Category Archives: Adult 623 Organizational Learning Fall 2013

Is it Finally Time to Drive Toward a Learning Culture?

As Schein notes in our text with references to the Drucker Foundation, 1999; Global Business Network, 2002; Schwartz, 2003; and Michael, 1985, 1991; “we basically do not know what the world of tomorrow will really be like, except that it will be different, more complex, more fast fast-paced, and more culturally diverse.”  (Schein, pg 365) A quote that rings so true with much of what I have observed not only within my own organization, but through observations of our world and society as a whole as well.  And yet despite, can we truly say that our organizations and those around us are embracing the benefits that a learning culture could/can bring to changes like these?  Noting the dates in the quote above, considering the publishing date of our Schein text (2010) and reflecting on others discussed in class throughout the semester; it seems surprising that the drive for a learning culture has not been adopted by more sooner.   As I stated in class yesterday, leaders of today and tomorrow must be forward-thinking,  with a grasp of not only what may be best for the organization in the now, but also what may be best to continue to stay viable in the future.

“Culture is a stabilizer, a conservative force, and a way of making things meaningful and predictable.” (Schein, pg 365)   Leaders with this understanding coupled with an ability to know the best and most suitable direction to lead their employees, I believe, can create and drive a culture that supports longevity and what we’ve learned this semester can be the makeup of a learning organization.  So I can’t help but wonder as we come to the close of the semester and our studies on this topic, where are organizations of our society headed?  Will org. cultures change as the world around us continues at its current pace?  Or will the idea of learning as an organization continue to be the tortoise in the race?

Culture and Size, is There a Relationship?

I do not dispute that there is learning within my organization or that there may very well be processes or systems in place that encourage knowledge transfer and/or organizational learning more than I may realize.  What I do wonder however is if  healthcare facilities and business were once better at knowledge sharing because of their size or the value that organizations placed on relationships in the past.  This is not to imply that relationships are no longer important, but the emphasis is perhaps just…different.  Consider first that many years prior to now companies (hospitals included) were smaller, more intimate, family run, etc.; promoting perhaps an organic environment for relationships among all employees.  Further still employees often socialized outside of work, took lunch breaks together, worked together…. we were perhaps a less individualistic culture as a society?  And, if true, I ponder if this may have helped to encourage or naturally result in sharing of knowledge; because we needed each other and it was expected that we did.   But thinking now of current societal expectations, current cultures of some organizations, our current focus on the importance of relationships, I cannot help but wonder if we are recognizing disparities or possibilities because of what has been and our understanding now.

To consider a more current example, think back to our Dixon readings early on in class.  Many of her positive examples included smaller facilities that were purposefully kept on the smaller scale.  But in many cases now, you will find overarching organizations and the words “globalization” in just about every field you see.  So…is there a relationship between culture and size?  And if so does that culture grow diverse and more inclusive with this growth, or does it instead loose focus and foundation?  We are often astounded at how far back the studies go regarding the significance of culture in any and all organizations, but I can’t help but wonder-when did we discover the need to start paying attention?

Considering Vella; the Influence Educational Awareness May Have on a Culture

While some of this post is a copy from the post for my other class, I wanted to change the tone only slightly and share the content/thoughts with my Organizational Learning associates as well.  As I read the text for my Design and Delivery class, How Do They Know They Know by Jane Vella, Paula Berardinelli and Jim Burrow, I couldn’t help but pause on a statement found on page 32, “additional improvements can be made by paying attention to the daily work environment of the learners and the personal characteristics and motivation of the leaders.”

I considered this quote from the perspective of my chosen topic for the project in the class.  The topic is an offering that I have already created and conducted several times in my workplace. It’s a popular topic and one that many continue to request, but I can’t always guarantee that the empowerment or motivation that I sense as they leave the classroom continues once they return to an environment that has not had the enlightenment or feeling of inspiration to change as they have. Without any real way to evaluate whether that motivation continues or whether the learning opportunity has really created a change in behavior, it leaves me to assume that the session has made a difference.

But instead of assuming, I’d like to really know. I’d like to create an opportunity to discover just how much of an impact the session really made and, if any, obstacles they may have encountered when they went back to ‘the real world’. I’d like to really consider the impact that their daily work environment has or may have had on their learning. While the topic that I facilitate is not necessarily life changing, nor is it rocket science; I’d like to think that creating awareness in a few people about how they can establish and maintain better relationships in the workplace can impact more than just that person. I’d like to think that it can begin to also build a better culture, create a better environment to work in and, ultimately, create a better organization for employees and the patients that we serve. For a smile can certainly brighten someones day, a caring heart can create the feeling of warmth that is so desperately needed in our darkest hour, and a helping hand can be the strength that we need on our toughest day. From a higher level, these things can also create the culture that empowers us to do well in our workplace, motivates us to go the extra mile and inspires us to be the team player that contributes to the team’s (departmental and organizational) overall success.

So while I paused to consider whether or not what I have decided on is reminiscent of what Vella described in the referenced quote, I’d like to also ask my classmates from Organizational Learning if they agree that such a creation of awareness has the potential to impact something as tremendous as an entire organizational culture?  Considering what we’ve discussed thus far and tapping into our recent readings from Schein, can education truly impact or influence culture?  Can organizational learning really begin with the awareness of a few if it creates a movement of many?

Which Comes First? Individual Learning or Organizational Learning as a Whole?

While I realize that perhaps part of the premise of this class is to explore the possibility of whether an organization’s learning begins with the individual, especially an individual perhaps in a position of power, or does it in fact occur at times as an entire organization comes upon a new realization? One could argue the point either way, for when an error occurs is it just the one person that learns from the mistake or instead, the entire organization learns a new way not to do things? Especially when there is something in place that allows for the sharing of that new knowledge? And yet, must the knowledge be embraced by someone in a position of relevance before someone will truly listen to this new way of thinking? But better still, what causes someone to be in a position of what one would consider relevance? Is it because they are charged with making decisions? Or is it simply because they have gained the respect of those that are listening? But with this point perhaps I digress…

As we read the article recently, Culture & Organizational Learning by Cook and Yanow, we were introduced to the idea that Bolman (1976) believed organizational learning to be “learning experiences for key decision makers”. (pg. 375) And I have to agree, for in order for the change in the organization that many look for as a sign of organizational learning to even take place, do we not need those in upper management (or in a position of decision making, change making, power) to support and/or assist in incorporating these new ideas? I have always been a tremendous proponent of ‘from the top down’ in order to achieve the change that an organization seeks. So in this case I do wonder, does organizational learning begin with the individual and then become an organization that learns together?

And, as the article seems to point out in a variety of ways, how are most key decision makers influenced to make a change in the first place in their organization? Typically due to a need, something isn’t working well, the company is doing poorly, the employees are collectively not working as productively or collaboratively as possible and perhaps it’s beginning to effect the bottom line…Regardless the point remains the same, those that are charged with making decisions decide to make a change. They are then ready to take in the Org. Learning opportunity that is necessary at the time, they embrace it and then put it out to the larger organization. The organization as a whole then begins to collectively learn and change together. That new knowledge then becomes a part of the culture of that organization and as individuals come and go in the company, the learning is passed on and embraced by them as the current way of knowing. In this instance it may then return to being considered as an individual learning opportunity; the new person is learning, but yet the way of knowing still remains rooted within the culture of that organization until another change uproots it. And yet it also remains rooted in the individual as something that has been learned, whether they are still a part of the organization or not. Consider how many have resisted change by saying, “we’ve always done it this way so why change now?” So then can it be both depending on how it is viewed?

So as I try to gather these rampant thoughts that seem to continuously contradict conclusions as to which came first; I think back to a quote from page 378 of the article, “Organizational learning, then, describes a category of activity that can only be done by a group. It cannot be done by an individual.” So perhaps then, the true argument is who has the power to turn their individual learning into something that may spark what can only be described as organizational learning. But then, can we have one without the other?

Put Down the Hammer

As you read the title I would imagine the first image that comes to mind is someone with a hammer driving a nail into a board or some sort of something. And with that image I now ask you to consider, have you ever felt that way when an organization you were a part of began to institute a change?

This is not to imply that change is always forced or that your organization does not attempt to get your input, but after reading the fourth chapter of the text The Organizational Learning Cycle by Nancy Dixon, I cannot help but wonder about missed opportunities in the way changes are instituted and why they may at times end up failing.

As we’ve learned in our reading, experiences shape a significant part of our belief system. And, as a result, trying to reshape that belief system, especially when it’s on a grander scale like the whole organization, can prove difficult when you neglect to include them or consider the variety of experiences, perceptions, opinions, etc. that shape the beliefs that you are trying to revamp. Changes in our tacit knowledge cannot, or should not, be hammered in, they should be learned instead.

Take for example how Dixon relates the Kolb learning cycle to Organizational learning on the collective scale. While Kolb’s theory speaks of individual experiences and how a change in our action can change our experiences, thus resulting in learning; we sometimes forget the impact of the organization as a whole on that individual’s ability to apply the necessary action that results in change. It is becoming more and more evident that in order for change and learning to occur, the environment that the individual is in must be open and/or supportive of that change. As Dixon cites on page 66, “everyone needs all of the information everyone else has. The task is one of integrating newly generated information into the organizational context.”

And in this process known as the Organizational Learning cycle, one must remember to appreciate each member’s perspective, background and experience level (etc.) as they are brought to the table. For, “without difference learning does not occur.” (pg 66) And yet the ability to consider the importance of these varied perspectives is frequently forgotten. Further still, “because there are many potential solutions, it is less critical that the collective come to a right answer and more critical that collective meaning is made, so that those that must act upon the meaning (and often that is everyone) can support their actions with their own reasoning.” (pg 55) So if we fail to involve all at the very start, or fail to encourage a variety of perspectives, how can we truly expect learning or the investment of all in a change that we seek? H0w can we truly expect to be successful?