Processes and Characteristics of Organizational Learning

Organizational learning is the ability of an organization to gain insight and understanding from experience through experimentation, observation, analysis, and a willingness to examine both successes and failures. In the rest of this article, we are going to know the processes and characteristics of organizational learning.

The Processes of Organizational Learning:

Organizations acquire information/knowledge through several processes. The processes are as follows:

  • Congenital learning: A combination of the knowledge inherited at its inception and the additional knowledge acquired prior to its birth leads to congenital learning.
  • Analytical learning: Learning occurs through the systematic gathering of information.
  • Experimental learning: Organizations acquire some knowledge after their birth through direct experience.
  • Synthetic learning: It emphasizes the synthesis of large amounts of complex information by using systems thinking.
  • Vicarious learning: Organizations acquire some knowledge from other organizations- knowledge related to their strategies, practices, technologies, etc. Such learning occurs through professional meetings, trade shows, publications, vendors and suppliers, and the like.
  • Interactive learning: Learning occurs from doing through the exchange of information.
  • Grafting: Organizations frequently increase their store of knowledge by acquiring and grafting on new members who possess knowledge not previously available within the organization.
  • Structural learning: Employees learn from the organization’s standard processes, rules, and procedures that specify the ways of performing tasks.

Characteristics of Organizational Learning:

i. Leaders support learning: The message from the CEO, senior executives, and other key leaders in the organization is that continuous learning by individuals, teams, and the whole organization is valued and expected. Leaders communicate that learning can happen in many different ways: through formal face-to-face and online instruction; formal and informal, on-the-job activities; and social interaction.

ii. Managers take responsibility for employee learning: Managers encourage their employees to acquire new knowledge and skills and develop competencies to make themselves more valuable to the organization. Managers provide opportunities to learn, practice that learning, and apply learning on the job. Managers hold employees accountable for learning and hold themselves accountable for developing their direct reports.

iii. The organization hires and promotes learners. Recruiters, other HR staff look for people who are self-motivated learners, are always seeking opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills, learn from their successes and failures, take risks for the purpose of learning, and continue to develop themselves. The organization selects new employees and promotes current employees who demonstrate initiative in learning and growing.

iv. Learning is aligned with results. Employees and their managers can clearly see how acquiring specific knowledge and skills will contribute to the success of the organization. It’s not learning for learning’s sake or learning because “we’ve always done it that way”, but learning because that’s what will help the organization achieve its strategic goals.

v. People have a growth (learning) mindset. Executives, managers, and employees believe that they and others can learn and grow within the organization. They believe that this potential is in everyone and can be unleashed by actively giving people the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills.

vi. The organizational structure facilitates learning. Information flows freely throughout the organization. Leaders of work units feel free to communicate with each other. They provide assistance and peer-coaching to each other as needed. Employees are connected across departments and actively share successes, failures, and lessons learned. Other key stakeholders are brought into important decision-making and are respected for their input.

vii. Knowledge management contributes to learning. Information is stored in an easily accessible place (hardcopy or in a database) that can be used by all employees to acquire knowledge that they need to be successful in their work. Employees can get the information they need when they need it for the purpose of improving organizational performance. Employees are constantly, creating, identifying, collecting, organizing, sharing, adapting, and using the information to help the organization become smarter.

viii. Employees take risks and experiment. Leaders foster this behavior by recognizing the effort and the learning even if the results are unsatisfactory. Employees are not punished (e.g., pay cut, demotion, public humiliation, marginalization) for trying something new. On the contrary, this kind of behavior is encouraged. Failures, as well as successes, are treated as opportunities for learning.

ix. Learning is rewarded: When employees acquire new knowledge and skills, this is recognized and applauded. When new learning is applied and contributes to improving the performance of the organization, employees are rewarded.

x. Everyone is reflective: Leaders, managers, employees, and other stakeholders take every opportunity to learn. Client contacts are immediately examined with the intention of learning and improving those contacts in the future. Tasks, events, processes, and committees are all viewed as opportunities for learning.