Measures of a Learning Organization – Part 1

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Created Date : 13 Dec 2013

There is no doubt that every organization is to a variable extent a learning organization. Otherwise it would not be possible to sustain and grow or even survive for long. The question is isit learning enough to grow and become a successful player in its field of operation? There is no element of doubt that in a new world order which is going to be uncertain and ever changing only organizations and individuals who have a strong culture of learning and adapting quickly can survive and thrive. In this context a discussion on how effective we are as a learning organization becomes topical and significant. So how much of a learning organization are we currently? The thought appeared while reviewing the Training dashboard with senior management where data showed that we were very close to achieving the Training KRA with a full quarter still to go. Does this imply that we werelearning enough? Though most of us understand, let us briefly elaborate for a common understanding what Learning means. Learning here implies not just knowing something new but also an ability to apply it. Hence it will be incorrect to simply use the Training KRA achieved as a measure because it is an in-process measure not an end-process one. Since effective learning means doing something, howsoever small, differently and in a presumably better way, a learning organization simply put would be one where things continue to improve, where at least the same mistakes are not repeated. Thus some effective end-process measures for a learning organization could be – have we improved our hit rate of winning proposals? Is the gap between our planned estimates and actual efforts reducing? Has our defect density reduced or at least defects of individual categories reducing? Is the percentage of projects going into Code Red for similar reasons becoming less? Are the questions on which we get low scores in Employee surveys changing over the years and are those low scores increasing in average? Is our track record of implementing initiatives improving? There could be many more. How many of these numbers have improved and how many have remained static over the last couple of years. So how does an organization improve itself further as a learning organization? What are the enablers and barriers? Learning is a continuous and individual process and therein lays the fallacy in using the Training KRA as a measure (since that will mean we are supposed to learn for only a certain number of days in a year) and making the Learning teams solely responsible for organizational learning. They are one of the enablers, not the only ones. One of the best and easiest ways by which most of us learn is by observing. My six year old son has learnt to make his own tea though we didn’t teach (or train) him and ideally would not want him to start using the stove at such an early age. Yet it provides an interesting analogy to why and how we learn. The primary reason he learnt was because he was hungry. He is a hyperactive child and needs something to eat regularly, so during afternoons when his mother is sleeping and loath to wake up he realized the best way to quench his hunger would be to make his own tea and have a packet of biscuits. So he, on his own, observed how the gas is lighted, what are the ingredientsto make tea and where they are stored, what is the process and tools etc. His first few cups weren’t exactly great but now they are good to serve the purpose.And he also realized that there is great pride in being able to do things independently and beyond his age. Thus the first question to ask is do we have the ‘hunger’ to learn,a deeply felt need inside to improve our current state? The IT industry due to its people centric nature and performance driven culture requires us to sell ourselves continuously, right from job applications to self-appraisals to proposals we write for our customers. Which means admitting to an area of improvement (and thus a need for learning) is perceived as a weakness. And over the years of telling the world how perfect we are we begin to believe it ourselves. Like that famous Zen story our cup is already full leaving little space for anything new. Hunger is thus fundamental to learning because once the hunger is felt we all will be able to find our ways to learn and satisfy that hunger; even a six year old could. All that is needed after that is to observe because in an organization there are enough people ‘making tea’ all around us. And they can be great sources of learning without having the need for specific training programs. In the Project and Delivery Management workshops that I conduct one of the common requests is to share the best practices in other geographies / customers / organizations. I had no idea of these before I joined the training department and I learnt about them only after conducting these week long workshops with project and delivery managers of the various geographies. It was only these intensive interactions over multiple days which ‘taught’ me these best practices. When I was a project/program manager my knowledge was as limited as these participants. But is Training a few dozen managers in some of these best practices the best way of spreading the learning? Definitely it isn’t.This brings us to the next important in-process measure for a learning organization besides Training i.e. Rotation. How does Rotation enable organizational learning? What is meant by rotation in the learning context and how can an organization enable rotation? And what could be other organizational enablers for a Learning Organization besides Rotation? Let us discuss these and more of similar points in our next blog. PS: This is the first in a 3 part series on building and strengthening a Learning Organization.

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