in Leadership

5 Key Lessons From Learning Organizations

Problems, challenges and inefficiencies (in one way or the other) are a part of any organization. How organizations deal with them makes all the difference.

In my career so far, I have (broadly) seen two kinds of organizations.

First are the ones who know the problem areas, but are not willing to invest in having the necessary structure to prevent them in future. So, they try to correct it instead. They create teams and structures where people are driven (and sometimes forced) to work harder when problems occur. Same challenges show up in each project. It is almost like knowing the problem but not doing anything about it. Processes (and improvement) are seen as costs.

The end result? Dissatisfied customers, unhappy team members, disengaged middle management and difficulties in scaling the business.

The second type of organizations are what we call “learning organizations”. Even they face similar challenges and problems, but only once. When problems occur, they first correct it but then, give a careful thought to how it can be prevented. They create focus groups on process improvements, document the lessons, relentlessly train teams and incorporate preventive measures in their processes. They realize that it is perfectly normal to have problems, but not  to have same problems again and again. They treat processes and improvement as an investment in future.

A few key takeaways from these observations:

  • Problems are a part of business. Growth depends on whether you face same problems every time, or the new ones.
  • Setting up processes and sponsoring improvement teams may look costly initially, but it actually saves money – by having mature processes and improving on people’s ability to deliver value to customers.
  • Improvement may not always be expensive. You can form small focus group from your current team and improve in small iterations. Once you see significant results, you can invest more.
  • The earlier (in life of your business) you think about processes and improvement, the better (and inexpensive). Problems multiply in scale when not addressed.
  • It is important to realize that it is virtually impossible to develop a process/approach that will foresee all possible issues organization will face. This is true for all businesses large and small.

Stay with me, as I explore other aspects of a “learning organization” in days to come. Peter Senge has done some amazing work on organization development and systems thinking.

What about you? Have you seen such organizations? What are your lessons? Come forward, join in the conversation and express yourself.

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Acknowledgements:

The Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ Blog Picks of the Week – 2010 Rewind Edition includes my posts. Thanks Chris!

QAspire Blog was featured in Management Improvement Carnival Blog Review by Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership Blog. Check out some fantastic blogs at Curious Cat Annual Management Improvement Carnival 2010 hosted by John Hunter.

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Have a great start into the week!

  1. I really like your thought process and philosophy Tanmay. I have had the benefit of working in lean organizations where we learned from the problems, corrected and then went to source to remove the problem. I have also had the pain of being in an environment where money and resource was thrown at a problem and I just saw the inefficiency get bigger. It was frustrating and was an eye opener for me in realizing how we can all see the world very differently. What fascinates me is how the company has continued to grow with a leadership that is set on throwing money and more people at the problem rather than any other approach to remedy.
    .-= Thabo Hermanus´s last blog ..Creative Leadership Requires The Right Brains =-.

    • @Thabo – Thanks for the chiming in Thabo. It is just co-incidental that I was writing a comment on your blog when I received this comment! :)

      Your experience goes well with one of my experiences where problems meant working harder and longer. I have observed that on a longer run, such companies hit a ceiling because all customers (internal and external) get frustrated. The real problem starts surfacing (specially in services setting) when customer start demanding process orientation – which requires change in the business philosophy and overall mindset with with processes are approached.

      Best,
      Tanmay

  2. Great post. Thank you for sharing what you know. It’s just a matter of being proactive or reactive. Each one has pros and cons. You just have to weigh both in order to know which is right. They say being proactive may lead to over planning, but I beg to differ. Yes, you may be reactive when you first encounter the problem. But once everything is settled, you have to be proactive. You need to plan on how to prevent that problem from occurring again.
    .-= Maria Payroll´s last blog ..Payrolling en buitenlandse medewerkers =-.

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