Could a 30-year-old concept be highly relevant in today’s norms of learning and development? If we are speaking about “learning organization models”, the answer is “Definitely, yes”. Here’s why.
Do a quick Internet search using “2022 business uncertain times”. The top result was a Forbes article from January 2022 entitled “As 2022 Arrives With Uncertainty, Here’s How Leaders Can Seize New Opportunities”. Let’s unpack the title.
On the one hand, the uncertainty businesses have been dealing with for years is continuing—and in a very big way.
On the other hand, experts see that this offers job-satisfaction and “huge opportunities for growth”.
So, what’s the “how-to” secret?
The Forbes article summarizes it in one word: agility. Here’s a definition: “Agility means having the ability to sense change, adjust behavior, and take advantage of unexpected opportunities.”
Well-known futurist Amy Zalman speaks about agility differently. Her term is “strategic foresight”: intentionally using our knowledge of future events when developing our organization.
Late 20th-century strategic planning insights are based on relatively unchanging world conditions. Not any longer. Uncertain times require new planning strategies based on new techniques. While this often requires a major organizational restructure and creating a corporate-culture of change, the reward is a “magical” ability to see and effectively make use of new opportunities.
Any way you look at it, the key is knowledge.
And as we all know, that involves learning. So, full circle back to our 30-year-old concept: learning organization models. This online dictionary lists an impressive 31 definitions for the term “learning organization”. Here are the top three common elements.
The organization actively acquires, adapts, creates, evolves, recombines, retains, and/or transfers knowledge as relevant.
Work environment and organizational work culture can motivate and empower all its members to be equally involved in the effective learning process. Having a mission statement goes a long way in employee engagement. The main reason is that the organization sees its employees as “long-term strategic investments”.
Effective corporate survival
The aim is to use this knowledge “to survive in an increasingly uncertain and complex working environment”. In other words, the organization “modifies its behavior” in view of the “new knowledge and insights” it has acquired. HR professionals are responsible for retaining employees and setting the tone of the corporate workplace culture and values as this affects the core values of not only the organization but of the employees.
Building your Learning Organizational Model
Chances are, cookie-cutter learning organizational models are not going to be enough for you to hire top recruits, source new-hires; cultivate engaged and happy employees; prevent having a disengaged workforce, bullying, and absenteeism; promote new employee well-being, autonomy, and work-life-balance; boost employee morale and retention; and build a healthy and strong culture change at work. The good news is that we can learn from others in the hiring process and also how to retain employees (see, already you are practicing a learning organization mindset!).
From my research and personal employee experience in business and education, here are the top 4 elements in a success-oriented model for a learning organization:
Learning organization model top-down structure
As we saw in the definition section above, one of the necessary elements is that everyone is equally involved. Adopting a top-down approach sets the standard, especially with regard to supervisors. Evidence from Google shows that managers are a key component
Google always felt that great managers were important, but they wanted to check it out for sure. They tried to find evidence that showed that “a manager had no impact on a team’s work”. They failed. Results showed that teams with great managers “were productive and happy”, fostering great teamwork.
The next step, of course, was identifying what made a “great” manager. The data pointed to 10 common behaviors.
Variety of learning organization model opportunities
Another element in our definition of fact-finding above was seeing your employees as long-term investments. Well, your employees are probably a diverse group of individuals.
Truly honoring diversity means your organization realizes that different people learn best via different methods like visual learning and gamification…and thus provides a range of learning opportunities and a more interactive learning experience. In other words, it’s not just talk but also action.
One excellent method which suits a number of learning preferences is an LMS mobile app. By harnessing the power of the top digital communication method (the mobile phone), human-resource departments, workplaces, and organizations as a whole can deliver on-demand learning to both new employees and current staff and provide them with constructive employee feedback. In addition to suiting their schedules, an LMS (learning management system) with mobile e-learning tools suits a variety of learning styles: visual, audio, and tactile learners.
Also, a top-quality LMS supports knowledge and employee performance management, one of our learning organization definition elements. For example, acquisition of knowledge via new product training, onboarding, or empowering others by sharing knowledge and experience.
Another way to learn is D-I-Y: letting your employees investigate things for themselves. Take Adobe’s Kickbox program for example. In a red, cardboard box is “stationery, snacks, and a $1,000-pre-paid credit card to explore an idea—no questions asked”. So far, 1000 Adobe employees have taken advantage of this idea to promote and reinforce innovation and risk-taking. The result? Adobe has given 23 of these ideas further investment.
Did Adobe get a good return on its $1,000,000 investment?
Expert advice recommends that small businesses should spend 3-5% of their annual revenue on R&D. Larger companies tend to spend closer to 25%. Let’s take the middle ground of 10%.
Last year, Adobe posted earnings of 17.9 billion dollars. We’ll round it up to 18. Ten percent of that is 1.8 billion dollars on R&D. So, $1,000,000 in red, cardboard boxes? A drop in the bucket financially for 23 ideas that show promise.
More than that, though, it shows Adobe employees in a very real way that they are valuable company assets, worthwhile investing in.
We want to get the most out of our investments. One way an organization can do this is through profit sharing. In a clear, definite way, your organization’s message is “You are valued.” This fosters a positive work environment and encourages your employees to thrive in their roles and have your organization’s best interests at heart.
Publix Supermarkets is reported to be the world’s largest employee-owned company. More importantly, employee ownership represents the controlling share (80%). Their profit sharing setup is that every employee (and previous employee) who works an average of 20 hours each week gets company stock after their first 12 months, with additional stock each succeeding year worked.
Publix has another way to maximize ROI: supporting their employees to “pursue career goals and reach out to colleagues for assistance”. Part of this is encouraging them “to work in the company’s various divisions, learning new skills, information, and aspects of the business”.
Lastly, Publix promotes internally in most situations for better retention. So, not only are their employees better trained and more in line with their strong company culture, they hang around longer—Publix’s annual voluntary employee turnover rate is only 5%. The U.S. national average is 65%. For employees to stay longer means that there is employee satisfaction with company values, cultural fit, and talent management.
“All in” philosophy
No matter which of the learning organization models you choose, it is no good if it remains theoretical. The WD-40 Company has a solution: the company pledge, quoted here:
I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t “get this sooner.” If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.
Company CEO Garry Ridge requires ALL employees to take the pledge. Ridge feels that it makes the team culture crystal clear: “ask questions, innovate, collaborate, take risks and not be afraid of failure”.
Nothing new under the sun
You know that famous saying, right? Well, we’ve seen that here. The idea is more than 30 years old. Yet, it is highly applicable today. Organizations that would like to remain agile with strategic foresight would do well to adopt the learning organization model of their choice.