median age of employees is around 34. Furthermore, Gov2 has a number of divisions that are semi-autonomous and involve quite diverse technical and non-technical activities.
The learning organization creates an environment for an employee to blossom. Gardiner et al. (2001) state in their article that, continuous learning is a given for a learning organization in order to promote an atmosphere of learning. It must be instated in all levels of hierarchy from top to bottom. It seems in the Govt1, the training sessions are for the technical staff and the administrative workforce only. The remainder of the employees is simply trained to work with a new device.
The company does give the learning opportunities to its workforce, but it has no intentions of instituting it into place. Garvin et al. (2008) talks about three parameters which are necessary for organizational learning: 'an encouraging learning environment, solid learning processes and methods, and institute leadership traits in its workforce'. These are termed as the foundations of a learning organization. These are the dilemmas which the first organization, Govt1, lacks.
Promoting a learning environment
In a learning organization, 'learning isn't limited to subordinate employees but also to senior management for formulating a business strategy' (Gardiner et al., 2001: 393). Most agree on promoting the top management for development in a learning organization. In Govt2, the top management doesn't deem the employees as expendable commodities and training is viewed as a proactive activity. The major hurdle is the training is up to the concerned individual, which should take place methodically. Whereas for Govt1, the present climate and structure of this organization renders it impossible to integrate new ideas and make alterations.
Garvin et al. (2008) has named four aspects for creating a supportive learning environment. One of them is psychological safety where the workforce isn't shy of voicing their ideas. In the highly unionized Govt1 organization, the climate is unhealthy as management's decisions aren't questioned, rather followed. Compliance training is the most popular training session in Govt1. The climate isn't conducive for being open minded to innovative ideas, which is a feature of a supportive learning environment. Taking risks is a risk itself because, the blame culture exists in the organization and managers are quick to notice it. For the second organization, even though, the employees can make some independent decisions, still they are mostly overseen by the top management.
Celebrating differences is necessary for every organization. It takes in consideration different thoughts and different point-of-views. Top management should believe in hiring fresh blood with innovative ideas to propel an organization forward. In Govt1, the top management may get aggressive when criticized on their methodology and on the back foot when new methods are put forward by the highly unionized labor force.
Fortified learning processes and methods are key challenges for both organizations
Learning organizations become one after constant effort. Garvin et al. (2008), states that 'learning process entails, gathering, assortment and generation as well as distribution of information. They are keen to test new products and services at their own expense'. After a training session, it is anticipated that new knowledge will be put to test which doesn't happen. The training ends and thoughts aren't shared as to what to be applied or…