Monday, May 7, 2012

HR’s Role in Creating a Learning Organization

HR can’t expect an unchanging work environment. Change is continuous and HR organizations must ensure that they become adept at managing transformations in organizations and translating it to what action they need to take to ensure their people are prepared for this change. They must do this quickly and flawlessly in order to stay at the top. Only if they build the collective capacity for managing continuous change will they be able to manage this speed of transformation.

The collective capacity in any area is built if the HR organization aligns itself to business and focuses on disseminating information about what happens outside and the impact of it internally. In other words, organizations must invest and become adept at continuous learning, reflection, action planning and implementation.

This article focuses on understanding what is meant by ‘Learning organizations’ and what they must focus on doing to ensure continuous learning happens.

The Learning Organization
The emergence of the concept of the ‘Learning organization’ is wrapped up with the concept of ‘Learning Society’. Donald Schon (1973) has made a seminal contribution in this area. His work included studying how to enhance the learning ability of large organizations, institutions and governments, which, he classified as learning systems. Peter Senge’s work on ‘The art and practice of the learning organization’ through his book 'The Fifth Discipline' (1990) popularized this concept to a large extent. However, there is no single definition of learning organization that integrates all knowledge about learning organizations.

There are three definitions of Learning Organizations:
  • Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (Senge 1990: 3)
  • The Learning Company is a vision of what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. Learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself. (Pedler et. al. 1991: 1)
  • Learning organizations are characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values or principles. (Watkins and Marsick 1992: 118)

Creating a Learning Environment
There are various characteristics of learning organizations that HR organizations must understand and embrace in order to create a learning environment.
  • Management responsibility – to articulate continuous learning as a value and showing linkages to business success, to provide continuous learning opportunity for employees, to create infrastructure to support learning, to link individual performance and organizational performance, foster a culture of openness, risk-taking and creativity, and establishing learning objectives for every goal.
  • Employees responsibility – make use of the learning opportunities, give their personal commitment to learning, continuously translate their learning from the interaction with the environment into their work, permeate this culture to new entrants into the organization.
  • Systemic responsibility – Get the commitment of both Specialists and Generalists to drive learning. Often it is seen as the Specialist’s role to create learning in the organization, for instance the Training or Learning & Development anchor is given the responsibility for ensuring that learning happens in the organization. Generalists, on the other hand, operate from the business angle or the operations side and consider themselves as merely recipients in the learning process.
For example, one of the L&D initiatives in an organization is to identify employees for succession planning. These employees would be high performing individuals handling successful teams and they would be put through a rigorous one-year developmental programme, running alongside their routine responsibilities. The selection of these people is done through a participatory process every year, where the management reinforces it’s commitment to learning initiatives, the employees vote for people who can go through this developmental programme and Managers are responsible for identifying potential people who can go through this programme. HR is only a facilitator who receives applications and processes them.

Aspects of a Learning environment
Learning in organizations cannot happen through intent alone. There needs to be a rigorous systematic, planned effort from the Human Resource group to create space for continuous learning. Learning can happen through formal and structured interventions or through a natural process fostered by the organizational climate. The most important way by which Formal and Structured learning happens is through Training. When every change in the environment, every innovation in the market and every new regulation in the industry provokes discussion on the implications for the organization and is followed by the creation of action plans, the organization is said to have a natural process of learning ingrained in the culture.

A learning intervention that is able to recreate learning and provides for easy retrieval is one that will be more effective in the long run. The analysis, design and evaluation are critical stages to ensure that the learning intervention meets the outcomes set.

The most important aspects of a learning environment are:
  1. Learning Needs Analysis
  2. Instructional Design and Development
  3. Training programs & Learning events
  4. Evaluation and Measurement of learning effectiveness
  5. Alternate learning methods - E-Learning, Learning applications, On-the-job learning
  6. Facilitating informal learning
  7. Strategic Planning & Change Management
There is an increased need for perpetual learning as people try to keep pace with technology and emerging markets. A learning organization that keeps its’ employees completely engaged by providing a fun-filled, challenging and innovative environment while at the same time constantly providing new learning and perspectives for business success, can be called a successful learning organization. People in such organizations experience a very high level of personal and professional growth which in turn translates into high performance and low attrition.

This article has been published in People and Management Magazine in March’2012.

1 comment:

safety management system said...

HR plays very important role in business organizations. It is the life blood of organization. It maintain all data related to business organization. It is very helpful in creating a learning organization.