Commitment to Becoming a Learning Organization


Today’s customers possess tools and applications that empower them to demand services and products that meet or exceed their expectations. These demands are their incontrovertible right in the globally competitive world marketplace that is evolving today. There is a reality that is often highlighted in today’s instant media environment to expose failures and issues concerning an organization or agency’s lack of customer focus or attention. Each of us can probably share our own disappointing story of poor service or quality.

But there are tools and methods available to provide organizations a framework toward building a learning or total quality workplace. These efforts are being pursued with a focus on meeting or exceeding the expectations of their customers.

Peter Senge and a team of authors have provided the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook that contains tools and processes to develop and build “learning organizations”. For the focus of this blog I would like to share with you the rationale behind, “Why Build a Learning Organization” as an approach your activity or agency should pursue.

The fieldbook provides an overview of ten foundational principles or an organization to consider and undertake in providing a “learning organization” environment.

The first principle focuses on an organization’s desire to seek “superior performance”. There is a desire to switch from the traditional top-down approach of management to today’s more inclusive styles of building high performance or total quality management organizations. Either of these approaches are fundamentally driving to improve the performance of every employee to achieve superior performance.

A second factor championed in the creation of learning organizations is its relationship with Total Quality. Activities associated with a commitment to quality management have taken those actions to incorporate the “learning disciplines” associated with the creation of a learning organization environment. This foundational principle drives to improve quality.

All efforts associated with the movement enter on the third principle of “being for the customer” or customer focus. Former Xerox CEO David McCamus said, “If we can genuinely satisfy customers, be part of their business, and be a real source to people, then I can feel good about that at the end of my career.” To meet or exceed customer expectations is a mandatory result for achieving success as an organization.

Accomplishment of the preceding principle leads to the fourth outcome a business seeks in execution of delivering to the customer for a “competitive advantage”. The environment necessary for sustainment of a competitive advantage is where “we continue to learn and generate new ideas”.

The fifth principle for the establishment of a learning organization revolves around the “dramatic learning efforts” both employees and managers that instill interest in making all levels successful. There must be an atmosphere that allows all employees to become experts of their job.

An outgrowth of the learning focus is to install the mechanisms that assist people in embracing and managing change (the sixth principle), “While changes and learning may not be synonymous they are inextricably linked”.

By building a learning atmosphere there is relief built within the organization that allows “the truth” to be shared. This seventh principle is important that barriers are removed as it becomes important to reveal issues or problems needing immediate attention. For senior managers this environment allows them to say, “I don’t know the answer. And I have faith that we will figure it out”.

The eight principle for seeking to be a learning organization is because the “times demand it”. The swift and demanding global marketplace will require organizations to meet their expectations. The advances in technology, communications, and energy will form new environments for competing companies.

With the challenges facing the world community at large from the increase in terrorists’ threats to society, the effects of global change, the economic impacts from all parts of the globe it is the ninth principle that reveals “recognition of our interdependence” of each other locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Success in addressing these problems will require a “level of understanding and collective thinking”.

Lastly and perhaps the “most compelling reason for building a learning organization is because we want to work in one”. The establishment within our organization of a drive to building learning organizations is and will not be easy. If it were easy there would be no pursuit of principles previously presented. It is of vital importance that in the demanding world of economics, trade, and existence, efforts must occur to ensure a positive, effective result. I urge all levels of employees and managers to seek out and pursue the above-mentioned principles for achieving an organization that revolves around constant learning.

Darryl Perkinson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great article, Darryl. Timely message as communications technology has become a powerful enabler for continuous learning.

I recently delivered a presentation entitled, “The Agile, Resilient Learner” where I encouraged participants to take responsibility for their own learning and growth. Ultimately, organizations can support them as you outlined above…but the impetus is ultimately on the employee to leverage the available learning opportunities!

Darryl Perkinson

Thanks, Andrew! It is essential in the fast paced expectations of organizations and consumers that we create learning environments for our employees.