A recent focus on achieving organizational success involves using strategies that build a "learning culture" within an organization. This new approach expands the traditional role of training and development and focuses on how an organization can create and sustain continuous improvement, with a commitment to excellence as both a goal and a process. Becoming a learning organization requires a focus on the future--how to sustain past successes and how to improve. Some of the important characteristics that describe a learning organization include:
- Building continuous improvement within internal processes
- Adopting best practices and bench marking against other comparable organizations
- Providing ongoing training and development opportunities, especially "just in time" training
- Positioning managers as key facilitators for performance development, with emphasis on use of coaching skills
- Allowing for creativity in the workplace, using the unexpected as an opportunity to learn rather than a mistake
- Designing jobs around the skills of employees to help them achieve job satisfaction and build their career potential
- Striving to keep all employees energized and committed to the organization's goals
- Enhancing employee engagement by sharing vital information, seeking and using input from employees, and stressing shared decision-making.
Within each of the characteristics is the opportunity to create and implement training and development activities that, in large part, builds the learning culture.
By creating and implementing goals and practices reflecting those of a learning organization, a significant number of benefits can be achieved. For example, a much greater sense of vision, purpose, and direction can be developed among employees with the result of greater job satisfaction and performance, both in effectiveness and efficiency. Further, the level and quality of communication at all levels can be positively impacted, creating a more open, purposeful, and collaborative environment which can enhance employee engagement and their sense of belonging.
Another potential benefit to be achieved is centered in the development of employee skills and competencies, thus enabling them to broaden their performance capabilities and enhance their ability to perform in positions of higher responsibilities. A foundation for all of these benefits is their focus on being intrinsic in nature, widely respected and accepted as key benefits to maximize employee motivation and productivity.
To achieve the goal of becoming a learning organization, a number of organizational activities should be reviewed and, to some extent, changed to reflect this goal. As a first step, a review of core organizational documents/expectations (mission and vision statements, core values, operational goals) should be completed to ensure they support and enhance the organization's commitment to excellence and the other characteristics of a learning organization. Another focus of possible change for alignment is through reviewing current performance expectations (e.g., job descriptions, performance appraisal documents, individual employee goals) to see if they are directed toward achieving excellence in the goals achieved by employees. A further important focus centers on examining the current organizational beliefs regarding achieving high performance among employees, and in providing ongoing opportunities for training and development, both as part of an employee's current position or for their career development. Documents and practices to review in this area can include the use of:
- Coaching practices to assist in providing performance feedback and meeting employee development needs
- Implementation of performance expectations which center on employees being actively involved in participating in training and development activities
- Making available a wide variety of training and development opportunities and encouraging employee participation in these activities
- Integrating practices to recognize, reinforce, and reward work achievements that reflect the highest level of employee performance
Driving Forces to Achieve Success
As with most organizational initiatives, the ability and likelihood of achieving the goal of being a learning organization will rest on the values and commitment of senior leaders within the organization. Their leadership in creating and implementing a supportive climate and related practices is a primary driving force in this process, and their role in having other leaders buy into being committed to the strategies that support the learning culture is invaluable!