Four Cornerstones For A Learning Organization

Group of people sitting at a table looking at images of cogs. Representing work collaboration. Variety of electronics on the table, including laptop and phones.
The pace of change and constant flux in the digital economy means that businesses are in a continuous state of transformation. The only effective response to this is to encourage (if not insist upon) a culture of perpetual learning across the organization.

Leaders need to model openness and be tolerant of failure where lessons can be learned.

The company that learns together…

  • Modern business is a path described and channelled by the river of constant change.
  • In the world of connected web-driven business transformation change is the only constant.
  • Embracing and anticipating change in a new Agile manner is the only way for firms to survive the new business transformation processes being brought about by online mobile commerce, which takes place in every location across multiple channels.

These are three different ways of stating the same truism: the web, the cloud, the tablet and mobile device, and our embrace of data analytics have changed the way contemporary businesses have to grow.

In short, all firms in all verticals have a lot to learn.

The tough part is understanding how to be a learning organization. But what does that mean? Consider these four (initial) cornerstones.

Learning #1: Meritocracy trumps position

In the new world of open standards, open technology platforms, open design and open-source software everybody is the champion. Every member of the team will only be judged on what they do and what they have (or tried to) achieve. In this new world of economics those in the post room have as much to add (potentially) as key business executives.

If the C-Suite doesn’t learn this fact, then it is in trouble and may be outpaced, outperformed and ultimately even usurped, or at least displaced.

Learning #2:  A learning culture needs tools and platforms

Once we accept that new value, knowledge, insight and innovation can come from any part of a 360-degree business, then we have to move to capture that knowledge. Becoming a learning organization does not happen overnight. There is a human factor and the C-Suite has to explain its new approach openly. Software tools and platforms will also play a vital role: in other words, collaboration and communication tools of deeper sophistication that go beyond ‘simple’ email are needed.

From this point, we can start to define role-based access privileges to information. We can also build role-based learning channels, so that specific workflow groups can learn internally from each other and externally from those other stakeholders that they need to work with to do their jobs.

Learning #3:  C for Continuous

The first iterations of the internet were comparatively static. They presented information in a non-dynamic way that offered little or no opportunity to interact with it at its core. Pages didn’t even feature moving images until the arrival of D-HTML, with the D standing for dynamic.

Although D-HTML is in the past now, the web gives us a changing landscape of data and applications that bend and twist into new forms every day. Firms need to reflect this element of dynamism by understanding that the internet works on the basis that software is Continuously Deployed, with the use of capitals here being very deliberate.

Taking that C for Continuous theory forward into learning is straightforward enough. Organizations should look to implement Continuous Feedback cycles into their employee-wide learning frameworks. They should also look to provide Continuous Knowledge databases, so that the knowledge can be collated, classified and coordinated.

Learning #4:  There are more than four corners

The fourth cornerstone of learning is that there are more than four corners. Obviously, a building or room can have more than four corners, but the notion of open-endedness is worth noting.

The learning organization understands that it never stops learning, and that it should always look to new global markets, new work methods, new employee structures and the provision of new products or services.

The big takeaway is that businesses need to start classifying themselves as learning organizations filled with knowledge workers at every level. It’s a tough first lesson, but it gets exponentially easier after day one of realization.

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Author: Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance technology journalist with a specialist focus on the development and management of enterprise software applications and services. He has spent the last twenty years in a variety of technology-focused media roles and as such is fully conversant with the wider technology.