Peter Senge: How to Overcome Learning Disabilities in Organizations

As an organization grows, managing the flow demands work items to move from one team/department to another. In quest to make these teams accountable, very specific KPI’s are established and that breeds non-systemic thinking. People look at meeting their own numbers and push the work to next stage and often, what happens is that while people win (in short term), the system fails. Every team meets the KPI numbers and yet, customers remain disgruntled.

Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” outlines 7 organizational learning disabilities. He says,

“It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental learning disabilities. These disabilities operate despite the best effort of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities – for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”

It then becomes very crucial that we identify clearly these learning disabilities. Here is a sketch note summary of these 7 learning disabilities.

Critical question then is: How to we overcome these learning disabilities and truly create an organization that learns better? Peter Senge answers that question through his 5 disciplines of learning organizations that I have written about in the past. Here is a sketchnote summary of five disciplines:

More on Creating Learning Organization at QAspire:

10 Characteristics of Companies that Succeed

What differentiates companies that succeed over a long run from those that don’t? As the rate of change and disruption continues to accelerate, companies need a strong foundation of fundamentals that enable long term success and growth.

In this respect, I recently read Leandro Herrero’s post on characteristics of companies that succeed in long run. 10 characteristics are outlined in the sketch note below.

Also Read:

Organizational Leader as a Social Architect

Leadership success is largely governed by, amongst other things, one’s ability to create an ecosystem of engagement, meaning, performance and growth. A leader creates this ecosystem through conversations, communication (leading to clarity), connection, systems, rituals, processes and decisions.

Leandro Herrero, in his post, “Five spaces that the organizational leader needs to design and nurture”, calls leader a social architect. The idea resonated very strongly with me since social architecture (physical and psychological spaces) is a way to create the ecosystem of high performance. 

“Yes, leaders need to see themselves as architects, as space designers, creators, and implementors. This is an area where what the leader says counts less than what the leader does in this social engineering. It is therefore very silent, but the spaces will be very visible and the legacy will be enormous.” – Leandro Herrero

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

Leadership: Assessing Organizational Health

Leadership in a business context is challenging because its effectiveness depends not just on a leader’s key traits but also on organizational decision making, competitive forces and constantly changing external situation.

On the other hand, people want to work in healthier organization cultures where they can maximize their chances of adding value – both to their own selves as well as to their organizations.

Beyond visible numbers, how do we assess the health of an organization?

I read 2016-1 edition of McKinsey Quarterly with great interest. It is a rich resource with insights on theme “Organizing for the Future”. In one of the sections on putting leadership in context, authors point to an interesting 2009 research from McKinsey’s Alice Breeden, Aaron De Smet, Helena Karlinder-Ostlundh, Colin Price, Bill Schaninger, and Eilidh Weir on “Building healthy organizations to drive performance: The evidence”.

To be sure, certain normative qualities, such as demonstrating a concern for people and offering a critical perspective, will always be part of what it takes to be a leader. But the importance of other elements, such as keeping groups on task and bringing out the best in others, vary in importance depending upon an organization’s circumstances. Organizational health changes over time. Effective situational leadership adapts to these changes by identifying and marshaling the kinds of behavior needed to transition a company from its present state to a stronger, healthier one.

The exhibit offers 9 rules of thumb to assess health of an organization beyond numbers. Whether you are a leader responsible for organizational health or someone responsible for building leadership culture within organization, these rules of thumb for assessing organizational health will certainly help you clarify behaviors that lead to better health.

Please read the full report here for more context and insights. Meanwhile, here is a quick sketch note version of the exhibit.

Related Posts/Visual Notes at QAspire.com

Organization Culture is a Reflection

You cannot change your reflection in the mirror if you want to change how you look and feel about yourself. YOU have to change and the reflection changes accordingly.

And to enable that change, you have to do all the right things based on what you wish to achieve.

Trying to change an organization’s culture is much like that too. Culture of an organization is a reflection – a by-product – of what people within the organization do.

If you want culture to change, you have to first change your intent, behavior, systems, processes, mindset and then narrative. Trying to change an organization’s culture only through narratives (tall mission statements, values on the wall and lip service) is like trying to change the reflection in the mirror. It doesn’t happen.

As Euan Semple so succintly puts it –

You can change things that affect people in the hope that doing so gives them a good reason to adapt their behaviour, but culture emerges from the collective behaviours of the people in your organisation over time.

Culture itself cannot be created – it just happens as a result of doing the right things.

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In the Photo: Mountains at the Dawn, Jhadol, Rajasthan, India (2013)

Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.

Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.

In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,

“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”

The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.

And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.

46_cusp

Natural Laws of Organizational Transformation

Organizational transformation initiatives come in many forms – restructuring, cultural transformation, service transitions, rapid innovation, process overhauls, turnarounds and acquisitions to name a few. Studies by universities and consulting firms suggest that 70% or more of transformation initiatives fail.

I have been a part of systems that were transformed, companies that were acquired, companies that could not pull of a successful transformation and the ones that did. My observation is – a majority of transformation initiatives fail because of lack of system thinking.

With discrete initiatives across the organization, you may get change. Transformation requires systems thinking.”

As you think across the connected components of a system, you see interconnections that you did not even know existed. Taking time to map these interconnections is vital to create a well defined transformation context.

Natural Laws 

I stumbled upon a 1993 McKinsey article titled “Leading Organization Transformations” which offers some timeless lessons and approach on how to lead organization transformations. I particularly liked the section “Natural Laws of Organization Transformation” which provides a broad guidance on the underlying principles. I feel that these natural laws are as relevant today as it were in 1993.

The authors say,

“Effective management “conversation” about performance improvement achieved through transformational efforts reveals that the specific techniques employed matter less than does adherence to a set of underlying principles.”

If you are planning an organizational transformation or undergoing one (which is very likely), I recommend you read this classic McKinsey article.

While reading the article, I create a quick sketch note to make the sense of these principles.

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

Why Organizations Don’t Learn? #Sketchnote

Organizations that don’t learn constantly, adapt continuously and execute relentlessly are more likely to be disrupted by constant change and competition.

Peter Senge, in his book defined a learning organization as:

“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.”

We have to go beyond formal learning methods if we have to truly build learning organizations in a rapidly changing world. A learning organization is not possible without learning individuals and individuals learn the most with each other in a network and  and through their work in an culture that promotes informal learning.

I emphasized culture because it can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in how organizations learn and apply what they learn to create meaningful results. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in formal learning, tools and methods, if you do not have a culture where people are encouraged to share without any fear, learning may not come to the fore.

Why do companies struggle to become and remain learning organizations? In November 2015 issue of HBR, I came across an article by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats titled “Why Organizations Don’t Learn” where they outline the cultural and individual biases that don’t allow organizations to learn. They also provide useful tips to overcome those biases.

Here is a sketch note I created to distill key biases that prevent organizations from learning. To know what you can do to overcome these biases, I recommend you read the full article at HBR. 

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Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone: An Interview with Diane K. Adams

 

Diane K. Adams is Chief People Officer at Qlik (NASDAQ: QLIK), one of the fastest-growing high-tech companies worldwide with nearly 2,300 employees in 30 countries. She has spent her career leading teams in Fortune 500 Human Resources organizations. Chief executives of smaller companies and international and national organizations and leaders also regularly tap her expertise as coach, consultant, and/or lecturer to help them hone their positive cultures. More than a ‘Human Resources’ executive, Adams is a ‘Culture and Talent’ expert. She specializes in helping companies recognize what’s required to energize their people and to achieve long-term success at the bottom line.

Diane recently published her new book “It Takes More Than Casual Fridays and Free Coffee – Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone” which I read recently. Being a student of organization excellence, I caught up with Diane on a conversation about building high performance cultures. Here is what she shared:

[Tanmay Vora] Hi Diane, Congratulations for the new book. Culture of an organization always exists – either it is designed consciously or it happens by default. How can organizations be more deliberate about their culture?

[Diane K. Adams] Thanks Tanmay. You’re so right about culture. Every organization does have its own culture. Your company, your favorite sports team, a college or university, even a church, mosque or synagogue has its own culture.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people. One of my favorite definitions: culture is what you do when no one is looking.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people.

At successful companies, the culture is positive and values-based. It’s pervasive and intentional, and is reflected in everything the organization and its people say and do, in every action and every process internally and externally. In turn, team members, along with their companies, achieve excellence personally and professionally.

Whatever the culture, though, it’s important to remember that culture comes from the top. That means that to intentionally mold a culture starts with the leadership deciding those values that are important, and then modeling them in everything that’s said and done. Too often lofty values end up simply rhetoric. If a company’s leaders decide honesty and integrity is an essential value, they must act accordingly. Everyone, every action—from hiring and firing, to decisions, discussions, and more–must reflect honesty and integrity. For example, how someone’s employment is terminated says everything about a company’s culture. This is a time when everyone is watching. Too often terminations lack respect for the individual.

When it comes to reinforcing positive behaviors, top companies may reward team members who demonstrate excellence in terms of a specific value. The “reward” often is in the form of recognition—a note of praise from the leader or a mention of job-well-done at a peer meeting.

My personal approach to deliberately creating a successful culture adheres to the 7 Points to Culture Success outlined in my book. They include:

  1. Define Your Cultural Values and Behaviors
  2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  3. Integrate Your Values into All Aspects of Your Company
  4. Drive Culture through Leadership
  5. Show You Care: Engage and Invest in Your Team
  6. Give Back: Make a Difference beyond the Workplace
  7. Make It Fun: Reward, Recognize, and Celebrate

[Tanmay Vora] Corporations have vision, mission and values that are propagated across the company through various programs. But culture is built around actions by people at all levels. How can organizations bridge the gap between values and behaviors?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s an excellent question. Again, it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it. Also keep in mind that reward and recognition drive behaviors. Therefore, the primary way to bridge the gap between values and behaviors is to reward and recognize employees who demonstrate the positive behavior.

it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it.

For example, consider the value social responsibility, so important to energize your teams and foster long-term loyalty internally and among your customers. As a leader, you help cement the value in your people with your behavior. You act in ways that give back to the community—volunteering your time, your efforts, your expertise in ways to help others.

At my employer, Qlik, for example, on our internal website we highlight givebacks by our team members. Recently we ran an internal campaign–How Was Your Day?–and each day highlighted how a different individual used his or her volunteer day to give back to the community.

[Tanmay Vora] The book has a chapter on building culture of innovation. What advice would you share with a CEO who is struggling to build a culture of innovation?

[Diane K. Adams] First, kudos for recognizing the importance of innovation. After all, if you’re not constantly innovating, you’re falling behind your competition.

It’s not enough to say innovation matters. Companies and their leaders must instill a mindset of innovation across the entire company, not just in the product or research and development organizations. Every leader and every employee must continually ask the question, what’s the newest and best way to accomplish a goal–whatever that goal might be.

As I mentioned above, you can encourage this innovative behavior by highlighting individuals who have creative and innovative ideas. That means a recognition program and often a rewards one, too, for the best of the best.

The additional advice I would offer a CEO is also to strive for a culture of collaboration. That’s because collaboration fosters teamwork, brainstorming, and ultimately generates the best ideas. Remember, success is a team effort. No matter your company, industry, or competition, it’s important to constantly ask each other and yourself the question, how can something be accomplished better, faster, and more efficiently.

[Tanmay Vora] How helpful are cultural assessments (based on standard models) in culture building initiatives?

[Diane K. Adams] Very. At Qlik we regularly do full-blown culture assessments with the help of metrics and organizations like the Great Place to Work® Institute. The results provide us a measure of our progress and lay the foundation for developing very thorough action plans so that we can continually be at our best.

In addition, we do interim assessments of various aspects of our culture. For example, we might use an assessment tool to measure our progress in maintaining two-way communications. We also use in-house surveys from organizations like Survey Monkey.

After all, to accomplish a goal, you first have to know where you are in order to develop the right strategies to get there.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top 3 tips for creating a culture of learning and development?

[Diane K. Adams] 1. First, it’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan (ILP). The plan sets goals, lays out strategies for achieving those goals, and helps each individual see clearly how he or she will learn, grow, and succeed along with the company. The best companies with true learning and development cultures view ILP goals with the same importance as annual performance goals.

It’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan

To achieve the highest performance rating, for example, an individual must excel in his or her performance as well as with his or her personal learning goals.

2. Leverage your talent. Learning and development doesn’t have to cost lots of money. Everyone contributes in his or her own way, so capitalize on this broad expertise that’s already available to you. First, identify individual talents (often utilizing a StrengthsFinder assessment tool), and then be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Some ways to do that include holding internal webinars on specific topics that are led by team members who excel in that area. For example, someone with outstanding presentation skills could share his or her expertise with other team members. Another example could be holding monthly “lunch and learn” meetings with your team. Everyone gets together for lunch and a team member leads the training. The “teacher” could alternate depending on the topic and the person’s area of expertise. The company could pick up the lunch tab, or it could even be a pitch-in lunch with the company providing the drinks and the facility space.

Another way to leverage your talent is with a simple mentoring plan. Again, it starts with identifying the strengths of individuals throughout the company, and then making those talents known and available to others. That way if someone needs improvement in a specific area, he or she can then reach out to the right person.

3. Conduct annual talent reviews to identify and understand the strengths of your individual team members and their career goals. In turn, leadership then can be intentional with developmental career moves for its team members.

Research indicates that 70 percent of our learning comes through experience, which is why career development job moves are so important.

[Tanmay Vora] There are a lot of assessments, theories and best practices for building a culture of excellence. How does one “make it all happen”?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s another great question, and it’s what inspired me to write this book. The answer goes back to the basic definition of culture. Remember, creating a positive values-based culture is about being intentional and pervasive about each of the 7 Points to Culture Success.

So, the secret to a successful culture lies in intentionally defining your values and integrating them into every part of your organization.

For example, are your values incorporated into your performance review process? Do you have a recognition process for individuals who excel at the core values? Are your leaders rewarded for building a positive-based culture? Those are just a few of the ways you incorporate your values into and make your positive culture happen. It all ties back to the 7 Points to Culture.

[Tanmay Vora] If there is only ONE advice from your book that you would like to share with companies and start-ups, what would that be?

[Diane K. Adams] Every person and every company has the potential to be extraordinary. Creating a positive values-based culture provides an environment to do just that.

[Tanmay Vora] Diane, thank you for writing this book and for sharing your valuable insights here. I am sure readers of this blog will find your book and ideas very helpful in their own journeys of building excellent culture within their teams and organizations.

[Diane K. Adams] Thank you Tanmay. One last thought for your readers: Creating that great culture doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. But it does take a recognition of those positive values that matter to you and your company, and then the commitment and courage to live those values in everything the company and its people say and do.

If you would like to learn more about how you can build a positive culture in your organization, please check out the FREE online workbook that accompanies my book at my website, www.DianeKAdams.com.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

7 Pointers to Build a Strong Company Culture

Much like electricity which cannot be seen but empowers the devices, culture is an invisible force that drives beliefs, habits, rituals and outcomes of an organization. In fact, culture is a sum total of an organization’s shared values, behaviors, rituals, beliefs, attitudes, goals and practices.

It exerts a powerful influence on day to day behaviors and choices of people. Yet, the truth is that most organizations are not aware about the current state of their culture.

The thing about culture is – even when you are not consciously building a culture, it is still being formed by default based on your actions and decisions on a day to day basis. And it impacts your bottom line.

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will take care of itself.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

If culture is anyway being formed, why not work to build it consciously? Here are some good starting points to build a strong culture.

  • Clarify your motives: The goal of building a strong culture is not to merely extend a “feel good” factor to your people. The goal of building a great culture is to empower, enable and network your people through values, beliefs, rituals, systems and practices so that they can create real business value.
  • Understand the drivers of great culture: Many leaders associate culture with external perks like free lunches, vacation policies and such. Culture is driven by combination of internal and external forces and most importantly, understanding of what your business really needs.
  •  Define your values: Once you know what kind of culture you want to build, you need to establish values – guiding principles that should dictate the behaviors and actions and help people differentiate between right and the wrong. Involve your people in defining values for better buy-in and collective discovery of associated behaviors. 
  • Live them: Values defined, posters created,communication done and office space is decorated with new values – great! But culture, real culture, is built one action and one decision at a time. Your values will mean nothing unless they are lived at every level within the organization.  Reward what you want more of.
  • Assess your culture: Take time to periodically assess the culture. Are we living our values? What do people think about our culture? What are our strengths and opportunities for improvements? Assessments can vary from simple internal surveys to sophisticated external assessment tools. The key is to know where you stand and what needs improvement.
  • Take Actions: People make sense of an organization’s culture not by written words but by real actions. If building a strong culture is your priority, act on the feedback you receive from the culture assessment. Talk to your people, involve them in the change process and make real progress in areas that matter. Strong cultures are shaped largely by how leaders act.
  • Communicate Relentlessly: It helps to communicate about your culture and values continuously and explicitly. Your internal and external stakeholders need to understand your culture. Communicate through words and through your actions. Reward people who demonstrate right behaviors and live your values. Provide feedback to those who don’t.  Encourage open and honest dialogue about your culture whenever you can.

Yes, your product or service is the starting point of organization building activity. But unless you build a great culture, it is incredibly difficult to accelerate growth.

So, there is a reason why Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Strategy is created in boardroom but culture determines how people on the floor actually implement the strategy – and how well!