Learning Organizations

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Missing:
- going over BB1 again
- BB2 - 6 sigma is not well explained
- the risk for organizations
- final considerations

1.1 Executive summary/ L.O!

In times of uncertainty and change, organizations need new and effective managerial tools in order to cope with the rising competitiveness of markets. In this context, the concept of organizational learning is receiving growing attention among both managerial and academic surroundings in the last two decades.

Among many possible definitions of a Learning Organization, David A. Garvin, a leading scholar in this field, suggests the following:

“an organization made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. These people could help their firms cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically. Such learning organizations would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could.”.

A learning organization is aimed at increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of a company, making it react faster to changes in a competitive environment. This is achieved in cultures who constantly foster knowledge inside their organizations. Although this general idea of organizational learning may appear rather simplistic at first glance, it's practical integration into day-to-day operations proves to require a more refined, systematic approach: “Generative learning cannot be sustained in an organization where event thinking predominates. It requires a conceptual framework of “structural” or systematical thinking, the ability to discover structural causes of behavior“.

This paper provides a deeper insight into the implementation and performance assessment of learning organizations (L.O.’s), mainly using the Three Building Blocks Model outlined by Garvin, Edmondson & Gino. To better understand this concept, the work will rely on Xerox as an example to highlight how L.O.’s can provide competitive advantages to corporations. In the last section, the paper will also breakdown the effect that learning organizations have on major stakeholders (leaders, employees and organization itself).

1.2. Introduction: Background to Xerox

Xerox is a US-based multinational, founded in 1906, which produces and sales printers and photocopiers and provides related services. Throughout it’s history, Xerox has faced several crisis periods which ended up pushing the company to become a Learning Organization.

Around 1980, the company was hit hard by the emergence of new japanese players on the market and lost its almost 100% market share. As a response Xerox introduced the “leadership through quality initiative” with the objective of training every employee in tools for generating ideas and collecting information, solving problems in a systematical way, reaching consensus etc. “Xerox became a case study — the first American group to win back market share from the Japanese”.

More recently, in the year of 2000, with the announcement of Anne M. Mulcahy as CEO of the company, XEROX’s was able to overcome another serious crisis. Mulcahy’s leadership style, which mirrors many of the strategies suggested by the LO literature, managed to turn around this ”sinking ship”, which had 19 billion in debt, a falling stock and double-digit negative growth. In 5 years time, Xerox would be profitable again.

Ursula Burns has continued Mulcahy’s work, since becoming the new CEO in 2009, even acquiring new companies such as the 2010 $6.4 bln. takeover of ACS. Xerox continues to stay on the list of companies frequently cited as learning organizations.

The 3 Building Blocks of a Learning Organization

The concept of the three building blocks of a learning organizations is introduced by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino as an assessment tool to determine areas where organizations need to improve their learning methodologies.

Below we provide a deeper explanation of each of the three...
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