Organisations that master the aspect of continuous learning and adapt to changes shall be the ones that will remain relevant. Else, only the fittest survives and the others become extinct.
While running a business all you would be doing is taking inputs from the environment, adding value through knowledge/skills, and generating an output viz. useful products or services for customers. Such an ideal process is continuous and a dream come true situation for organisations and people managing their businesses. However, today's environment is dynamic. There is a constant change in the available inputs within the ecosystem. Newer skills, knowledge, and technology are emerging continuously in the market place.
If you want your business to remain in existence forever in this dynamic world, it is imperative that the organisation is constantly upgrading in terms of skills and knowledge. The upgraded skills help business entities to:
• Discover, adapt, and absorb new inputs available in the market place
• Continuously upgrade the process of value addition to convert the inputs into better outputs
• Serve the output in the form of a relevant and delicious experience to the ever-changing needs of the customers.
Such a process of upgradation is possible when the organisation keeps learning continuously regarding the possible/necessary improvements from the ever-changing environment in which it operates. Organisations that master the aspect of continuous learning and adapt to changes shall be the ones that will remain relevant. Else, only the fittest survives and the others go extinct. And there are numerous illustrations of organisations disappearing from the corporate landscape. It is here that the concept of 'Learning Organisation' comes into the picture.
A learning organisation is one in which people continuously absorb knowledge by design through external and internal sources, and are continuously pushing this knowledge so that it can be used for the organisation’s progress.
Building a Learning Organisation
Learning as Cultural aspect: It is not sufficient that only a few people learn in order to build a learning organisation. Continuous Learning should be a widely practiced behavioural aspect at all levels in the organisation. Culture is a great tool to promote any behaviour across the length and breadth in an organisation. Leaders need to find ways to promote continuous learning as a cultural aspect. People should be made to understand that the times of one acquiring a skill and making a living on the basis of that skill until retirement are long gone. Some of the most sought-after skills of yesteryears are redundant today, and the same will be the case with skills that are highly saleable today. The purpose of promoting continuous learning as a cultural aspect is to create a desire in individuals to practice continuous learning as a virtue. The fact that learning can be fun and can enhance the excitement of work-life should be leveraged.
Art of Learning: Once the desire to learn continuously is created at an organisational level, it becomes important to provide avenues for learning. (Curiosity and learning come naturally to children. Several adults may have lost the ability to be curious and the aptitude to learn continuously. Though the desire to learn is created, they are likely to do better with some help, at least until the initial inertia is overcome.
Leaders need to act as the guiding light of learning by communicating the vision and the future focus areas of the organisation. Workforce should be guided on the What aspect of learning. They should be communicated with the short and long-term vision of the organisation, the current and future trends in the marketplace, and the possible focus areas of learning. This is the point at which vision meets strategy and gets converted into efforts.
Once the What aspect has been clarified to the workforce, the Where aspect needs to be addressed. Employees need to be provided with avenues where they can get access to knowledge. Some of the avenues of learning could be benchmarking with competitors, learning from best practices of diverse industries, close-knit relations with such educational institutes where research is carried out on relevant topics, analysis of past successes/failures, cross-functional projects within the organisation, and internet-based learning apart from the widely prevalent forms such as Class Room Training, Outbound camps, Corporate trainers, Seminars, etc.
Individual Knowledge = Organisational Knowledge? Learning which is stored in the form of memory or data in the mind of an individual cannot be termed as organisational learning as yet. It can be called organisational knowledge after it is shared with other relevant persons, can be used for future references or can be put to ready use for organisational progress.
Leaders need to devise methods for this to happen. Some of the ways in which such a thing can be made possible are knowledge sharing sessions at periodic intervals, revising standard operating processes using the acquired knowledge, revisiting existing processes, continuous improvement programmes/projects, etc. Such measures also reduce the ill-effects of indispensability of individuals in the organisation.
Learning + Practice = New Skill: It is common wisdom that knowledge when put to practice and repeated usage gets converted into a skill. In a learning organisation, new knowledge is acquired continuously, creating the opportunity to create new skills. It is the responsibility of Managers to identify such windows of opportunities and take advantage of the new skills. For instance, when Apple Inc. acquired the skill to marry aesthetic sense with the utility aspect of computers, it created a competitive edge and the company managed to make the best out of the skill.
Knowledge Put to Use: Knowledge acquisition or continuous learning process is not an end in itself. The end objective is to use the knowledge to keep and maintain the organisation in a progressive trajectory. In order for the last mile to be conquered in the process of building a learning organisation, leaders need to find suitable methods to bring the learning to life. Innovation drives with specific timelines, new product/ service developments, Customer Experience Enhancement Programmes, etc. are some ways to ensure that the learning culminates into competitive advantage/business gains for the organisation. Developing new and data-based approaches to organisational problem-solving at team levels is another important way of putting the learning to practical use. Learning organisations prefer to work with data rather than a hunch or gut-feeling based decision making.
The process of Continuous Learning needs continuous improvement. Once the process of building a Learning Organisation is plotted and put to action, periodical measurement of progress is imperative for success. Deming's continuous improvement cycle is a great guiding factor to ensure progress is measured and necessary corrective action is put in place. Remember, only that which can be measured can be managed.
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