First of all, let us define what is meant by a “learning organisation”. Beck (1989) defines a learning organisation “is one which facilitates learning and personal development of all its employees, whilst continually transforming itself”. The notes expand on this by stating that is also one that encourages people to build on their capabilities in a learning culture.
A learning culture can be defined as an environment where people feel comfortable in taking risks. They are encouraged to innovate and try different things and can make and admit to mistakes without penalty. A learning culture such as this leads to continuous improvement because people are constantly learning new skills and knowledge that can be applied in the organisation (Marsick & Watkins 2003).
The focus of organisational learning is to build the skills and knowledge of people in an organisation so they can better perform their work. This has benefits for both parties as the organisation has access to higher skill sets and the individual is continually learning. In turn, this relationship provides the organisation with the ability to maintain its competitive edge in the marketplace.
“a place where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn tighter.”
It would seem there are some semantics around the use of terms here. A learning organisation is not the same as organisational learning (Argyris & Schon 1978), which is an area where academics research how an organisation learns. The notes suggest that a learning organisation is more relevant to practitioners considering how an organisation should learn.
What Do Learning Organisations Do?
- foster a culture where people are encouraged to learn, think critically, innovate, and take risks
- allow mistakes knowing that growth and learning will result
- look to opportunities to experiment and gain experience
- freely share knowledge amongst all within the organisation
Characteristics of a Learning Organisation
A recommended article for reading was Collings and McMackin (2021) who identified seven key features that separated learning organisations from others. These features were:-
- Identify a North Star to guide and direct Learning and Development decisions
- Establish a skills baseline and complete a skills audit of the organisation and maintain an inventory
- Align Learning and Development efforts with strategic priorities
- Ensure that the Learning and Development team have the right skills and resources
- Design learning to accommodate evolving conditions
- Create individualised learning pathways
- Stay agile and adapt over time.
Building a Learning Culture
Several companies exhibit an exemplary approach to establishing a learning culture. Among them are Adobe and Google. Google, for example, allowed its employees to work on a project of their choosing for two hours a day. Since the pandemic and the hybrid workplace model being adopted, we do not know if this practice continues. Adobe is recognised for its diverse and inclusive workplace where employees are encouraged to take risks and where their success is openly celebrated. It is not mentioned in the notes, however, such an attitude should always be accompanied by an attitude where mistakes are not punished either, but viewed as learning opportunities.
Such attitudes to learning and development attract staff who seek the opportunity to learn and develop. In turn, the organisation not only attracts such talent, but also develops them and retains them. The current War on Talent in the business environment (Kelly 2021) has made it essential for organisations to retain top talent.
Research from the Work Institute has indicated that if an employee departs the organisation there is a cost of approximately one third of their salary incurred. However, this is really only the tip of the iceberg when you take lost productivity into account, recruitment costs, onboarding and cultural impact, the cost is difficult to measure and would be much higher (Charaba 2022). The bottom line therefore is that attraction and retention of talent not only provides and organisation with competitive advantage, but has substantial financial, cultural and business impacts as well (Agovino 2019).
There are three ways that an organisation can initiate the development of a learning culture:-
- Provide employees with the opportunity to engage with lifelong learning
- Ensure the organisation’s brand is identified with learning and development
- Use of performance management as a method of integrating learning and development.
Engaging Employees With Lifelong Learning
Gallup (2022) defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace”. Although learning could be regarded as a broad aspect in the engagement of employees, it can play a significant role in employee engagement. Prior to the pandemic Gallup conducted research in 2017 (Gallup 2022) that demonstrated a mere 15% of workers were fully engaged with their work. Despite this dropping by a further 2% in 2020, attributed to the pandemic, there has been a steady rise in employee engagement trends over the past decade. This trend is consistent with the devolvement of power from employers to employees.
The opportunity to learn is connected to engagement at work. If people are not learning, then there is a danger they can become disengaged. It could be argued that there is a correlation here between the S Curve of learning, where people reach mastery and no longer are challenged by the task (Brassey et al. 2021). A Harris poll in 2022 found that 80% of employees considered professional development opportunities important when considering new positions (Golden 2022). The LinkedIn Learning Report (2018) also found that a huge 94% of employees claimed they would stay longer with an employer who fostered their career development.
The current learning environment, coupled with the exceptionally rapid pace of change demonstrates a clear need for the adoption of lifelong learning to maintain currency. Organisations certainly have a role to play, but so too do individuals in taking some responsibility for their own professional development (Brassey, van Dam & Coates 2019). They go on to list seven practices individuals can adopt to take this responsibility.
Figure 1: Lifelong Learning Mindset
Learning, Development and the Employer Brand
With the Great Resignation and Great Reshuffle, people are seeking flexibility, decent compensation and there is a large focus on learning and development opportunities. According to Brassey, van Dam & Coates (2019) , organisations that are demonstrating investment in learning and development are seeing an increase in their reputation as an employer and therefore attracting better quality applicants for positions.
LinkedIn Learning considers there are three ways to apply learning and development in enhancing brand to attract applicants (Kibben 2022).
- Clearly articulate your commitment to career development and lifelong learning in the job listing. Don’t make it a secret.
- Share information on internal mobility and stories to support this. An online blog is a great place to share such stories.
- Demonstrate and describe how the organisation provides support for the whole person. Make sure people understand what your core values as an organisation are and how you demonstrate these.
Combine Learning and Development with Performance Management
These two aspects of management are inseparable when done properly, according to the Brandon Hall Group (2015). The notes go on to quote from Delahaye and Choy (2018, p. 482), that performance management can be defined as “the management of all systems that affect individual and organisational performance to ensure a strong strategic direction”. Then that performance appraisial is “the process that identifies the strengths and weaknesses in staff’s knowledge”. This then presents the opportunity for managers and staff to engage in a process of continuous learning and development.
Building a Learning Organisation That Drives Business Forward
A recommendation from the notes was this McKinsey and Company podcast
Building a learning culture that drives business forward | McKinsey
Tacit Knowledge vs Explicit Knowledge
Tacit and explicit knowledge are often linked to organisational culture. Tacit knowledge is that which is not written down, the unwritten rules if you like that everyone knows about except for the newcomers. It is made up from experience and includes intuition, judgements, behaviour and non verbal communication. Tacit and explicit knowledge exist along a continuum according to Nonaka and von Krough (2009 p. 635) where explicit knowledge is described as knowledge that is “uttered and captured in drawings and writing”.
All knowledge is worth having but tacit knowledge because of its nature is based upon beliefs which may be true or untrue due to the source of the knowledge. At times, this may mean that the person holding this tacit knowledge may need to change their beliefs as new evidence becomes available. Nonaka and von Krough (2009 p. 637) state that “because individuals may not be able to articulate all their beliefs and justify them (tacit knowledge), it seems not all knowledge is justified true belief”.
Because tacit knowledge is acquired over time, employees in organisations with greater experience and in leadership positions may have greater insights than newer employees. It would be interesting however to explore the accuracy of the tacit knowledge held by longer term employees as the beliefs on which the tacit knowledge is based may be erroneous. Newer employees may look at the environment with fresh eyes that interpret the landscape somewhat differently.
Tacit knowledge accounts for around 90% of the knowledge in an organisation (Wah, 1999b; Bonner, 2000a; Lee, 2000 cited in Smith 2001). Smith (2001) also suggests that tacit knowledge is lost to an organisation through outsourcing, takeovers, downsizing and other organisational changes . Given the level of reported tacit knowledge in an organisation, substantial benefits could accrue from capturing this knowledge effectively.
The subject notes identify eight ways of capturing tacit knowledge suggested by Sampath (2018).
- Organisational Culture – the culture should encourage knowledge sharing
- Mentorship Programs – build a mentor culture where seniors mentor less experienced people in the organisation
- Workplace Collaboration – encourage the team concept heavily and build this around collaboration software if possible.
- Documentation – use digital technology to document everything you can about the organisation and ensure an accessible, easy to navigate and structured format.
- Meetings – hold debriefing meetings on project completion to identify what went right and what went wrong. This facilitates a mindset of continuous improvement.
- Formal and Informal Groups – create forums and social networks on internal platforms to encourage open communication, collaboration and questions
- Training – tacit knowledge is gained through experience, so on the job practical training is important in building such knowledge.
- Professional and Social Networks – the article suggests that large companies use platforms such as LinkedIn Elevate, but this no longer exists. An internal platform as suggested in point 6 would be a substitute.
Knowledge Creation in Organisations
Knowledge creation in organisations requires the capture of both tacit and explicit knowledge. One method of doing this is the SECI model where knowledge is converted along the continuum of tacit and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge and the opposite also applies (Nonaka, cited in Nonaka and von Krogh (2009)).
The SECI model is applied in the following manner:
- Socialisation – where employees interact with each other
- Externalisation – as a result of social interactions, tacit knowledge is externalised and new explicit knowledge is created.
- Combination – where new explicit knowledge is merged with existing explicit knowledge and in turn creates more complex and detailed explicit knowledge
- Internalisation – where the new explicit knowledge is consumed by employees therefore increasing their level of tacit knowledge.
As a result of this model and how knowledge is created in organisations, a transformational model of adult learning has been developed based on three different areas of adult learning being Instrumental, Communicative and Emancipator (Mezirow, cited in Delahaye & Choy 2018)
Quinn and Sinclair (2016) explored Mezirow’s domains of Instrumental, Communicative and Emancipator learning and it is here we turn for some definitions of the domains as the online definitions regarding Instrumental Learning at least do not seem in accordance with Mezirow’s concept. Mezirow (2008 p. 59) explains that “instrumental learning is about controlling and manipulating the environment, with emphasis on improving prediction and performance” (Mezirow cited in Quinn & Sinclair 2016).
By contrast to Instrumental Learning, Communicative Learning, according to Quinn and Sinclair (2016) is to improve the understanding that we have of human communication. This type of learning involves an individual interpreting the “values, intentions, feelings, moral decisions and normative concepts” of themselves as individuals and others with whom they come into contact (Diduck and Mitchell p. 341. 2003 cited in Quinn & Sinclair 2016). Quinn and Sinclair (2016) conclude by quoting Mezirow (2008, p. 10) that ultimately, the goal of communicative learning is “to negotiate his or her own purposes, values, feelings, and meanings rather than to simply act on those of others”.
The third domain of Mezirow’s learning model is Emancipatory Learning. This concept concerns the understanding of poor experiences and changing them. Emancipatory learning helps people develop understanding and knowledge to transform unsatisfactory circumstances. It helps people to develop strategies to change their situations.
Often this is a simple matter of reframing the reference point, however, this can be difficult for people because of long held values and beliefs that go well beyond the issue at hand. There is also the issue of bias and by extension the use of confirmation bias by individuals so that they seek information that will simply confirm these long held views. Emancipatory learning is about freeing people from this limiting behaviour so that knowledge is based in critical thinking and analysis.
In an organisational sense, this is about providing people with opportunities to challenge beliefs and attitudes. This can only happen in organisations where a learning culture is encouraged.
Understanding Learning and Development Needs
A workforce that is engaged and committed to an organisation’s strategic objectives is a critical asset. This involves the organisation accepting the responsibility for fostering a culture that involves quality planning of its workforce and managing talent with an emphasis on building a learning and development culture within the organisation. Such an attitude is yet another method that organisations can build their competitive edge.
Time spent in the work environment is considerable so that time needs to reflect a return in terms of learning and development for individuals.
Human Resource Development Needs Investigation (HRDNI)
The HRDNI is the firsts step in an organised approach to determining the learning and development needs of an organisation. Delahaye and Choye (2018, p.127) describe the HRDNI as a “process that identifies the gap between what is currently happening and what should be occurring”, which is often referred to as gap analysis. Gap analysis however, whether in the realm of OLAD or any area is a reactive process attempting to identify what is and what should be. Given this shortcoming in traditional HRDNI, it has been suggested that there can be four different categories (Brinkeroff 1986, cited in Delahaye & Choy 2018).
- Performance Deficiency – investigates where there is an expectation that a task can be completed in a certain amount of time and it is taking longer to complete.
- Diagnostic Audit – focuses on the future to determine what skills will be required to maintain an organisation’s competitive edge.
- Democratic Preference – where staff identify programs that may meet their specific needs. This process if popular in that it provides empowerment to staff in the learning and development process.
- Pro-active analysis – where future issues are considered before they materialise so the organisation can be prepared for future requirements.
The subject notes have identified a number of sections from the above video that are relevant. In the first section, Julie Dirksen refers to the ADDIE model for learning and development, but notes that the model can be used for anything. ADDIE stands for Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate. She goes on to say that when developing learning objectives, there is often too much focus placed on the information available. Rather than focus on the information, Julie suggests focusing on the “action” that the information will allow people to do or assist them to do in the real world. Another interesting comment made is that people really enjoy the benefit of being able to apply the learning they obtain, so if people are being trained in areas that they cannot apply, it is possible they will become disengaged over time and question the value of the learning that is offered. Essentially, there has to be a use case for the learning. Then, in terms of the use case, feedback is necessary so the trainee understands whether they have completed the action correctly or not and if further training is required. The question of feedback is one that must be considered in an overall training context.
In the next section, consideration is given to training for the purpose of solving a problem. However, you need to know what the actual problem is before designing a solution that involves training, otherwise you may be training in the wrong area. This is basic problem solving at its core in the first step of actually identifying what the problem is so you focus on that and not the symptoms. She summarises by asking questions about problems:
- Is the gap a learnable skill?
- Is the gap a matter of practical or procedural knowledge or is it a skill?
- For gaps in knowledge, what would correct performance look like?
- For gaps in skills
- how much practice would be required and what does that look like?
- how will feedback be provided to people on their performance while increasing their proficiency?
Answering these questions can help an organisation establish whether learnable skills are involved in performance gaps.
An interesting analogy was made between game design and organisational training. With games, training is always involved because they want you to be successful in playing the game and build your skills. If this did not occur, you would walk away from the game. There is no difference in organisational learning and development. Training is necessary so you will be successful and not walk away from the organisation after there has been considerable investment in training. This concept is based around Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow (2002) state between the challenge and level of skill. There are also similarities here with Whitney Johnson’s The S Curve of Learning outlined in her book Smart Growth (2002).
A question to ask then becomes if filling a gap means learning new behaviour or altering existing behaviour.
The answer to this question will have considerable influence on the design and implementation of training and feedback required. It is much more difficult to unlearn existing behaviours than adopt new ones, so more practice and more feedback will be required if existing behaviours need to be modified.
When it comes to learning objectives, the question needs to be addressed of whether the objective is to train in correct performance, effectively explicit knowledge, or whether it is to build expertise which is tacit knowledge. Dirksen explains her use of the Cynefin Framework to identify which area needs to be addressed. Cynefin, according to the website, “is a Welsh word that signifies the multiple intertwined factors in our environment and our experience that influence us (how we think, interpret and act) in ways we can never fully understand” and is shown in the following diagram.
Figure 2: The Cynefin Framework
Step 1: Identifying The Strategic Direction
A learning and development strategy is designed around an organisation’s strategic goals and objectives (Brandon Hall Group 2015; Delahaye & Choy 2018; Brassey, Christensen & van Dam 2019). Furthermore, it must also be aligned with the organisation’s Mission Statement because the mission defines the organisation’s competitive advantage in the marketplace and is in support of the strategic objectives. The same concepts apply to not for profits and even communities. It is simply a matter of extracting the strategic objectives.
In any organisation, learning and development starts when employees are hired which is also known as an induction or on-boarding program. The critical importance of onboarding is extensively discussed by (Caldwell & Peters 2018). A failure to complete effective onboarding can negate all the benefits of finding and employing excellent talent (Smith 2012 cited in Caldwell & Peters 2018).
The subject notes refer to an unlikely situation where an organisation may not have a strategic plan, but I would suggest that this is far more common than imagined. Although strategic plans may well be standard fair in the corporate sector, their existence in many small and medium size businesses is most unlikely. This would also apply to smaller community organisations and service clubs and perhaps community areas as a whole. Consequently, a different approach would be required. Delahaye and Choy (2018) suggest there is other information that can inform the investigation and could include:
- Quality control indicators where there is a rising risk of failures or customer complaints
- HR indicators where staff turnover rates are increasing compared to industry benchmarks, if available. However, increased turnover that is a departure from the organisation standard is also a warning sign. The same could be said for membership turnover in a community organisation.
- Examining the structure around the performance review system. Does it provide for managers to identify potential for promotion of employees and then consider a path for them to acquire the necessary skills?
To summarise Step 1, consideration of the following factors is required:
- What are the goals of the organisation or subject of the review and how effective are they in achieving these goals?
- What is the culture and support for organisational learning and development? Consider resistance to change and learning.
- Look at the strategic plan to ensure that OLAD is built in and aligned with the organisation’s strategic directives.
- What is the existing OLAD strategy, (if any), and if not, how is learning and development approached within the organisation.
- How is general learning and development addressed in reaction to a performance issue and is it proactive in terms of planning for future needs?
The subjects for research can be wide and varied in both size and nature. It is also necessary to consider:
- The economic and other externalities affecting the organisation and their strategic priorities.
- What exactly are the organisation’s strategic priorities?
On completion of this part of the review, the information will be available to move on to steps 2 and 3 of the model to identify the learning and development needs and also why they exist.
This module has covered a very large range of topics and involved considerable reading and note making. However, in completing this module, it now sets up the process for the remaining steps in developing a learning and development program to meet the needs of the assessments. My focus will be somewhat different in that I will be looking at community organisations which are by definition small, have very little training but have greatly increasing needs in this regard due to increased compliance requirements. It will be interesting to apply the learnings from this and future models in shaping a future for these small organisations should they wish to avail themselves of a model.References
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