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Becoming a Great Learning Organization January 15, 2016

Posted by PerformDetectiv in Business Excellence, Change Management, Excellence, Learning Organization, Process Improvement, Team Building.
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We use all sorts of words to describe a variety of today’s organizations that want to achieve a high level of excellence in their daily process and product. Very early on in this effort, we set out to identify best practices that seem to help us identify and repeatedly function at a level above the competition. We seek ways that allow us to further capture an improving and Continuous Improvement process to then stay on top.

This Learning Organization model can have some built in pitfalls because of the expectations we put on our people as well. A recent Harvard Business article (with over a decade of research) identified some of the human impacts and reactions that we face in this push for a rush to excellence. It stated that “Biases cause people to focus too much on success, take action too quickly, try too hard to fit in, and depend too much on experts.”

In the process of identifying what we do and how we do it, the process becomes all encompassing. We create a vision of what we really want to accomplish. There becomes a real urgency to take advantage of this new mindset. We push forward to implement and try to effectively communicate the change. We then find a way to establish the improved process as a standard. Researchers and Professors like John Kotter have frequently delineated many of the steps that are necessarily part of effectively rolling out a real “Change Initiative”.

On the people side of the whole effort, we then have the some traditional biases crepe in. Example is the fear of failure or how we each see ourselves respond, either from learning to grow or others that are so fixed in their ways that they can’t grow or adapt. So management responds to a demand for action and ways to then also measure that action. Sometimes less is indeed more in the whole process.

One of the things that I learned early on, is that failure plays a stronger role in the strength of real learning than success does. You literally need to work harder to insure that a growing department or new group really understand the minutia behind attained success. It was a lesson from the sports world but really applies in an even greater sense in a traditional business environment.

A critical element that is obvious, is you need to hire good and thoughtful people, but also hire people that know you want them to offer their input. If you aren’t going to encourage your people to be part of the solution you will never establish a continuous improvement model. Within this approach you truly want your people to build from their own strengths and on their own strengths.

I have a personal critique that you also need to uncover not only your team’s strengths but identify their own natural weaknesses. What a gift to offer both to your people. If done correctly it will also build a more realistic Team Environment, and prevent people from sharing their own “strengths” as a kind of free pass to try and dominate new change decisions.

The second to last piece can be difficult as well. A Harvard Business Journal article indicated that you may be too inclined to rely on outside experts to bring the level of expertise to the team. In today’s world it is quickly overdone and over emphasized. Educational credentials only go so far. You have to be able to build consensus and expertise within the organization. Direction is one thing but involvement and actions are imperative.

Finally communication becomes the ongoing challenge at every turn. It is critical to insure that you believe and involve all of your people in the learning movement. You can’t have a process which says only management has a role in defining what we do and how we do it. You need buy-in and actions which are driven by actual ideas from your hands-on-team. This approach will either allow you to drive forward in quickly finding real adoption or spiral into a world of inconsistency and repeatable team progress. An Involved Business Team will find the way to succeed.

Dan Werner
The Performance Detective

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