In the present environment of rapid technological change, it is essential for knowledge workers to continuously be in a learning mode. Metrics need to be put into place to assist managers in focusing training funds where they can be of most use.
Kaplan and Norton (1996) emphasize that learning is not the same as training. It consists of factors such as mentoring and tutoring within the organization, in addition to openness of communication among workers that gives them the opportunity to easily get assistance on a problem when needed. It also includes technological tools or what the Baldrige criteria call “high performance work system. The internal business process provides metrics that help managers know how well their business is running and whether its products and services conform to customer requirements. This organizational learning measurement also recognizes the importance of customer service. Poor performance is a leading indicator of future decline despite the fact that the present situation appears positive. Kaplan and Norton also recognize that timely and accurate funding data will always be a priority, but it must be balanced with these other three perspectives.
Another measurement of organizational development has been developed by Goh (1998), who identified five major organizational characteristics and/or management practices essential for learning opportunity within an organization: 1) clarity and support for mission and vision to provide a foundation of empowerment that encourages decision-making and innovation; 2) shared leadership and involvement, where employees are frequently involved in organizational decisions on a regular and frequent basis and leaders who are viewed as coaches and facilitators offering constructive criticism; 3) a culture that encourages experimentation that encourages people to ask, “How can this be done better?”; 4) ability to transfer knowledge across organizational boundaries, where learning is shared among departments and internal mechanisms are created to foster a sharing of knowledge and expertise; and 5) teamwork and cooperation, so that employees can work together to solve problems, improve processes and foster innovation. Goh (1998) also identified the need for the “two major supporting foundations” of effective organizational design and appropriate employee skills and competencies.
Based on these five characteristics, Goh (1998) developed a survey to identify the organizations learning capability. The authors explain that elements of an organization, such as its structure, tasks, decision-making processes, reward systems and communication processes, can either encourage or discourage learning and information exchange. Therefore, one can assess how well an organizations design helps to clarify goals, encourage experimentation, and promote teamwork and information sharing and evaluate the organizations learning capability. The authors thus devised an organizational learning survey that has 21 questions separated into the noted five sub-scales. These questions were developed through a literature review of over 100 articles on the concept and practice of organizational learning.
When looking at how different researchers define organizational learning, it appears that there is similarity of characteristics among them. Based on this similarity, the four strongest parameters of a company that encourages and succeeds with organizational learning are: 1) a nonjudgmental and open environment where employees are free to admit mistakes, experiment and share with others; 2) a horizontal organizational structure, where information is shared across the departments rather than from the traditional top down model and employees are encouraged to partake in decision making and submitting ideas and debating different ways that things can be accomplished; 3) an emphasis on continuous learning, so that education and training are incorporated into all aspects of the work; and 4) a means of easily sharing information and expertise throughout the organization as well as from external experts, customers and outside vendors.
Making a military organization into a learning organization has its own barriers, especially due to the long-term formal top-down structure where junior officers receive training directives and strategies from senior officers.
The emphasis is not normally on giving less- experienced officers enough opportunities to learn from sharing with others and making their own decisions and actions. Nor are high military standards founded on an environment where senior officers are encouraged to be more tolerant of mistakes. Given the military structure, the tendency is for junior officers to comply with the directives and suggestions of senior officers instead of providing their own thoughts and insights. The military organization is also different from other organizations in that it is not in a competitive environment against other companies for consumers with products or services.
Yet, the argument can be made strongly that any organization, especially one that is for the safety and protection of a country, needs to continually enhance its learning capabilities and that of its people. This can only be accomplished if the senior officers understand and support the organizational learning philosophy and are willing to change the military structure and incorporate necessary organizational learning criteria. Changing a culture is not an easy or overnight process, especially in such an ingrained organization as the military. It will need to be accomplished in slower and incremental steps. The positive aspect of the military is the same as its negative. Because people are used to taking directives from higher officers, once these senior officers are sold on the idea of organizational learning, they will filter this downward in the organization and their ideas will be followed. The military can establish a list of traits or characteristics that are similar to all learning organizations and begin to incorporate those into processes, training and personnel evaluations. There will also have to be a means, especially in the beginning stages, of encouraging anonymous input from people on the best ways to change the operations to a more open and favorable environment for sharing and learning.
With technology and global intelligence changing so rapidly, it will be imperative for the military to incorporate a continuous learning philosophy and practice. It always needs to be in the position of facing new, and sometimes, unimaginable challenges. The only way that this is possible is by having a flexible and conducive cultural environment that is willing to accept and act on change on a regular basis. For the military, organizational success does not come from acquiring and implementing the basics to face the present situation, but rather on accomplishing this goal at the same time as preparing for what will be occurring in the future. Regardless of how well prepared a military organization is, some of the challenges to come will currently be unimaginable. It is always necessary to be able to change in a minutes notice. Organizational learning will provide the necessary environment to meet change under all situations.
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