Learning Organisations

Moving towards a learning organization is something done BY people, not something done TO people or FOR people by someone else. So, the role of HR has to be in encouraging, facilitating, and supporting a move towards learning organizations. HR can never accomplish this themselves.

Then, if executives want to move towards a learning organization, they should direct their operating units to do so, and direct HR to move into a supportive role. If it’s the other way around, where HR gets the responsibility, it never works.

Knowledge management (KM) “any practice or process of creating, acquiring, capturing, sharing and using knowledge, wherever it resides, to enhance learning and performance in organisations (Scarborough 1999). Knowledge management involves converting knowledge sources by classifying related information then circulating to make the information to take place. Not all information is knowledge or all knowledge is important.

According to Blackler (1995), “knowledge is multifaceted and complex, implicit and explicit, physical and mental, verbal and encoded”. He also categorises knowledge in four as: embedded (technological – collective), enculturel (Values, beliefs – collective), embodied (practical knowledge – individual), and embraced (theoretical understanding – individual). Contrast on Blackler, Nonaka (1991) proposes that knowledge could be either individual or collective, cannot be both. Yet another argument comes from Scarborough and Carter (2000). They believe that knowledge appears from the collective experience and it is shared by member of the group. Knowledge also is the key ingredient of products and services. Therefore the difference among the organisations totally depends on the level to which information can be obtained and converted into knowledge.

When it is the subject of knowledge, people mainly consider documentation or codifying type of knowledge. Whilst that “explicit knowledge” is essential “tacit knowledge” is even more essential as it adds value for competitive advantage of organisations. Tacit knowledge is spontaneous, contextual, has a big connection with experience, documentation cannot be applied. It is believed that tacit knowledge represent big percentage of knowledge of an organisation. In other saying, Nonaka (1991) explained that the knowledge is either explicit or tacit. Explicit knowledge is available, recorded information. It is kept in databases, and it can be systematized, whereas tacit knowledge is in people’s minds. It is hard to articulate and it gains in personal experience. New knowledge starts with an individual Nonaka believes. Tacit knowledge needs to travel from one person to another. The main difficulty in the creation of new knowledge is that bringing the tacit knowledge on the surface and the difficulty is that it requires experience to do so.

Knowledge management is all about getting the valuable knowledge from people, who have it, to people, who need it to develop the organisational efficiency. As organisations are competing in information age, knowledge is the most important asset in the competition field more than physical and financial assets. Another issue is that culture of organisation may be slowing down the knowledge sharing. Open cultures will encouraged people to share their ideas and knowledge.

Knowledge management is on the subject of people. It straight connects to people’s knowledge and monitors how the knowledge could support organizational goal. It also uses the most valuable information which is more focus and meaningful. There is not certain regulation which would be difficult to change. KM is often revises the knowledge and checks its practicality in order to see its usefulness. It is generally have motivating feature on managers to ensure that they are working together with the purpose of reaching the organizational objectives.

The emphases on knowledge have brought new job lines; such as knowledge workers. There are workers who are called knowledge workers. Drucker (1993) describes them as “individuals who have high level of education, skills and ability to apply, in order to solve problems. Knowledge workers create the knowledge and are key players in spreading it. Tampoe (1993) highlights four core motivators for knowledge workers. First one is personal growth; the opportunities for individuals to realise their potentials. Second one is occupational autonomy; a work environment in which knowledge workers can achieve the task given to them. Third one is task achievement that a sense of achievement from producing works that is of high quality and the last one is money reward. Income is just a reward for their contribution to corporate success.

Human Research can make a great contribution to knowledge management as process of spreading and sharing knowledge start among people. The important role HR has here to make sure those organisations have the intellectual capital they need. The role of HR in knowledge management can be listed as; create open culture, importance of which will be sharing knowledge; create an atmosphere where trust is the matter; ensuring that activities where people can share knowledge person-to-person basis, such as workshops, seminars, etc; motivating people by rewarding them when there is knowledge sharing; look after the workers who contribute knowledge sharing by providing resources and finally it is important to senior managers should be appointed for the knowledge management to encourage them for encouraging their staff for knowledge sharing.

HR has an important role on improvement of the knowledge based cooperation. The important aim of organisations is to achieve the competitive advantage by developing and successfully implementing the knowledge. HR’s role here is to encourage management to develop purpose which will suit to organisational aim. HR has also contribution with KM by recommending on the design of process based organisations. These types of organisations are mainly networking, cross-functional, project teams or so where sharing knowledge is crucial. HR contribution on enhancing KM is also important. HR gives advice on how to keep the skilful and talented people who are too important knowledge sharing culture (Armstrong 2008).

Several knowledge management models and frameworks have been done. From the above model it can be understood that there is big and important connection between knowledge management and “organizational learning, system and technology, culture and strategy”. Knowledge management cannot be performed without learning in organizations. There are many divisions in organisational learning, yet there is no single structure which has successfully summarised the variety of its offerings. Learning organisation has much wider and more mature than organisation learning as well as knowledge management. Learning organisation will be explained in detail in later on.

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A complex adaptive system (CAS) consists of a large number of agents, each of which behaves according to some set of rules. There rules require the agents to just their behaviour to that of other agents (Stacey, 2003). In other saying, agents work and adjust themselves according to each other.

Several experts describe CAS as the next evolution further than learning organization. Most businesses are throughout history there are several examples for business which used several planning activities that none of them worked. To be able to escape from this bad destiny now businesses are searching of knowledge management, to make planning dynamic and approachable to the ongoing globalization. Yet this is not always enough to cope up with fast changing unstable world. Organizations must adjust themselves to ongoing change environment. This situation made organizations to learn more about complex adaptive systems and its suitability to organizations.

Also in ongoing fast economy, nature is in the circle of change. These natural diversifications make confusion and chaos. Some chaos is accepted in order to make sure that systems are adaptive ensuring long-term survival. Business world is very much willing to adapt CAS. Everyday there are new stories about successful businesses and CAS. Wal-Mart is a very good example for it. Retailers of Wal-Mart now use smart tags to follow inventory items. These smart tags, which are called Radio Frequency Identification – RFID) depend on satellites to capture the movement of inventory items anywhere anytime. What happens is that shopping carts display items and amount as customer put them into the cart.

Feedback is very important for as it is for learning organizations. It is to manage the complex adaptive system. CAS requires two forms of feedback which are positive and negative feedback. Negative feedback is if change happens the reaction is to undo the direction of the change and maintain the general circumstance whereas positive feedback continuing changes.

Organizations adapt CAS because it gives the discipline to follow up the work. Butterfly effect for example is to show that small changes can have big effects. Organizations need to adapt CAS in order to adapt themselves into the competitive world of business http://www.exinfm.com/board/complex_adaptive_systems.htm

Chaos theory expresses the performance of certain dynamic systems. The systems develop with time and the dynamic could be very sensitive to first state which refers to butterfly effect. The single way to gather the benefits of chaos theory in organizational development is to adapt “the edge of chaos”. With edge of chaos, organizations have to find new and productive ways, adapt new marketing models to survive in the competition. For these learning organizations, airline industry is a good example, particularly Southwest Airlines. They not only did changes to survive but because well off too which they succeeded very well. On the other hand organizations which couldn’t cope or catch up with changes struggle. Unless they hold on the element of chaos and become creativity, they will disappear by time.

Although with edge of chaos organizations adapt change and they are best known with their creativeness, they do not constantly change. When they do changing, they do not change the core soul of the organization. After changing organization will still have the familiar identity. According to Shelton (2003) the safest way to use chaos theory in organizational development is not in the beginning of organizational change, but in the use of its principles in dealing with issues that arise within the organization. Complexity theory is not the same as chaos theory but chaos involves with complexity theory

Senge (1990) brings the concept of the fifth discipline into the organisational learning. He adds that each of the disciplines does provide a very important dimension in structuring the organisations which are willing to learn and carry on enhancing their capability. However, he also observes learning takes place when individuals work in teamwork. The five disciplines Senge identifies can be listed as; systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning.

Senge associates business and humans to a system in the systems thinking. It is an intangible structure and is a body for knowledge. Learning organisation wants its people to think in system. Personal mastery is the discipline of repeatedly illuminating and extending personal vision, focusing humans’ energies, developing patience, and seeing reality objectively. As such, it is an essential basis of the learning organisation. Mental models are assumption which specifies how people understand the world around them. It is internal picture of the world and he states that individuals can surface it by learning. Building shared vision involves skill of finding shared. Lastly team learning is essential as teams are the fundamental learning unit in modern organisations. Without team learning, organisation cannot learn. In Senge’s five disciplines, integrity is core because it is more difficult to integrate new tools than just using them separately. Fifth discipline is system thinking. Without system thinking no learning in organization would ever happen. The systems thinking leads to experiencing more and more of interconnectedness of life and seeing wholes rather than parts. Whenever there are problems in an organisation, according to systems thinking, the problems arise from underlying structures, not from individual mistakes. (Senge, 1990)

The learning organisation is an expression which illustrates people gathering to success goals, big or small, in states where they all search for ways of doing things more effectively. Senge (1990), who created the term, explains “a leaning organisation as one 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 together”. In learning organisations, people are constantly watchful for signals which show whether they are reaching their goals. Therefore it can be said that learning organisations continuously look at the detail of actions. Also feedback is vital to the learning organisation because it needs to measure its success. Thus, it accounts, reports, spreadsheets, salespeople’s views of customer opinion, shop floor perceptions of a new systems used by activity streams of people.

Apple computing – -Japan is a perfect example of success when organizational learning is done according five discipline.

Although Apple Japan is world wide company, it had one percent of the market in Japan until 1989. Nonetheless with the new president the company succeeded one billion dollar in six years time. The company had some help from a consultant firm. The main plan was to increase the market share as well as efficiency of the company. Being able to gain the market share and improve sales, they come to a decision on increase the number of the distributors, customer management and launch the notion of learning organizations.

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The first step for Apple Japan was to undertake the Senge’s Five Discipline which is crucial to learning organizations. Following it, group meeting was made more profitable. More discussion and team education was the main part of the meetings. This approach stressed the importance of the team learning and allowed everyone to share vision towards the same objective. The second step taken was bringing individuals’ mental model together with the rest of the team which made the progress of learning more efficient. For Personal Mastery, managers support their workers to set up goals. Lastly, the most important discipline for the organizations was Systems Thinking, which was to bring all the other parts together. This approach allows every staff to make decision, and specifically teaches them to take the whole system into consideration, not just their own problems.

Changing the way Apple-Japan worked before; paid back with the increase in sales as well as market share of the company (Market Share grew to 15% in 1995 from 1% in 1989. Annual sales soared to $1.3 billion in 1994, with the sale of 520 000 computers)

Knowledge may exist within an organisation, but it may not be available to those who need it. Hayes (2007) draws the attentions to importance of distributing the information so that members of the organisation have access to new information which may lead to create new information. Organisational learning is one of the most significant subjects of corporations. The most obvious difference between organisational and an individual learning is that organisations don’t have memories which are vital to learning. The main difference between a learning individual and learning organisation is the way they store the information. While individuals use their memories to store the information, organisations do it in their culture. In order for learning to occur, there need to be three circumstances. Firstly, new information must be inputted into the ideas. Secondly, the new information must be combined with the previous one and thirdly practice is essential to complete the learning.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of learning organisations. For example, Harrison (1997), argues and criticized because the concept proposes that organisations have a life and ability to learn, which not the case is. Scarborough also disagrees with the dominant perspective of the concept as it suggests individual learning in organisations but does not indicate how or what to learn. Burgoyne (1999) also acknowledges that the concept sometimes creates confusion.

Motorola University is one of the best examples for learning organizations. The company has 20000 links hired each year with great grow. Growing rapidly brings the need of training the people they hire. The organisation is aware that they cannot reach the point with the traditional methods of training. In order to create new connections, operates world wide, become productive. The CEO of the company highlights the core values of Motorola which are the techniques and tools they use.

Motorola’s aim is to find better ways to provide the knowledge and skills. To do so, the company adapts the multimedia training which intends to get training to all Motorolans globally, reduce the cost and time is spent on trainings, and increases the knowledge of the firm. Motorola University was established in 1981 and by 1990 it had extended in US, Eastern Europe, South America and the Asia-Pacific region. Today, many mangers, supervisors and employees from all parts of Motorola have attended diversity training. This training helps participants to have more opportunities to develop and achieve their full potential

Organisational learning does not just occur. There needs to be some conditions created which tolerate people to face the uncertainty and stay with it till it becomes something useful. According to Kline (1998) culture is the memory of organisations. The way people interconnect with each other and the way people think is the way their organisational culture is. Culture occurs when two or more people gathered together on a regular basis. If learning organisation is to be created, then firstly the culture of openness of thinking and communication need to be there. He also adds as long as the culture and the way of thinking encourage openness in many different appearances while providing tools which identify useful directions to take, the organisation will become learning organisation. The speed of building a learning organisation is depending on the speed of how individuals in the organizations can improve their learning process. Although author agrees with Senge that organisational learning enhances the creativity, he does not agree that building learning organisation does not need to be so slow (Senge, 1999)

Schein (1996) highlights that in almost every organisation there are three cultures that a key impact on organisational ability to learn. These are “operator culture, engineering culture, and executive culture”. He also acknowledges that unless these three cultures realise and use the same language, organisational learning will fail.

The values and norms are the basis of culture and formed in four ways. first, culture is shaped by leaders; secondly by critical incidents; third by value and expectation and lastly by organisational environment. (Schein, 1990),(Furnham, Gunter, 1993). According to Harrison (1972) culture is categorised around four ideas. Power orientated, people orientated, task orientated and role orientated. On the other hand Harrison/Handy’s (1981) four type of culture are; the power, role, task and person culture.

Briefly; the power culture is that there is single source of power. Handy names it “club” or “Zeus” too; the role culture is bureaucracy, (Greek Temple); the task culture is giving the priority to getting the ob done. There is single source of power (Lattice) and lastly the person culture is that individuals decide on their own work part. The main concern is look after the individuals.

According to Brown (1998) “the relationship between culture and learning is one of the reciprocal interference. Not only is the rate at which organisations learn dependent on culture but the culture on an organisation will be profoundly influenced by the rate, and content of, organisational learning.” Schein aggress with the explanation of Brown that the organisational culture develops through complex interactive learning process. Organisational culture plays a main role in knowledge management and organisational learning. Not every organisation can adapt the learning organisations. There are some barriers to at the individual and group levels. At the individual level, unawareness is an important limitation. They are failing to notice very clear and obvious information and understanding what they notice, having a limited short memory that valuable information can be forgotten easily. Cognitive limitation is more noticeable when there is a fast changing and complex environment which overload people and confused them. At the collective level is the important part of organisational learning. Organisational politics can be barrier for groups and individuals to learn, or organisational culture also can slow down the process of learning.

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Being able to apply the learning, organizations could change their culture to which could e a barrier to organization learning. Many models were introduced over the years concerning culture change by experts. They do not always have the same concept of culture in mind. Models of the culture change are different in the sense of scale. It could be large-scale or small scale. Change also occurs over time. In some cultures, knowledge is the most powerful concept which gives the competitive advantages to individuals. Therefore, Knowledge Management wants HR to focus on organization the culture change, approach of the people to support collaborative team working and knowledge sharing.

Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) is a big petroleum company in Argentina. They wanted to become a professional private company and have international investors rather than maintaining their inefficient bureaucratic existing therefore willing to do some changes in culture and structure.

Working with a consultant company, YPF was initiated with learning organization. With the new step, employees were able to assess and check the process and hence learning about the process and observing what is working what is not. Every person in the company knew the purpose of the company and working for the same goal together gave a significant result. At the end of two years YPF increased its profit from $579 million lost in 1990 to profits of $256 million in 1992 and $706 million in 1993.

There is a belief that human resource management is able to play a crucial role in core elements of culture, including, norms, beliefs, symbols, behaviours, assumptions. In many organisations managing the cultural symbols is one of the HRM’s duties. There is a belief that Human Resource Management (HRM) has essentially replaced the name of personnel management as both involve in managing people in organisations. According to Torrington (1989) HRM is re-labelling and re-packing of personnel management and Guess (1991) agrees with the explanation that HRM is simply elaboration of personnel management (www.humanresources.about.com).

Storey (1989) considers HRM as a set of interconnected strategies with an ideological and philosophical underpinning,” (Armstrong, 2006) while Torrington (1989) and Guess (1991) believe that HRM is re-labelling and re-packing of personnel management. Storey proposes four features that differentiate HRM. First element is believes and assumptions which give the competitive edge. Also it emphases that human capability and commitment which distinguishes successful organisations from the rest is important therefore the employees should be selected carefully; second element is strategic qualities. It suggests that top management involvement is important; third element is critical role of management. He highlights that HRM is too important to be left to personnel management. Also line management involvement is crucial; and fourth element the key levers. It stresses implementation of HRM and management of culture (Beardwell, Holden, 2004).

Source: Storey (1992:38). Reproduced (Beardwell, Holden, 2004).p24

Storey (1989) suggests “Hard and soft” version of HRM which characterizes by the Michigan and Harvard models. The hard version of HRM highlights the importance of human as resources to achieve competitive advantages against other organisations. To be able to bring advantages, these resources are gained, developed and arranged in ways to do so. According to Storey’s hard version of HRM, workers are commodities, and HR is like other resources as well as being calculative and inflexible whereas the soft version of HRM stresses human sides of HRM. The main topics are communication, motivation and leadership. It emphases that people are led rather than managed (http://www.hrmguide.co.uk). Also it is believed that HR is unique. Legge (1998) agrees with Storey on hard model of HRM that workforce are resources to be managed. In contrast of hard version of HRM, she considers the soft version of HRM that employee as value assets and as a source of competitive advantage through their commitment (Armstrong, 2006). Yet she (1995) also points out that not every organisation has advantages by treating the workforce as a valuable asset, especially those competing on cost. Also Legge refers to this as “Developmental Humanism” (Legge, 1995, p.66-67). While stressing on the importance of putting together HR policies with business purposes, the soft model spotlights on treating workforce as valuable assets and a competitive advantage through their commitment skill and performance (Legge, 1995, pp 66-67).

Employees practice hard and soft versions of HRM differentially as people are treated differently. Japanese management style can be given as a good example. In Japanese organisations men are core workers (SOFT) whereas women are secondary (HARD) workers (Lecture notes, 2008). Many organizations adopt the “soft” version of HRM that focuses on treating employees as valued assets and a source of competitive advantage.

Employees practice hard and soft versions of HRM differentially as people are treated differently. Japanese management style can be given as a good example. In Japanese organisations men are core workers (SOFT) whereas women are secondary (HARD) workers (Lecture notes, 2008). Many organizations adopt the “soft” version of HRM that focuses on treating employees as valued assets and a source of competitive advantage.

Apart from hard and soft models of HRM, Storey also classifies two other HRM named “strong and weak”. Strong refers to a distinctive package which covers strategic and operational aspects. Weak approach on the other hand assumes that HRM is just another term for personnel management.

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