Is Yours a Learning Organization

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Is Yours a Learning Organization?
Using this assessment tool, companies can pinpoint areas where they need to foster knowledge sharing, idea development, learning from mistakes, and holistic thinking.

by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino

Daniel Chang

EADERS MAY THINK that getting their organizations to learn is only a matter of articulating a clear vision, giving employees the right incentives, and providing lots of training. This assumption is not merely flawed – it’s risky in the face of intensifying competition, advances in technology, and shifts in customer preferences. Organizations need to learn more than ever as they confront these mounting forces. Each company must become a learning organization. The concept is not a new one. It flourished in the 1990s, stimulated by Peter M. Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and countless other publications, workshops, and websites. The result was a compelling vision of 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.


March 2008


Harvard Business Review 109



Is Yours a Learning Organization?

Unpredictability is very much still with us. However, the ideal of the learning organization has not yet been realized. Three factors have impeded progress. First, many of the early discussions about learning organizations were paeans to a better world rather than concrete prescriptions. They overemphasized the forest and paid little attention to the trees. As a result, the associated recommendations proved difficult to implement – managers could not identify the sequence of steps necessary for moving forward. Second, the concept was aimed at CEOs and senior executives rather than at managers of smaller departments and units where critical organizational work is done. Those managers had no way of assessing how their teams’ learning was contributing to the organization as a whole. Third, standards and tools for assessment were lacking. Without these, companies could declare victory prematurely or claim progress without delving into the particulars or Article at a Glance A learning organization is a place where employees excel at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. There are three building blocks of such institutions: (1) a supportive learning environment, (2) concrete learning processes and practices, and (3) leadership behavior that reinforces learning. The online tool presented here can help you assess the depth of learning in your organization and its individual units. The power of the instrument lies in the comparisons it allows users to make – within and among an institution’s functional areas, between organizations, and against established benchmarks. Exploring how well your company learns relative to others reveals both the multidimensionality of the organizational learning process and the specific areas where your company needs to improve.

comparing themselves accurately with others. In this article, we address these deficiencies by presenting a comprehensive, concrete survey instrument for assessing learning within an organization. Built from the ground up, our tool measures the learning that occurs in a department, office, project, or division – an organizational unit of any size that

supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes and practices, and leadership behavior that provides reinforcement. We refer to these as the building blocks of the learning organization. Each block and its discrete subcomponents, though vital to the whole, are independent and can be measured separately. This degree of granular analysis has not been previously available.

Supportive learning environments allow...
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