3 Benefits of Organisational Learning

Apr 12, 2021


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To keep pace with the rapid changes in a hyper connected economy which constantly evolves, businesses need to be agile, adaptable, and constantly learning. Indeed, embracing change as a learning opportunity can have real business impact. A report, based on more than six years of studying best-practices in corporate training, found that among all the HR and training processes that were studied, the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation’s learning culture.

A learning culture goes beyond the standard learning and development programmes. Culture is made up of shared values, systems and practices that determine how an organisation learns. Learning culture is an essential component of a well-executed organisational learning strategy that can help your business to achieve pre-defined strategic goals. We explore some of the key benefits of organisational learning and how some organisations have achieved them.

Collective Growth

As opposed to having a “fixed mindset” that believes native abilities cannot be changed, the “growth mindset” believes that we are able to increase our abilities through dedication and learning. According to Stanford psychologist, Dr Carol Dweck, people with a “growth mindset” enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see the potential to develop new skills. Organisations with a collective growth mindset share knowledge, collaborate and support each other’s learning and development. This enables the organisation to collectively move forward in a rapidly changing economy where it is no longer sufficient to do things “the way it has always been done”.

Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft pulled off one of the most compelling turnarounds in recent history. With the tech industry’s shift from desktop computers to smartphones and the cloud, many believed that Microsoft’s best days were behind it. However, since Nadella’s appointment as CEO in January 2014, Microsoft’s share price has tripled, bringing it to above a US$1 trillion valuation for the first time since the company’s inception.

Many have attributed this turnaround to the growth mindset that Nadella made a priority at Microsoft, inspiring its employees to shift from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” mentality. When creating a manifesto for Microsoft employees, the newly promoted CEO consulted with Dr Dweck and incorporated themes from her work. As he explains, “We needed a culture that allowed us to constantly refresh and renew”.

This cultural refresh was an important part of Nadella’s envisioned digital transformation of Microsoft. Under his leadership, Microsoft has shifted from a Windows “products” company to a cloud-first and mobile-first company. Thousands of employees had to learn new technical knowledge to better support customers. Microsoft Learn is one such platform used to support the continual education of its employees. Learners can opt to study at any time of the day, and they can select from a collection of training options including self-paced learning, instructor-led training, and certificationsto suit their preferred style of learning.

Peter Senge, who popularised the concept of the learning organisation through his book The Fifth Discipline stated that “a learning organisation is a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capacities to create results they really care about”. By investing in the growth of your employees, you are building a more skilled and engaged workforce for your business, which in turn will help to drive the results that your business aspires to.

Collaboration and Innovation

A survey by PwC found that 79% of CEOs believe innovation drives efficiencies and leads to competitive advantage, and 78% expect new revenues streams to come from innovation. Innovation is a prized outcome that comes naturally to learning organisations, yet it takes deliberate effort to foster the right environment for it. A safe learning environment empowers employees to continuously experiment and pursue new ways of doing things. Smart risks may or may not succeed, but they can yield insights that drive the business forward.

At Cisco, the Center for Collaborative Leadership brings together the entire senior executive team and high potential employees (HiPos) to collaborate and develop innovative business solutions, while concurrently honing their leadership skills. HiPos are not necessarily the same people as high performers, who can be counted to meet or exceed performance targets. HiPos are identified based on their capacity to be disruptive and change the game. Teams of 10 participants take part in the Cisco Executive Action Learning Forum (E-ALF), where they collaborate to break down existing barriers and address critical business issues.

Rather than taking the traditional approach and doing things that have worked in the past, Cisco encourages its E-ALF programme participants to take risks. As Robert Kovach, Director of the Cisco Center for Collaborative Leadership explains, “Given the risks they will be taking, they need support in order to remain resilient.  The walls separating the business and the modern learning function must be highly permeable.”

The programme has proven highly successful. The centre has identified billions of dollars in market opportunities for the company, including its Cisco Telepresence business and Smart Grid initiative. The programme has also been the catalyst to several operational initiatives for Cisco, including new pricing and quality control strategies.

Systematic Problem-Solving

Systematic problem-solving is a key building block of learning organisations. It necessitates the use of scientific methods for generating and testing hypotheses, and decisions are made based on concrete data and facts. Rather than relying on instinct and rushing into action, systematic problem solving requires discipline and patience to identify root causes, develop and refine solutions, and finally to incorporate the solution into business protocols. This crucial last step ensures that the learnings are shared across the organisation, reducing the likelihood of recurrence.

Toyota is the largest automobile manufacturer in Japan, and the second largest in the world behind Volkswagen. The company is reputed not only for the quality and reliability of its cars, but also for its management principles. Toyota’s mastery of continuous improvement and learning has drawn the attention of journalists, researchers, and executives alike. So much so that the book The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker (2004) has become an international bestseller.

The ‘Five Whys’ technique was originally developed in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda. Thereafter, it was introduced as a training staple in the Toyota Production System in the 1950s. Since then, the technique has seen widespread use beyond Toyota, for example, it is used in the Kaizen, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma methodologies. Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System, described the Five Whys technique as “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach. He adds that “by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

Using this technique, each answer to the “why?” question forms the basis of the next question, and each iteration of the question brings you closer to discovering the source of the problem. By peeling away the layers or symptoms of the problem, you can identify the root cause of the problem and the relationships between different components of the problem, so that you can tackle the problem at its source.

Practicing systematic problem-solving techniques such as the ‘Five Whys is not just about fixing specific problems, As learning organisations strive towards continual growth and improvement, practicing such techniques will empower them to remain viable in this ever-evolving economy.

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