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Learning Organizations

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Learning Organizations

The business world has changed rapidly due to globalization and the development of information technology. Corporations have dealt with this change in various ways. One popular strategy to cope with change is to convert to a learning organization. In a learning organization, management and employees strive for continual improvement through new forms of thinking. The group works together to improve the organization and learn from previous errors. While many have become successful learning organizations, there are those who stand out. Home Depot, AT&T, and Yum! Brands are three companies who stand out as exemplary examples of learning organizations.

Definition of a Learning Organization

According to Kenneth Johnson, a writer for Navran Associates, "A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and that develops, adapts and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself (2010, para. 1). Taking that definition into consideration, an employee in a learning organization is encouraged to become more flexible, thus gain the ability to move around in the organization.

That employee is also encouraged to be creative when overcoming barriers. In turn, this allows the organization to overcome challenges more quickly. Knowledge that is acquired is demonstrated in the behavior of the group. Work related learning and continuous improvement is imperative to a learning organization's success. In a sense, the corporate hierarchy no longer exists (Giesecke & McNeil, 2004). In a learning organization, employees are expected to contribute to the work environment, and view tasks from a variety of angles. The organization will have a shared vision in which everyone works as a team. This new way of thinking disposes of the old philosophy that only upper management has the ability to make decisions.

Peter Senge is a leader in the area of learning organizations. He writes that there are disciplines that must be conquered when becoming a learning organization. Those areas include Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Modes, Building Shared Visions, and Team Learning. The first area, Systems Thinking revolves around the ability to seeing the big picture throughout the organization. It requires all employees to be connected, and to seek internal responsibility for both negative and positive actions. The second area, Personal Mastery is the idea of being continually committed to lifetime learning. Employees are encouraged to strive for a high level of commitment in their careers (Senge, 1990).

Managing Mental Modes is imperative in order to prevent negativity from blocking learning and allowing employees to focus on being open. An organization cannot embrace change unless there is a Shared Vision. This vision cannot be dictated, but must be agreed upon by all involved. It must be something that binds the company together to accomplish future goals. The final area, team learning is the basis of a learning organization. It involves acknowledging goals and working together to attain them (Senge, 1990).

Purpose of Incorporating a Learning Environment

Today's organizations are not disciplined by rigid bureaucracies. Management that stifles creativity is a trend of the past. Learning organizations encourage employees to learn, experiment and take risks. If employees embrace these changes, the organization is more likely to survive in an era of tight budgets, stiff competition, and new technologies. According to Giesecke and McNeil, "They (learning organizations) need employees who appreciate change, accept challenges, can develop new skills, and are committed to the organization's mission, goals and objectives" (2004, para.1).

When implemented properly, a learning organization can supply all staff with the tools needed to succeed in highly competitive times. Customer service becomes a top priority, and the barriers to communication are broken down, which allows for quick resolution to problems. In traditional organizations, errors are viewed as failure, but a learning organization sees errors as an opportunity to learn and improve procedures and systems. Because staff is encouraged to learn from mistakes, admitting error is not inhibited by fear of losing employment. When errors occur, the system is analyzed and the knowledge gained is utilized to enhance the company.

Overall, the key to an effective learning organization is communication, and eliminating the employees fear to communicate. Once open communication is established, it becomes easier for all employees to share a common vision. The learning organization can increase overall productivity and performance, as employees are more likely to carry what they have learning into their everyday work lives (Weldy, 2008). Also, learning organizations allow for more effective training, as it is a continuous part of the employee's role. Training can be implemented on the job, rather than being event driven. A mix of methods such as mentoring, team collaboration, coaching can be used to provide a full range of training (Thompson, 2012).

Home Depot

With over 380,000 associates, and 100,000 added each year, Home Depot is one of the largest retailers in the United States. Unlike other retailers, Home Depot prides itself on training employees to assist customers with any technical questions that may arise. Products that hold new technology are introduced regularly, so it only makes sense that Home Depot would be credited as a learning organization. When the organization went from founder-run to CEO-run, more emphasis was put on higher education. Home Depot has formed strategic alliances with online universities for those who employees who work unpredictable schedules.

Thirty percent of Home Depot's curriculum learning is e-learning, while 50 percent is instructor-led. The remainder is on the job training. Home Depot's Director of Organizational Effectiveness, Leslie Joyce, states that e-learning is "highly engaging, animation based and interactive" (Summerfield, 2006, para. 11). By utilizing a variety of training methods, Home Depot covers all the bases. Areas such as customer service and conflict management are more aptly trained in a classroom setting. In 2002, Home Depot received the TechLearn Pioneer Award for their corporate wide e-Learning program. This recognition was based on the fact that all Home Depot employees are offered training in order to understand the products they sell and have the ability to provide top notch quality service to their customers.



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