Some people say that organizational learning is a threat to the free will of individuals. I believe that there are ways to apply rigorous organizational learning processes, individual continuing education requirements, and evolve as a company with systems thinking while still allowing people to be creative and have free will. Organizational learning has to be built into the company culture and processes. It cannot be left to chance. Anytime people feel that they are forced to change or learn (or really do anything), there is resistance. Still, it has to be done on purpose.
The resistance to change, especially among the most senior employees, is the biggest barrier to organizational learning, which is natural (WalkMe Team, 2020). I have found that many tenured employees feel that they are already experts in their field or feel turned off by the idea of learning something completely new. For this reason, change management programs to communicate the reasons for new processes and policies and explain the benefits and rewards behind that program.
I have personally found that a lot of people are resistant to organizational learning initiatives are often out of the rhythm of learning and have to reprogram their brains to learn again. While a lot of professionals may get into a rhythm of working their job and putting in whatever effort is required to work, they are not viewing work as an opportunity to learn, stretch, experiment, and learn. The idea of studying or learning after work hours is appalling to them. The idea of experimenting and learning something new only to teach the rest of the team feels to them like they are giving away their job security. Personally, I look at a business as an opportunity for experimentation, learning, and optimization.
Systematic problem solving, experimentation, learning from past experience, learning from others, and transferring knowledge withing the organization are key components of a learning organization (Garvin, 1993). This means not only does an organization need to apply the scientific method and analyze data in order to learn, but they have to be willing to teach it and spread it within the company. In Victoria Marsick’s paper, The learning organization: An integrative vision for HRD, she emphasized five elements of a learning organization: continuous systems learning, knowledge creation and sharing, systemic thinking, increased participation and accountability in learning and innovating, and a culture and structure of communication and learning (Marsick, 1994, p.5-6). This is echoed in Gene Kim’s Third Way of DevOps: “creating a culture of continual learning and experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure, and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery” (Kim, 2012).
It is important for organizations to communicate clearly to their employees and executives that business, technology, and the world is in “rapid and accelerating change” and it is essential to continually learn in order to adapt to changing realities (Brodtrick, 1992). In order to ease the resistance from internal teams, it is important to clarify what organizational learning looks like and build processes and policies to support them. As always, it is important to include employees as much as possible in this effort, as well as getting full management and executive buy-in and sponsorship. After all: it is a cultural change to bring the scientific method and systemic thinking to the entire organization.
What about the creative types that feel that they are restricted by being forced into organizational learning? Encourage them to take risks, be creative, and innovate, while documenting lessons learned and communicating them with the company. What about the experts who think they are beyond organizational learning? Set up rewards programs and explain the benefits of organizational learning not only to their own expertise and prestige, but to the organization. Most of all, plan out the implementation of organizational learning and explain the purpose to all employees.
Managers need to consider both individual and organizational learning for employees. Individual learning is important for employees to continue to “skill up,” pick up new skills, cross-train, and become more cross-functional. Organizationally, at a team level and a company level, managers need to create pathways for knowledge exchange and encourage full participation, recognizing the teachers as well as the learners. Internal certifications, rewards, and becoming “published” are methods to make this happen, but simply recognizing someone’s good work goes a long way. So, while individual learning and skill development is still important, organizational evolution happens as a result of organizational learning.
Brodtrick, O. (1992). 1992 Report of the Auditor General. Retrieved from https://my.uopeople.edu/pluginfile.php/1093257/mod_book/chapter/263199/Chapter5TheLearningOrg.pdf
Garvin, D. (1993). Building a Learning Organization. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1993/07/building-a-learning-organization
Kim, G. (2012). The Three Ways: The Principles Underpinning DevOps. Retrieved from https://itrevolution.com/the-three-ways-principles-underpinning-devops/
Marsick, V. (1994). The learning organization: An integrative vision for HRD. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/9678174/The_learning_organization_An_integrative_vision_for_HRD
WalkMe Team. (2020). 7 Barriers to Organizational Learning. Retrieved from https://blog.walkme.com/7-barriers-to-organizational-learning/