Building a Learning Organisation

Maybe the first question should be “So what exactly IS a ‘Learning Organisation ??” It does, after all , sound like the sort of consultant jargon that’s wheeled out to impress people without fully knowing what it is.

Well, ask yourself this: how much EASIER would managing performance, delivering innovation, creative thinking, analysis and strategy development and generally moving a company forward be if everyone in the organisation was open to a culture of learning and change? If PERSONAL development and continued learning was an accepted norm amongst employees…rather than being signed up for the odd training course?

Happily, there’s been a lot of research in this area (Donald Schon, Chris Argyris, Peter Senge etc etc) which defines far more accurately what we’re talking about here.

From the grass roots perspective of  someone who’s devised and  / or delivered a range of learning programmes in a wide variety of organisations large and small, the obvious factors that an organisation needs to consider are:

TO ELEVATE THE STATUS OF LEARNING:  this requires some leadership from senior management (who, after all, are not omniscient!) …and some sincerity. An ‘I’ve arrived’ mentality at senior level is usually coupled with a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ approach to learning and development, which doesn’t work. People can see right through it, and will copy senior management actions rather than instructions when push comes to shove. 

Disrespect for HR and Learning and Development departments doesn’t help here, neither does a culture where workplace learning is seen as corrective or remedial.

TO CONDONE THE ENJOYMENT OF LEARNING:  I try very hard NOT to work with organisations who insist on a ‘death by powerpoint’ , didactic approach to learning.  I’ve even had one look at some photos from one of my training course and remark that ‘it ought to be toned down a bit – it looks like they’re having too much fun’ .  How boring. How uninspiring. How UNlikely to motivate someone to want to learn and grow more.

YES, the outcomes are serious,and business objectives must be met:  but if people can enjoy and engage with the learning experience, it is more likely to have a lasting impact in the workplace…and lead to continued learning and growth.

SUPPORTING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEARNING: this should involve some effort to shift the culture of an organisation. It’s a bit pointless, for example, sending people on creative thinking or assertiveness courses, and then having them come back to a stagnant work environment that tells them to shut up and get on with the same old same old.

So, who really DOES want a culture of learning and growth in their organisation?  Because that could mean some changes in attitude and mindset…


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