Continuity and Stability through Organizational Learning
Author: Dr. Justine Chinoperekweyi
The need to align organizations to the constantly changing business environment cannot be overemphasized. However, what needs to be emphasized is the need for a heightened adoption of dialectical change models premised on acute learning. The call for acute organizational learning is necessitated by the extent of complexity and chaos in organizations. Organization Development scholar-practitioners need to focus on key interventions to sustain manufacturing and distribution business models during evolutionary and disruptive periods within organizations. The risk of organizational failure is high on those organizations that shun embracing organizational learning and other development-focused interventions. Interventions that sustain organization continuity and stability should be premised on understanding the dual identity of Organization Development (OD) field; which is the science of change and the practice of changing. The ability to embrace organizational learning and other interventions help in enhancing organization climate, culture, and strategies. Conversations are the bedrock of successful organizational change; hence organizations should adhere to the dialectical learning model that stresses the importance of bringing all organizational members to work as a community. Two of the essential interventions that complement organizational learning are knowledge management and transformation of organization’s norms and values.
The OD interventions enable management and other organizational members to gain strategic contextual intelligence about the relationships between the internal and external environment. OD enhances an organization’s ability to adapt and align to the changing environment. This requires enhancing the learning capability of organizations. OD is defined as a field of research, theory and practice dedicated to expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of people, and the improvement of processes, systems and structures to accomplish more successful organization change and performance. Organizational learning is important in ensuring continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation in order to improve an organization’s capacity to solve evolutionary and disruptive problems, and effectively manage change. At the more basic level, organizational learning enhances the knowledge, skills and abilities of organizational members. The following are some of the reasons to support the need to prioritize organizational learning in operational and strategic roadmaps:
- shaping organization culture and driving organizational effectiveness through fostering innovation and informed risk-taking;
- facilitate employee satisfaction, stress management, service quality and outcomes, and successful implementation of new programs;
- negotiate change amidst complexity and chaos; and
- increase organization’s ability to co-adapt, improvise, experiment, and regenerate.
Organizations should manage both the internal and external environment in order to facilitate stability, flexibility and continuity. Organizational learning enables teams to overcome ‘complexity ceiling’ through effective application of discovery and prediction interventions thereby enhancing fundamental principles of self-organizing. The key elements of organizational learning are inquiry, experimentation, and learning. These elements enhance organization’s agility in the face of globally-active disruptive powers. Organizations should be empowered to assess the effectiveness of the current functioning in view of set goals. Through organizational learning, organizations will be able to offer unmatched combinations of quality, innovation, efficiency and customization in delivering value. Organizations should therefore continuously acquire, apply and spread new insights. Learning enables organizations to generate new innovations and adapt to changes and take advantage of emergent opportunities. Embracing organizational learning facilitates continuity and stability through the enhanced ability to explore, interpret, revise old approaches, develop new knowledge, and allowing systems to self-organize.
How do organizations learn? There are numerous approaches to organizational learning:
- through experience, experimentation, observation, and analysis;
- examining successes and failure;
- instituting models that ensure the questioning of status quo or questioning the taken-for-granted;
- challenging any well-established structures of domination; and
- adopting multi-perspectives in addressing corporate issues.
The above learning approaches can be operationalized through any of the following:
- conducting goal-oriented and vision-centered brainstorming sessions;
- facilitating well-structured process consultations;
- institutionalizing broad-based and diverse quality circles;
- conducting environmentally-informed workshops and group discussions;
- constantly updating recurring sequences of action;
- fostering a culture of empowering emergent views and processes;
- conducting periodical Training Needs Analyses (TNA); and
- fostering a culture of creative thinking among all organizational members.
To be effective and transformational, organizational learning demands that an organization constantly transform existing norms and values in line with the demands of the changing environment. The emergence of new values and concepts demonstrates innovation and systematic organizational progression. Emergent values and concepts should enhance the organization’s capacity to always scan beyond the horizon, identify emerging threats and opportunities, and partnering with changes to co-create an ambidextrous and resilient organization.
Organizational learning should be premised on inquiry and engagement. This enables facilitating a strengths-based system which stresses the need for elevation of strengths among organizational members, multiplying strengths through co-construction, and bringing the human strengths to society through magnification and refraction. It is through these learning concepts embedded in dialectical model that organizations can effectively manage change.
Dr. Justine Chinoperekweyi, Ph.D., is Director at Centre for Organization Leadership and Development (COLD) Zimbabwe, and Managing Editor of the Organization Leadership & Development Quarterly (OLDQ). He is also Country Director of Chartered Institute of Leadership & Governance – Zimbabwe. Justine is the author of four books including ‘Organization Development Review: Resource for Practice Academics and Instructional Practitioners’. Visit: www.drjustine.net