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Building a Learning Organization with a Focus on Crisis Management

Updated: May 19, 2021

A learning organization has key components that work together to build the foundation for learning and evolution. Members of a learning organization should understand the shared vision for the organization. They should also constantly strive for personal betterment that translates into excellence for the overall team. As the members begin to master their personal expertise, and contribute to the team, a shared vision will continue to develop. One of the most important factors to take into consideration is team's the ability to continually learn and grow. Stagnation is the opponent of the true learning organizations. Crisis management should take these learning organization components a step further to include a sense of urgency and plan strategically for the future based on the experiences in the past and present.

Building a Learning Organization

The cornerstone idea of what organizational learning is essentially identifying and rectifying errors . However, building a learning organization is slightly more complicated than just identifying and rectifying behaviors because a variety of learning styles must be taken into consideration. The thinking methodologies must be considered, motivation to strive for constant improvement, grouped goal setting, as well as the creation of a a crisis management team, all contribute to a strong learning organization.

What is a Learning Organization?

A learning organization should learn from its experiences, both positive and negative and plan for the future accordingly. Peter Senge contributed greatly knowledge pertaining to learning organizations. He detailed the components of a learning organization as systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning .

Systems Thinking

Variables in an organization do not exist alone, they are all influenced by other parts of the organization. They are all part of a system, interconnected, and working together whether the connection is obvious or not. Understanding how facets of the organization are interconnected is essential to unraveling systems thinking. The question of “How will this choice influence other parts of the company?” must be asked repeatedly. All departments are a vital part of the company, each performing their essential task, each connected to the next. For examples WageWorks, Inc. processes flexible spending account claims daily, sometimes there is a system error that impacts the company. If the error is in the Claims Department, claims cannot get processed, Customer Service gets bombarded with calls, Accounting doesn’t send out payments and so on. The crisis started in Claims but impacted a number of departments across the company. Systems thinking is looking at the overall “forest” of the business with each department as individual “trees.”

Personal Mastery

Senge viewed personal mastery as a skill that can be developed, although some are more apt at developing their personal mastery than others. Personal mastery entails objectively assessing a situation, as free of ego as possible, and understanding how to improve it. An individual would have difficulty learning if they did not have a sense of personal mastery, understanding that they can always do better. The diligence to never allow stagnation and consistently seek improvement requires a delicate hand by some managers. Employees vary in their receptivity of the motivation their managers are trying to give. While some employees are constantly looking for clues on what is expected, others may take criticism personally and that would have a negative impact, not only on their morale, but also potentially their motivation, and ultimately the teams' performance.

Personal mastery begins internally and has an impact on the team they support, and eventually in the overall company. Working from the corporate leader, the CEO, should very clearly have self-motivation and personal mastery, setting the example for the executive team and distributing the behavior through to rest of the employees. If demonstrations of personal mastery are lost along the hierarchy, it becomes much more difficult to infect entry level employees with the personal mastery contagion.

Mental Models

Perspectives, assumptions, and viewpoints are as limitless as there are people. Organizations work hard to group common assumptions together into categories that make the facets easier to study and understand. Mental models are highly aligned with understanding psychology. Tendencies to evade blame and entertain a state of denial are common among many cultures, and groups, across the world therefore these behaviors should be readily identifiable by most leaders. Negative mental models, like denial and scapegoating, should be circumvented as much as possible for a healthy learning organization. While avoiding negative mental models is important, is it equally important to understand how to assist team members in overcoming these mental ruts.

Each employee is going to have strengths and weaknesses. In Strengths Finder 2.0 Rath urges management to focus on their employee’s strengths rather than their weaknesses . This simple change could translate into huge profits, and is applicable to all industries. Strengths Finder 2.0 is a bestseller on both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestsellers lists. According to the research performed by scientists, led by the late father of strengths psychology Donald O. Clifton, having a direct supervisor or similar influence, who regularly focuses on strengths can make a dramatic difference in work performance. This is based on a 40 year study of human strengths, translated into 20 languages, surveying more than 10 million people. One of the many facets this assessment analyzes is engagement, based on whether the manager focuses on their employee's strengths, weaknesses, or just ignores the employee. If the manager primarily ignores the employee, the chances of the individual being actively disengaged are about 40 percent . If the manager focuses on weaknesses, the chances of being actively disengaged is about 22 percent. However, if the manager focuses on strengths, the chances of being actively disengaged falls to 1 percent.

The conclusion is simply that people respond to positivity. The data above indicates that employees are far more likely to be engaged in their duties if their direct manager takes an active and positive role in their work, helping them to develop their strengths instead of constantly pointing out weaknesses to improve upon. The intuitive leap is not difficult to make. If employees are actively engaged in their duties, they are going to be more productive, and employee productivity is directly related to increased profitability for a company. Rath describes “society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings” as “turning into a global obsession" explaining employees have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies . If the employer chooses to take an active part in this growth, the company itself should benefit from the growth of its employees. Corporate business culture should nurture its employee’s strengths and help them find a facet of the business they excel in for the sake of the company, and their employees. Many corporations do administer a personality profile before employment. It is an interesting consideration for an acquiring company to assess personality types for the purpose of determining how the employees’ strengths align with their job duties. If a company is going to nurture the strengths of its employees, they will first need to determine what those strengths are. The Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment is one way to do that. The culture of change, in this case, can change a company from assessments based on weaknesses to assessments based on strengths, improve the morale of its employees, and increase productivity.

Building Share Vision