Embedded Learning Through Process Integration
But this still does not answer the question: Learning for what? Where, specifically, does the improvement manifest itself? If we are to measure an outcome variable that tells us learning is helping the organization improve, what would we measure? Two intermediate measures are important: adaptability and innovativeness.
- Adaptability: does the organization show evidence of handling change seamlessly? Does it anticipate client needs?
- Innovativeness: how well does the organization innovate in terms of products (outputs to client) and process (ways of better creating these outputs)?
We need to bear in mind that these are "intermediate measures." In other words, one takes it at face value that an adaptable, innovative organization is producing products that delight clients, and is continually adjusting to pressures from competitors, clients and other stakeholders in order to maintain this ability to delight. Yet it is obvious that one can adapt and/or innovate in a direction that does not help the organization, but this is for another discussion. For the purposes of this one, let us assume that adaptability and innovation are intermediate outcomes that lead to better, and measured, performance.
Question 2: What are we learning?
If a learning organization adapts and innovates well, what are the things that people had to learn to make this happen? I think this is where the opportunity to integrate learning across the organization is often missed. Organizations spend huge sums of money on training, but perhaps they now need to consider education as well. I mean, one trains to be able to do the present job better. Education is about preparing people for the future. Learning organizations need a balance between training and education. The problem I've noted in many organizations is that the emphasis is on training, and even at that, training programs are not often aligned with business priorities.
Finally, many organizations simply do not know what they know. No one has a good idea of what people are being trained in and why. In a learning organization, each person will take responsibility for his or her own development, but the organization will provide guidance to help focus this learning in a way that helps the organization and the individual.
To answer this question then, people responsible for building learning organizations need to find out:
- What do people know?
- What is the organization trying to accomplish?
- What do people need to know to help make this happen?
Question 3: What do we do with what we've learned?
A learning organization is characterized by people who can think, debate, create and design - but none of it means anything unless all of this can be transformed into action. In fact, I would suggest that this might be the place to start in our quest to build learning organizations: determine first what the organization is willing to tolerate in the way of change and innovation. If the answer is very little, then I would suggest that the first order of business is to prepare the organization for its transition because learning changes people and changed people change organizations.