Strategic and Practical Issues Involved in Creating a Learning Organization.

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Current businesses face many challenges: tough global competition, rapid technology change and increased pressure from consumers are only a few to name. Ability to adapt quickly to this fast changing environment became crucial for the survival of the company, thus knowledge and continuous learning is growing in importance. Knowledge is seen as an ultimate competitive advantage for the modern organization. However, Dr. Yogesh Malhotra (2003), the founding Chairman and Chief Knowledge Architect of the BRINT Institute, LLC, says that “knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage only if understood from an action-oriented perspective. Only translating information into actionable value propositions can assure competitive advantage”. One way of emphasizing learning and turning knowledge into action is through the development of a learning organization (Gardiner et al., 2001, cited in Stafylarakis, Eldridge, 2008). In this paper I want to shortly look at the concept of a learning organization and discuss the major issues involved in the development of a learning organization in a medium sized construction company.

Learning organization

The notion of the learning organization has been made popular by Peter Senge and his book “The Fifth Discipline” (1990) (Smith, 2001). According him, the learning organization “is continually expanding its capacity to create its future through learning” (Senge, 1990, cited in Stafylarakis, Eldridge, 2008:10). Different authors (ex. Pedler et al. 1989, Watkins and Marsick 1992, cited in Stafylarakis, Eldridge, 2008 ) came up with different definitions of the learning organization, but most of them agree on the idea of continuous transformation. The idea of the learning organization even though promising many benefits to the companies: increased individuals learning abilities, cooperative environment and thus improved environmental adaptation and organizational performance (Driver, 2002:38), was blamed for being too abstract and not providing any framework for action.

Background information about the organization
The company was established in 1993 and during the 15 years of its existence became one of the major road and bridge construction companies in the Western region of the country. It employs around 240 employees: 31 managerial staff, 50 technical workers and the rest of the workforce does the physical job. It has 5 major departments: construction, IT, technical, finance and personnel and logistics. The company exists in the periphery meaning the labour market is limited to both employees and employers. During those 15 years the top management did not change at all and the annual turnover among the rest of the managerial staff remained rather low (7%). It is a conservative company with a traditional hierarchical structure, control centered approach to management, with a top management working there for 15 years. The general manager is an influential figure. He would like employees to become more independent in decision making and become better in working as a team, but at the same time likes to hold much control and influence various kinds of decisions. In meetings he expects teamwork, but it ends up with a long speech of the general manager or another department head is asked to prepare a speech. No discussions or idea changing appears. The top management says they would like to hear opinions of the workers on what changes could be implemented, but the communication with employees appears through team briefing with the top providing information to the level below them. The most important information or events are put on the board, but no open discussion happens. The company is slow at decision making as all decisions must be approved by the general manager. Also I believe some of their departments need fundamental changes. For three years when working with this company I still hear the complaint that despite the fact they have the newest technique and work...
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