Starting with the theory of social learning, one could make a distinction between two basic methods of learning at the level of a team or an organization:
- Forming – which pertains to the process of trial and error, implying active experimenting,
- Modeling – which pertains to learning from the experience of other people and hence implies observing other organizations or teams and absorbing their patterns of behavior.
In order to build a learning organization in practice, it is essential to solve the issue of gaining, analyzing, and circulating experiences resulting from active experimenting and knowledge acquisition. In consequence, the organizational system we are looking for must have some obvious, self-imposing qualities:
1. Great flexibility, the possibility of changing the rules of operation practically at the moment of the work being performed
Active experiments must be held in the scope of normal, everyday work performed for the client (and increasingly more often, in cooperation with the client). In order to avoid chaos, the scope of such viable, experimental change must be limited by the permission levels of particular individuals. However, the organization must also understand that some experiments might lead to failure.
2. The possibility of following changes made to the work process on an ongoing basis
The management should be able to monitor changes to the way the company operates on an ongoing basis. In order to avoid excessive problematic record-keeping of the activities performed, it is crucial to make sure that processes are considered completed only after having been documented with the use of e.g. workflow management systems, business process management systems (BPMS), case management systems, or personal Intranet portals.
3. The possibility of measuring the precise goal completion level after implementing changes
Companies must be capable of measuring the precise results of the work performed both on the the level of comprehensive customer services (particular orders, contracts, or products), as well as on the level of particular activities. Only then will it be possible to identify those experiences which should be shared throughout the organization, as well as identify those behaviors which should be avoided.
4. The possibility of expanding the system to encompass any activities within the organization and even outside of the organization.
Since the changing needs of the customers may encompass practically any of the qualities of the products and services on offer, it is likely that the process of organizational learning will also involve teams which do not participate directly in generating value for the customer, as well as teams from outside the organization (the competition, suppliers, or even the customers themselves), cooperating within strategic alliances, the operations of a virtual organization, or simply sharing their knowledge.
All of the above-mentioned activities should be systemic in character, This routine system should unify the organization around a shared vision, in which the pursuit towards personal excellence is balanced with the collective character of learning. And this is where the implementation of the concept of a learning organization has tackled unsolvable problems. The major problems include:
- Where is the source of such new or newly-verified knowledge?
- How to balance knowledge management with the daily work of a large number of employees?
Furthermore, this method must not generate new, additional responsibilities, because this carries the threat of causing the so-called “hidden factory” effect. The method should encompass all employees in order not to cause misgivings and reservations against sharing knowledge (“they will learn all I know and then fire me!”). At the same time, the method should encompass the entire process of generating value for the client, in order to enable the assessment of knowledge not from the perspective of particular knowledge silos, but from the perspective of the entire organization (most often, several puzzles do not provide the entire picture, but rather, an incomplete perspective on “something” and… a fertile ground for speculation).
From the processual perspective, the problem has been solved by expanding the traditional concept of “static” process management into the concept of dynamicBPM. This concept enables us to build an organizational system which allows for the constant creation (1st principle) and documentation (2nd principle) of knowledge on the basis of day-to-day processes executed in the organization, which encompass, at the least, the value-generating process for the client (3rd principle). (http://www.dbpm.pl/artykuly_en.php?subaction=showfull&id=1285288734&archive=&start_from=&ucat=6&)
From the perspective of knowledge acquisition, the problem has been solved thanks to Process Mining, which uncovers the methods of performing work and, what is as important, its results, without being more work-intensive itself (and without introducing additional IT systems, which would require additional support and generate additional risks and costs). (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?reload=true&tp=&arnumber=6123703). According to Peter Senge’s definition, Process Mining uncovers mutual relations instead of just individual objects (GP4) and enables the analysis of trends and the character of changes over time instead of just providing static snapshots (GP6).
Do we have access to the tools that are necessary in building a learning organization?
Will this somewhat older concept turn out to be possible to implement in practice?
Will it be able to generate a constant (somewhat constant) competitive advantage?
It would seem that the time is right to make a serious attempt.
(According to systemic thinking, we should also account for the practical effect of delay. Whenever we feel ill, we take an aspirin or two and wait. We do not take another aspirin each five minutes, wondering why the effect did not kick in… Implementations in organizations are similar in that a new IT program can be installed in five minutes, but getting used to new ways of thinking takes a bit longer.)