As it appeared in the Daily Nation on August 16th 2016
All organizations learn whether intentionally or accidentally. Continuous intentional learning is strategically important to the success of all kinds of businesses. This is mainly because we live in a dynamic environment where change is constant. There are changes happening all around us, businesses therefore need to learn the new and unlearn the old to keep up with these changes. Learning has been linked directly to organizational performance. Some business leaders and owners know this too well but many others are unaware of the need for continuous learning while others only learn accidentally from their own mistakes. The organizations that stay ahead are those that intentionally learn and learn from the successes and mistakes of others. Peter Senge author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization says, “the only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”
Many leading organizations have a learning culture where learning is happening every day. Some have in place a learning and development lead person coordinating the learning efforts. Others have gone to the extent of setting up state of the art learning centres and leadership development centres where most of the structured learning takes place. In other organizations, management trainee programs and talent development initiatives are well-developed facets of the human resources management function. Other organizations are equipping their managers with coaching skills enabling learning to happen at every opportunity. The more skilled staff are seen as a great source of knowledge and are widely utilized in the learning process. All these are efforts aimed at aiding learning. Indeed organizations are investing millions of Shillings every year to support some sort of learning. The key question is, is there a return on investment?
Effective learning involves a permanent change in behaviour as individuals, teams and organizations acquire and embed new knowledge into their value system. Without evidence of change in behaviour, it is difficult to demonstrate that learning is happening and learning efforts may be futile. It is for this reason that learning should not be ad hoc but should be very well-structured. Study after study show that learning is only possible if there is top management commitment to learning and where open-mindedness is valued throughout the organization. A learning organization enables learning to happen, learns continuously and transforms itself through learning. Is yours a learning organization?
The good news about learning is that it is not complex. With commitment and the right mind-set towards learning individuals learn, teams learn and organizations transform. Peter Senge says, “through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning, we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning, we perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.” Learning has also been widely linked to innovation. Learning helps individuals, teams and the organization as a whole to exploit knowledge resulting to new and innovative ideas. If we want to improve our customer experience or our overall business performance, we need to go beyond once off training events. As an alternative, we need to invest in building a learning culture where learning happens on a continuous basis, that way we will be on the road towards becoming a “learning organizations”.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on email@example.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy