Note: We periodically update blogs to reflect the latest trends, research, and best practices in knowledge management. This blog was updated and expanded on January 23, 2020.
Smartphones, tablets, and computers keep getting smarter, and so can we.
The answer to every imaginable question lies in the thousands (or millions) of Google search results you can generate in nano-seconds with one simple query. And if we’re doing our job right, a search engine result may have led you to this blog post.
Today, knowledge is more shareable and accessible than ever. But can you say the same for the knowledge that exists within your company?
If not, it’s time to focus on knowledge sharing by building a learning organization culture.
What is a Learning Organization Culture?
A learning organization culture is a corporate framework in which employees are not only allowed to continue expanding their knowledge, skills, and opportunities to innovate, but encouraged to do so.
It includes five dimensions (also called pillars).
Recognizing your organization as a system of smaller complex systems by taking time to understand the whole as well as each component. Creating a systems map can help make it easier to visualize your organization’s system.
Giving employees the means to become masters of their domain through continued education and skill-building opportunities.
Acknowledging the assumptions and generalizations that influence your decision-making and setting them aside to make room for progress and new ideas.
Building a shared vision:
Using dialogue, enthusiasm, and commitment to drive action rather than dictating without context. (One way to achieve this is through storytelling.)
Using collaboration and mutual creativity rather than groupthink to achieve goals.
How Does a Learning Organization Work?
In his book The Fifth Discipline, the learning organization framework founder Peter Senge explains that this framework creates an environment where “new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”
Adopting this type of culture is not only beneficial to your employees. Fostering a genuine desire for growth can help significantly improve your bottom line—mainly because an innovative, successful business thrives off the solutions its workforce creates.
But all too often, employees feel their only role is to show up, complete their tasks without having any real say, and go home. When no one gives merit to their ideas or acknowledges their concerns about ineffectual policies, they don’t see a point in sharing them.
Which is precisely what you don’t want. Companies rarely achieve success without engaged employees asking questions, gaining knowledge, and challenging themselves and their peers.
Companies and their employees need to focus on learning to learn: a process that involves pairing different individuals, departments, and management styles together. And while the first two will always have their idiosyncrasies, consolidating management styles catalyzes the transition from traditional corporation to pioneer.
Rather than restricting (i.e. following the old way simply because “that’s how it’s always been done”), learning organizations cultivate an atmosphere of open communication and evaluation.
Why is that so important? Your employees are your most valuable resource. And helping them realize it leads to a whole new realm of benefits.
5 Benefits of Creating a Learning Organization Culture
There are five huge advantages companies can enjoy when they make the transition to a learning organization:
1. Improved Innovation
Innovation can’t be forced, but it can be fostered in the right environment. According to Karen Jaw-Madson, management consultant, Co.-Design of Work Experience, and author of Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work, “The right combination of culture, leadership, talent, and approach must work in tandem to set the right conditions for disruption.” She points to Culture Your Culture’s Design of Work Experience as an example of a co-design framework that emphasizes learning while also building culture. “Such a framework could not only bring about desirable change, but further develop innovation capability at the same time.”
Some of the most successful companies in the world—like Google and Facebook—achieved their status by creating a culture where employees have the time and space to learn, explore, and pitch their ideas (no matter how off-the-wall or unconventional they might be.)
When new ideas are not only welcomed but encouraged, employees will engage in more brainstorming and cross-departmental collaboration. Inevitably, the proactive—not reactive—initiatives they develop will reach leadership’s ears, transforming creative concepts into a profitable reality.
2. Knowledge Sharing
It’s no coincidence that each of the five pillars of a learning organization revolves around effectively circulating information. Keeping knowledge siloed within departments—or in the boardroom—means teams are left in the dark. Failing to understand other team’s objectives and hurdles makes it nearly impossible to cooperate.
Giving all of your employees access to the content they need allows them to fully understand corporate challenges and goals. This ensures everyone is on the same wavelength and understands their role in making critical improvements.
3. Problem Solving
As the saying goes, “teamwork makes the dream work.” When people come together to achieve a common goal, the likelihood of success multiples. Each individual brings their own unique experience and perspective, which is especially useful when your organization is facing a complex challenge.
When problems are shared, they’re more likely to be solved. By opening up the conversation and inviting creative solutions from across your company, you can benefit from the collective brainpower of an entire organization. And you may even discover the sources you’ve never thought to consult are the ones who come up with the best answers.
4. Strengthened Community
When employees’ ideas are acknowledged and their feedback is taken seriously, it improves their confidence and level of engagement moving forward. But a sense of contribution doesn’t just boost employees’ pride in themselves—it also promotes pride in where they work. And that can have lasting benefits for everyone involved.
Employees who have input in what goes on behind the scenes will naturally be more invested in the company—and its long-term prosperity. Seeing their efforts impact your organization’s ability to reach its objectives makes employees feel a sense of accomplishment and personal investment, and a responsibility to safeguard that success in the future.
5. Greater Efficiency
A collaborative mindset, coupled with programs that prioritize learning, helps transform teams into perceptive powerhouses. Instead of relying on outside firms, businesses can resolve issues internally, with quicker turnaround times and at a significantly lower cost.
They’ll be more agile and streamlined, with a keen ability to sense when something is heading off track (and the ability to correct it before it causes problems.) And when they can easily access knowledge outside their department, they’ll be able to overcome inefficiencies and drive better outcomes for your customers, too.
No matter your industry, building a learning organization culture can accomplish the same results. By providing the tools to propel growth, you’ll generate a happier, more effective workplace. And that may be the answer to making your company the success story you’ve always hoped to tell.