The idea of a ‘learning organization’ is not a new one, but it’s a fundamental one for companies that want to thrive in our rapidly changing world. Learning organizations are those that purposefully drive a culture of lifelong learning. But it’s not only about encouraging learning: becoming a learning organization may require a whole mindset shift around learning, growth, innovation, and risk. It’s a lot of work and a long journey, but the results make it worth every hurdle and challenge you face.
What is a Learning Organization?
Learning organizations are those that have learning interwoven into the cultural fabric of the company. They recognise that continuous professional development and lifelong-learning are critical if they want to innovate and succeed in a world that’s in flux.
It’s important that we clarify what we mean by learning. Learning isn’t only about absorbing information. It’s about being curious, agile in your thinking, and learning from previous experiences.
So, learning organizations are those that encourage employees to develop a growth mindset, and to look for innovative solutions to their problems. Companies that can shift from a traditional top-down structure to a learning-organization model have a better chance of creating an environment of continual learning, risk-taking, and collaboration.
That’s what is meant by the term learning organization.
Peter Senge, who popularized the term ‘learning organization’, identified five traits shared by true learning organizations: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. Let’s dive a little deeper into each characteristic.
Systems Thinking - Collaborative Learning Culture
Learning organizations have a collaborative learning culture. Each person at the company understands the important role they play in the bigger picture. In learning organizations, employees don’t operate in silos – they’re all part of an interrelated whole.
Personal Mastery - Lifelong Learning Mindset
This trait speaks particularly loudly to us because lifelong learning is one of Enable’s company values! A learning organization needs to have a forward-thinking mindset (otherwise it won’t drive the behaviours necessary to be a learning organization) and this requires individuals to achieve personal mastery through lifelong learning. Senge called personal mastery the ‘cornerstone’ of a learning organization. Why? Because it is through mastering practical skills that individuals accomplish their and their organization’s goals.
Mental Models - Room for Innovation
In a learning organization employees are encouraged to reflect on their beliefs, thoughts and opinions, so they can better understand any limiting beliefs standing in the way. This self-reflection helps employees understand any deeply ingrained assumptions that may affect their decisions. In an organization that doesn’t encourage self-reflection and questioning, people tend to take what they see as the truth. This type of mental model doesn’t facilitate innovative thinking.
Shared Vision - Forward Thinking Leadership
Learning organizations usually have forward-thinking leadership. And every employee at each level of reporting has a shared vision for the organization. Forward-thinking leaders encourage employees to try new things, make mistakes, challenge their assumptions and learn. A shared vision is only possible in an environment where employees feel heard and are encouraged to take risks.
Team Learning - Knowledge Sharing
In a learning organization all employees are aware of the company’s learning objectives and outcomes. They work as a team and collaborate to achieve goals. This generally means the organization has some type of information repository or knowledge-sharing infrastructure.
Why are companies striving to become learning organizations?
Organizations should embrace continuous learning, not only because it’s what millennials value in an employer but because it’s essential for future-proofing your company.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need to be agile and to be willing and able to pivot at a moment’s notice. It’s taught us that we can’t just continue doing something because ‘we’ve always done it like that’. Yesterday’s solutions won’t solve tomorrow’s problems in a world that is changing as rapidly as ours is!
The only way for organizations to keep up with the demands created by those changes is to ensure their employees have the resources they need to learn at their fingertips, when they need it. Just-in-time learning is as important as ever, but now there’s the challenge of not just keeping up, but staying ahead.
Staying ahead is exactly what companies that embrace lifelong learning do. When a culture of learning cascades down from top levels of management (or flows freely through companies with a flat organizational structure), it becomes part of the fabric of that organization – where learning is just something people do.
Practical Steps You Can Take Now to Become a Learning Organization
Becoming a learning organization is a journey your company takes that requires a commitment from the entire team to strive for continuous improvement through learning.
1. Have a Plan
For any cultural change to take place there needs to be support and direction from management as well as employees at every level. Leaders need to demonstrate a clear correlation between learning and the vision and strategy of the company. This helps employees understand their personal role in helping the organization reach its goals.
The journey to reach those goals can be mapped out for each individual in terms of the learning, content, and upskilling that will support them
2. Revamp Your Recruitment
Know your audience! Millennials are currently the largest working generation so it’s them you’re looking to attract. And what they value in an employer is opportunities to learn and grow.
Make sure your company attracts top talent by building learning and development into your recruitment materials. Explain clearly that ongoing learning is what your company values and look for candidates who show a curiosity and love of learning.
3. Encourage Experimentation
At the core of a learning culture is the willingness to try new ways of doing things and to learn and grow from mistakes. A true learning organization creates an environment where it’s safe to take risks, and failure is an opportunity to learn and do better. The other side of this is celebrating success. Let employees know they’re on the right track by celebrating milestones on your journey to becoming a learning organization.
These are three steps you can take right now to begin your journey to becoming a learning organization. And if you’d like to learn more about the journey to becoming a learning organization, send us mail – we’d love to chat!