!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Facilitating Organizational Learning

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Facilitating Organizational Learning

Any organization aiming to improve its performance over time needs to know what facilitates organizational learning.

Edwin C. Nevis, Anthony J. DiBella, and Janet M. Gould offer a valuable list of facilitating factors in "Understanding Organizations as Learning Systems," a 1995 article published in the Sloan Management Review. Their list can serve as a source of ideas for steps to take to improve learning within your own organization.

The ten facilitating factors are described below, listed according to the stage in the learning process that each most affects.

Knowledge acquisition stage

1. Scanning imperative — Information gathering about conditions and practices outside the organization; curiosity about the external environment.

2. Performance gap — Shared perception of a gap between the actual level of performance and the desired level; performance shortfalls seen as opportunities for learning.

3. Concern for measurement — Considerable effort spent on defining and measuring key factors when venturing into new areas; striving for specific, quantifiable measures; discussion of metrics as a learning activity.

4. Experimental mind-set — Support for trying new things; curiosity about how things work; ability to "play" with things; "failures" are accepted, not punished; changes in work processes, policies, and structures are a continuous series of learning opportunities.

Knowledge dissemination stage

5. Climate of openness — Accessiblity of information; open communications within the organization; problems/errors/lessons are shared, not hidden; debate and conflict are acceptable ways to solve problems.

6. Continuous education — Ongoing commitment to education at all levels of the organization; clear support for all employees' growth and development.

Knowledge utilization stage

7. Operational variety — Variety of methods, procedures, and systems; appreciation of diversity; pluralistic rather than singular definition of valued competencies.

8. Multiple advocates — New ideas and methods advanced by employees at all levels; more than one champion for any learning initiative.

All stages

9. Involved leadership — Leaders articulate vision, are engaged in its implementation; frequently interact with employees; become actively involved in educational programs.

10. Systems perspective — Interdependence of organizational units; problems and solutions seen in terms of systemic relationships among processes; connection between a particular unit's needs and goals, and those of the overall organization.

Nevis, DiBella and Gould identified the above facilitating factors by analyzing why learning occurred in a group of companies whose learning processes they studied.