in Leadership

Creating a Learning Organization: 10 Actions For a Leader

Jack Welch said,

“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”

Continuous learning and its respective implementation to generate desired business outcomes is at the core of successful organizations.

Peter Senge defined a learning organization as the 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 to see the whole together.”

Here are top 10 actions for a leader to create a culture of continuous learning for individuals, teams and hence an organization:

  • Drive people to learn by doing. People learn the most when they implement their knowledge to generate meaningful business results.
  • Realize that training is just a tool to impart knowledge. Learning is also about sharing lessons, telling stories, doing, making mistakes and improving constantly.
  • Align middle managers to create a learning culture, because they are the ones who drive learning, not just the HR team.
  • Incorporate learning into your processes. Establish rituals like periodic review meetings and retrospectives to track what went well / what could have gone well.
  • Expose your teams to diverse learning resources like books, social media, online videos, working with cross cultural teams/geographies and so on.
  • Use technology to accelerate learning and ensure accessibility of knowledge. Great thing is a lot of useful tools like blogs, wikis and forums are free.
  • Involve people in important change initiatives to ensure that they learn about managing change (one of the most important learning) and working with diverse set of people.
  • Promote the abilities of people to generate alternative ideas and open up to different view points. (Related reading: On Leadership, Opening Up and Being Prepared)
  • Move beyond metrics to realize that learning is a long term thing which cannot be measured in numbers. Learning is tacit and visible only through results delivered by team.
  • Allow people to make mistakes (and learn from them). People never experiment if they have to pay a price for trying new things out.

Critical Question: What methods have worked for you in ensuring that your team/organization learns constantly, and applies that learning for positive impact on organization/customers?

Join in the conversation.

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12 Comments

  1. Tanmay, this is so true. I think one of the challenges today with learning is that there is this belief system that after a certain level or age, you are to learn anywhere else but at work. I do not understand the mindset as it is evident in managers that will expect their staff to know “everything”, creating an anxiety and fear for people to ask when they do not know. One of the things we did at Experian when I worked there, was a “Lessons Learned” session, which was a review after a delivery where the entire team would look at the implementation (having the benefit of hindsight) and reviewed what we did well and where we dropped the ball, more focusing on what not to do come next delivery. It was healthy and also a very good cleansing exercise as we all feel like the aggrieved party during a delivery when things don’t go as well as we planned or promised the client.

    • @Thabo – Thanks for sharing your story. In some of the organizations I have worked with, we also had similar “project de-briefing” sessions where we talked about what went well, challenges and how we overcame those. Companies also have “technology de-brief” sessions to share technology specific lessons.

      On the other hand, I have also seen “lessons learned” session ending up being a formality. Project manager’s often think that their job gets over when they document “lessons learned” document. But it just starts there. They have to implement those lessons in subsequent projects to really learn them.

      In my experience, as long as these rituals and processes help team implement those lessons learned, they are valuable.

      Best,
      Tanmay

  2. All good but my favorites are #1 and #10 – like bookends. Nothing drives learning home like doing and nothing kills will to learn like fear of making mistakes.

    • @Laura – Cannot agree more what you have summarized. Thanks so much for the comment.

      Best,
      Tanmay

  3. @tanmay excellent post really good points. This beeing said I believe you are only halfway there. You use terms like driving and expose to, where are terms like releasing and energising. I believe ( and my professional career has proven) that in order to create a learning organisation you need to do it from the inside out meaning you need to energise the people involved.

  4. Great reading thanks Tanmay. I really like your point about using technology to accelerate learning. In today’s environment you need to learn on the fly at times and researching online on youtube, slideshare etc can be really helpful.

  5. “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” – Peter Drucker.

    Thanks for outlining actions, Tanmay, and not just “mindsets”.

  6. Aim for studies so many years is to learning only.
    So methods of learning depends on the People.
    Don’t teach the way you want,instead of that-
    Teach the way inwhich they want to learn.

    • “Teach the way they want to learn” – amen to that Anju. Thanks for sharing that thought!

  7. Coming back to your question: I think feedback on all levels is important.
    e.g on strategic level: Next to the yearly top-down cascade of revised strategy, company plan you need a bottum-up review process as well (you can call it Annual Performance Review if you like)
    What did we achieve? Why? What worked? What can be approved?
    e.g. on managers level: 360 review
    e.g. on team level: start with After Action Reviews at the end of each meeting. Ask yourself the same kind of questions.
    e.g. customer surveys

    These reviews should never be a tick the box excersise. You don’t review because the company policy says so are because it is best practice. You are doing reviews because you want to learn.

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