University Research Paper


Question:

What is ‘organisational learning’ and what is a ‘learning organisation’ (3000 words)?
With reference to two real-life organisations, evaluate if these conceptual models are ones that are of practical use to contemporary companies who are striving to become more competitive, adaptable and innovative (4000 words).
Guidelines on writing this assignment

1. It is really important that you start work on your chosen assignment early. All the Modules for this course will be posted on Moodle within the first 1-2 weeks of the semester, and you can start working on this during the half-term break.

2. You are expected to write your assignment in a style that is appropriate for a university essay, and these must not consist of a collection of bullet-point “shopping-lists”.
3. Your essay must include a clear introduction (stating how you are going to answer the question), a logical development of ideas and a sound conclusion.
4. The conclusion should include a reflective analysis of what you have learned from writing this assignment.
5. Use Maximum performance book only as a reference, If I need another reference I will upload here to take from.
6. Write from your heart
7. My goal is to take 100% in this assignment (please check the marking criteria guide)


Answer:

Contents

Introduction. 2

Defining “organizational learning” and “learning organization”. 2

The meaning of organizational learning. 2

The meaning of the learning organization. 5

A shared vision. 5

Team learning. 6

Systematic thinking. 7

Mental modeling. 7

Scenario mapping. 8

Relevance of conceptual models of “organizational learning” and “learning organization” in contemporary companies. 9

Organizational learning at Continental Airlines. 10

The case of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) 13

Conclusion. 14

Reflective analysis. 15

References. 16

Introduction

Organizational learning is a crucial concept in the context of contemporary organizational environments. Various definitions and theoretical constructs have been provided in efforts to define the term “organizational learning”.  According to Kim (1993), organizational learning is a more complex undertaking than a mere extension of the limits of individual learning. The complexity arises because of the transition from one individual to a collection of individuals from diverse professional qualifications, attributes, characters, and backgrounds.

Although the term “learning” retains the same meaning in both individual and organizational contexts, the learning process changes fundamentally at the organizational. Most organizational learning models attempt to explain this complexity in terms of efforts to resolve the dilemma of imparting learning capabilities and intelligence to non-human entities, in this case organizations. This has contributed to the emergence of the notion of “learning organization”. This term continues to be popular although there is no consensus regarding its definition, conceptualization, perspective, and methodology.

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Literature on the concept of learning organization has led to the emergence of two main streams of theorization. The first stream uses a prescriptive approach and it addresses issues relating to the concept of the learning organization. This stream of literature mostly targets practitioners, and the consulting experience of authors is used in the place of rigorous research methodologies. Moreover, theories tend to be over-generalized to all types of organizations. In this case, the most critical question is: “how should organizations learn?”. The second stream of scholarly literature adopts a descriptive approach and it addresses the question: “how should organizations learn”?. In most cases, this literature comprises of academic studies striving to achieve scientific rigor, although the implications they generate tend not to be of great use for practitioners.

This paper discusses the meaning of both organizational learning and learning organization. The overarching objective in this aspect is to determine how the two streams of research used to analyze these two concepts can be integrated. The paper also evaluates if the conceptual models of “organizational learning” and “learning organization” are of practical use to contemporary companies who are striving to become more competitive, adaptable, and innovative. Two real-life organizations; namely Continental Cirlines and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), are used to carry out this analysis. On this basis, suggestions on how to integrate the two streams of literature are provided.  The conclusion also contains a reflective analysis of the lessons learnt during the process of writing this assignment.

Defining “organizational learning” and “learning organization”

The meaning of organizational learning

In organizational learning, analysis is mostly focused on the learning processes. In this case, researchers do not focus a lot on the outcome of this organizational activity. On the other hand, a learning organization is typically the type of organization that is structurally and culturally organized in such a way that it is possible to guarantee flexibility, innovation, and improvement. In learning organization literature, learning is describes as something worth striving for. It is for this reason that literature on the learning organization focuses predominantly on best models and practices as platforms for intervention by consultants and managers.

One of the most acceptable approaches to the definition of organizational learning is by understanding it as a process. In this way, it is viewed as a fundamental aspect of the way in which organizations evolve. The understanding is that every organization learns regardless of the way it operates. It is impossible for an assessment to be made beforehand on whether this learning will bring about organizational improvement.

One of the conceptual models used to describe organizational learning is the Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Proponents of this theory argue that the best way in which organizations learn is by adapting their attention, search routines, and objectives to their unique experiences. However, irrational organization behavior has since been identified to be a source of major shortcomings and hindrances to the organizational learning process.

Confucius argued that experiential learning is the best way of knowledge acquisition. In modern times, the best-known exposition detailing experiential learning is Kolb’s Learning Cycle (Forster, 2009). In this model, an explanation is made on how individuals as well as groups acquire knowledge on how to perform new activities. Kolb’s learning cycle is modeled around aspects of experience and reflection, through which individuals and groups develop cognitive maps of their immediate environment or the so-called common sense. They also establish intellectual know-how and knowledge, also known as experience. Other than common sense and experience, individuals and groups also develop self-perceptions, attributions, and attitudes.

The first component of Kolb’s Learning Cycle is observation and reflection. After observing and reflecting on something, one is able to move on to the next stage in the cycle, known as abstract conceptualization. After conceptualizing, the individual engages in active experimentation. The active experimentation stage is finally followed by hands-on experience. During this cycle, people acquire common sense, experience, self-perceptions, attributions, and attitudes. These products of the learning cycle manifest themselves through behavior, the way people solve problems at the workplace, leadership practices, and views regarding organizational change.

It is natural for people, whether at an individual level or organizational level, to stick with what works best for them (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). Naturally, the decision that follows involves sticking through with such workable things. Once the comfort in such familiar patterns has been established, the individuals and businesses endorse them as an integral part of their routines and behaviors. In the final analysis, the routines and behaviors end up becoming an integral component of personalities and cultures in the case of individuals and organizations respectively. The indication in this respect is that organization cultures established through experiential learning are a manifestation of organizational learning.

By examining the way organizational cultures are formed, it is possible to identify various outcomes of the process of experiential learning in the context of organizations. One of outcomes is that our beliefs about the world become reinforced and reiterated through continued exposure to single-loop cycles (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). The second outcome is that these beliefs end up becoming ingrained into both the conscious and unconscious minds. It is important to note that the influence of the unconscious level of the human mind tends to have a more powerful influence on decision-making, both at individual and organizational contexts. This is because individuals find themselves unconsciously excluding all information that fails to correspond with each of the belief-systems they have established. Thirdly, the range of learning cycles to be adhered tends to be limited. This restricts the extent to which one understands the “real world” (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005).

It is evident from this discussion that the experiential learning model has very far-reaching implications on the meaning of organizational learning. Given that the learning process takes place at both individual and group levels and this implies the existence of interlinked processes, it is not possible to avoid certain forces of resistance. In reality, some people within the organization will always appear to be resisting change. For example, an egotist may waywardly regard the managers of the organization as idiots, arguing that he should therefore not listen to them. On the other hand, the skeptic may dismiss all ideas and theories relating to organizational change, claiming that they are only suitable for academic in the comfort of their ivory towers.

The existence of these interlinked processes seems to create a dilemma as far as the notion of individual-organization learning is concerned. During the early days the organization’s existence, it is normally difficult to differentiate between individual and organizational learning (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). This is because of the small number of people involved and the minimal structure of the organization. However, as the organization grows, a distinction starts to emerge between individual learning and organizational learning. This is because a system emerges for capturing the learning processes of each of the individual members.

The best way to understand this dilemma is to conceptualize the paradox of organizational learning. It is paradoxical that an organization is more than just a collection of individuals, yet no organization can exist without such a collection. Similarly, organizational learning is not just about individual learning, yet the only way through which an organization learns is through the actions and experiences of individuals.

It is clear that organizational learning is influenced by individual learning, both directly and indirectly. After all, it is only through its various individual members that an organization can learn. One of the ways of explaining organizational learning is through the notion that through shared assumptions for protecting the status quo, most organizations succeed in precluding people from challenging the difficult of troublesome qualities of its members. Instead, they silently assent to these attributions, meaning that very few opportunities are created for learning. The argument in this case is that individuals members of an organization are in most instances reluctant to explicitly state their own mental models. They refrain from testing their individual assumptions with other people within the organization. Instead, the members of the organization gradually accept each individual for who he or she is.

Another problem is on what constitutes “appropriate” learning within the organization. This entails determining those actions that are worth incorporating into the “collective memory” of the organization. Organizational routines constitute  one of the most crucial sources of the organizational memory. This explains the rationale for the creation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for most organization; these procedures constitute a repository of all past learning within the organization.

The meaning of the learning organization

In the case of the learning organization, a prescriptive approach is used. Forster (2009) defines a learning organization as an organization in which collective learning and unlearning of employees is being facilitated and whose capacity is continually being transformed as a way of creating its own future. Forster (2009) highlights five characteristics of learning organizations namely; a shared vision and personal mastery, team learning, systemic thinking, mental modeling, and scenario mapping.

A shared vision

A shared vision is essential for a learning organization to exist. Without a clear path for the future, it is impossible for an organization and the employees therein to aspire for outstanding achievements or to appreciate the need for evolution. A shared vision provides a strong motivation for change, which employees seek to achieve both individually and collectively.

Learning first and foremost takes place at the individual level, hence the need for personal mastery. Various principles of individual learning and unlearning have to be adhered to for personal mastery to occur. Unlike in the case of organizational learning, where the concept of single-loop learning cycle is elaborated, learning organization promotes the concept of the double-loop (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). In this context, this is normally taken to mean commitment to both individual and organization learning on a perpetual, life-long basis.

The value of continuous learning needs to be reiterated, whereby individuals are encouraged to develop in respect of their own learning as well as that of their colleagues. People learn from events and incidents at work. They analyze mistakes to ensure that they never recur. Sometimes these lessons tend to be painful; nevertheless it makes sense for people to be encouraged to use them as opportunities for learning about future possibilities. In this environment of double-loop learning, it is imperative to question everything to ensure nothing is taken for granted. Information, ideas, and experiences are shared across work groups and departments.

The concept of “experiential learning” is important in literature on both “learning organization” and “organizational learning” (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). However, in the learning organization, experiential learning is not enough; it needs to be supplemented by “meta-learning”, characterized by an analytical learning style. In this style of learning, people analyze and interpret ideas and events to derive crucial lessons. This essentially means that a learning organization must continually review the way things turned out following the event with a view to ensure that there is preparedness in anticipation of similar future occurrences. Meta-learning can facilitate the establishment of new organizational strategies. For instance, through adaptive learning, the organization is able to offer to customers exactly the goods and services that they need.

Generative learning enables employees to imagine what the needs of customers might be or providing them with goods and services they may have never gathered the courage to ask for. A case in point is that of mobile phones; companies created a new “need” that never existed before or even imagined by users of telephones (Forster, 2009).  Moreover, the company that pioneered this innovation, Nokia, has built an international reputation as a learning organization.

Learning organization is not just about adherence to principles; it is also about the availability of active educators with the ability to show all people how to acquire the traits of self-learners. This is a crucial element in the responsibilities of the learner or manager in the learning organization. In such an organization, the development of followers should not be thought to follow some abstract “HR issues” but to constitute an integral element of their workplace activities. The active educators play the role of mentors, coaches, and educators as opposed to distant “command and control” managers or “charismatic heroes”. When the active educators do their job in the right way, employees gain interest in all the learning opportunities inherent in their workplaces.

In the language and culture that is used in the learning organization, terms such as “teaching”, “learning”, and “education” are normally used to drive a conscious meaning; they are part of the organization’s lexicon (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). In this environment, the role of managers and leaders becomes one that is subtle, with the underlying aim being to get as many followers as possible to continue building on the shared vision while embracing perpetual learning. The followers are also expected to foster systematic thinking, challenge existing models, and engage in imaginative thinking. To achieve this goal, the organizational leaders should readily embrace the notion of servant leadership and empowered leadership.

Individual learning is easy to develop but institutional learning is much more complicated. To explain this point, it is imperative to note that the concept of “meta-learning” constitutes just one of the basic concepts used in this realm. One of the greatest difficulties arises because the rate at which the organization learns must be greater than the rate at which external change occurs (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). In other words, institutional or collective learning is about preparing what is likely to happen. For this reason, the learning organization must move away from the real world it inhabits as well as comfort zones for it to learn from a distant location.  This distance facilitates scenario planning or boundary scanning mechanisms. In this way, the organization goes beyond the standard checks by learning from a wide range of industries and their clients.

Team learning

Team learning constitutes one of the methods used to address the difficulties of collective or institutional learning. Team learning may succeed if implemented in the right way because learning, by its very nature, is a social activity. People learn things more quickly when they undertake learning activities in groups. For this reason, teams are fundamental units during the learning process of modern organizations. In some learning organizations, team learning a core component of team-based management systems. However, these teams need to be genuine ones as opposed to ad hoc groups of individuals trying to establish a work-based identity of a “team”.

Team learning may not succeed without commitment to employee involvement and empowerment. An environment of commitment is required for curiosity and creativity to be developed.  Members of the team have to be free to experiment, explore their curiosities, and even become eccentric.  Measures that encourage innovation have to be put in place such as reward systems and investment in employee development.

Moreover, the organizational “bureaucratic baloney” should be removed. Traditional autocratic control over people only makes them too frustrated to continue with the learning process. One of the companies that have managed to dismantle ineffective bureaucratic bottlenecks is British Petroleum (BP). During the 1990s, BP succeeded in establishing research and development units in most of its areas of operations. The resulting improvement in the products and services offered led to a rapid growth in the company’s profitability.

Managers at BP established a team-based management structure for motivating people and facilitating learning. The company was divided into  business units, each of which was required to report regularly to the executive group. The units succeeded in establishing a flat, non-hierarchical relationship with the executive group. The nine executive group members comprised of three managing directors and their six deputies. Although the managers work with their deputies, the relationship is a mutual one in that they work as a group in dealing with problems arising from each of the business units.

At BP, a lot of transparency is nurtured in each of the business units. People in each unit understand clearly what they are expected to do (Forster, 2009). On the other hand, senior executives clearly understand what each employee is doing within the business unit. For this kind of understanding to be maintained, an ongoing dialogue becomes essential. In this situation, everyone within the organization understands the things that must be done for performance to be improved and a stable future established.

At BP, the role of the management team at the top is to stimulate the organization instead of controlling it. The team also provides strategic direction, encourages learning, and ensures that adequate mechanisms are in place for the transfer of the lessons learnt. The leaders’ role is always to demonstrate the fact that people are capable of achieving more than what they think is achievable. For this to be demonstrated, the organizational leaders at BP have had to make efforts to change the people’s behavior and ways of thinking.

Systematic thinking

As one of the elements of the learning organization, systematic thinking entails one’s ability to perceive the organization as a complete “organic” entity (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). This entity should ideally operate in a synergic relationship with its constituent micro-processes, functions, and elements. Essentially, the organization has to be reinterpreted as biological systems characterized by collective thinking of various methods and purposes with the underlying aim of growing and thriving in an environment that is constantly changing.

It is important for every learning organization to have an in-depth understanding of the potential consequences of introducing systematic changes in management initiatives. This is simply because the most damage is normally done by unanticipated consequences. When the organization is aware of these potential consequences, measures aimed at creating preparedness are put in place. In other words, the organization is forearmed in readiness to deal with the anticipated outcomes.

Mental modeling

The element of mental modeling is also crucial in understanding the meaning of the learning organization. In this case, the core issue is about changing the people’s mind-set. This issue continues to be the subject of heated debate to the extent of impacting significantly on the way people understand the meaning of the learning organization.  Mental modeling is the process of bringing common sense assumptions and commonly held beliefs to the surface. These assumptions and beliefs are referred to as mental models. Once these mental models have been brought to the surface, analysis is done, their validity is questioned, and new models with the ability to service the organization better are created.

The mental modeling model is complicated one that emphasizes on the importance of life-long learning cycles. This demonstrates the complexity of learning in the context of the organization. Many companies that lack a framework for mental modeling constantly fixate with financial results that reflect short-term gains. They lack a mental modeling framework that stresses the need for long-term, multi-dimensional learning cycles. Such learning cycles may be managed for many years, hence the use of the “biological systems” analogy.

Scenario mapping

Scenario planning is one of the elements of the learning organization that borders on technical aspects of institutional learning. This technique has a long history that dates back to early human civilizations. During these early days, the technique was being used only by military strategists. It is only after the World War II that that this methodology was picked up for adoption in the commercial sector.  It was first adopted at Royal Dutch Shell, and it came to be referred to as the “Shell Method”.

The importance of scenario planning is that it facilitates the creation of greater certainty in a world of increasing uncertainty. There are different categories of uncertainty in business organizations. The most obvious scenarios are those that can be measured confidently and with a high degree of accuracy, for example carrying out sales surveys on a piloting basis to determine whether a new product is going to be acceptable to customers.

Another type of scenario is one comprising of uncertainties with known results only that they are difficult to calculate. For example, if a competitor is planning to double supplies to one of the organization’s key markets, it is very difficult to calculate the exact outcomes. The best that the organization can do is to define and analyze all possible outcome scenarios and develop appropriate response strategies. Furthermore, another category is about scenarios involving risks that are predictable but extremely difficult to calculate. A case in point is a cost-benefit analysis of investment in research and development. The outcomes in terms of the ability by the business organization to implement innovative ideas may be difficult to quantify.

However, some circumstances are completely uncertain and ambiguous, making it almost impossible to predict future scenarios (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). For example, the rapid increase in terrorist activities during the 1980s and 1990s led some insurance companies to develop a scenario in which an airliner would be crashed into a skyscraper. However, such companies found it extremely difficult to estimate the time when such an event would occur. Indeed, such a catastrophe eventually occurred in 11 September 2001, when an airliner was crashed by terrorists into the World Trade Center.

Relevance of conceptual models of “organizational learning” and “learning organization” in contemporary companies

The debate on the relevance of the conceptual models of “organizational learning” and “learning organization” is ongoing. This debate is normally positioned on the context of change management literature. The objective is to determine the practical use to which these concepts can be put as far as efforts to drive change are concerned. This debate is also driven by the understanding that all contemporary companies must continually strive to improve their present levels of competitiveness, adaptability, and innovativeness.

The words of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution theory, provide an excellent analogy in the context of this discussion; Darwin pointed out that the species that survive are not those that are the strongest or the most intelligent, but those that are most adaptive to change (Forster, 2009). There is no guarantee that the most successful companies of today will be equally successful tomorrow. Future success does not depend on the present position and abilities but on the ability to adapt to changing business environment. In today’s globalized environment, changes continue to occur at a faster pace than ever before. New start-up companies with access to capital continue to emerge and to pose a serious threat to highly successful, established multinational corporations simply because of being able to respond to change in the contemporary business environment.

Moreover, many successful companies of today continue to put in place measures that enable them become learning organizations. A case in point is Dyson, company that has achieved success by endeavoring to become a learning organization. Not only has Dyson achieved success in its area of competitive advantage, it has also rejuvenated industry practices by virtue of becoming a learning organization. Since its early days, the company embraced the various elements of the learning organization, particularly the need for a shared vision.

Dyson became famous because of the way it revolutionized the humble vacuum cleaner. The company than diversified its operations by embarking on washing machine manufacturing. In this undertaking, the company’s innovative employees came up with the drum mechanism, which mimics the hand-washing technique. In recent times, Dyson funded the establishment of a private university that specializes in innovation in manufacturing.

In 2008, Dyson announced that it was planning to develop a very powerful electric motor of a variety that has never been seen in the market before. The success of the company may be attributed first and foremost to its continued ability to understand the needs of customers by listening to them and learning new things from these dialogues. From this perspective, the research and development effort become an avenue through which solutions to problems are presented to customers.

The outcome is that Dyson is viewed by many customers across the world as an institution that adopts a unique approach to problem solving. It is also viewed as a company where all the customers’ views are put into consideration. Surprisingly, the company is not a heavy advertiser. The company’s expenditure in mainstream advertising has never been more than US$ 500,000 (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). In most cases, the company relies on endorsements through word-of-mouth by satisfied customers.

In this section, the paper presents a case study of two contemporary business organizations by analyzing how they have put the principles of the learning organization into practical use in their efforts to become more competitive, innovative, and adaptable. The names of these two companies are Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Continental Airlines.

Organizational learning at Continental Airlines

Continental Airlines (CA) went through a period of crises between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. During this time, different people took turns as presidents of the company. For instance, between 1983 and 1993, the company had been under the leadership of ten different presidents, and had been rescued from bankruptcy twice. Worse still, fear and inertia had paralyzed the operations of employees across the board. Both senior managers and lower-cadre employees had been affected by the wave of low morale that had been sweeping across the organization.

The airline got a poor ranking among major US airlines on issues of baggage handling, on-time arrivals, instances of involuntary died boarding, and customer complaints. The company suffered from a bad reputation for flight delays, poor-quality in-flight service, and dirty planes. This made complaints to three the industry average. In 1994, Continental Airlines suffered a loss of US$ 619 million (Forster, 2009). Worse still, the last time the company had reported a profit was 1978. No doubt this company was in need of organizational change. There was a need to change the prevailing organizational culture with the aim of instilling confidence in employees, managers, investors, customers, and other stakeholders.

An investigation into the way in which CA came out of this mess is of great relevance, particularly an assessment of the extent to which the company embraced the characteristics of a learning organization. It should be noted that when Gordon Bethune, the new president, joined the company late 1994, the company’s fortunes took a dramatic turnaround. Six years later, the airline became the second most admired US airline. Bethune’s leadership qualities no doubt contributed greatly to the company’s success. It is therefore not surprising that he has been receiving awards for his excellence in business leadership. CA even managed to sustain its positive corporate image, admiration, and brand recognition even in the wake of 11 September 2001.

The big question at this point is on how Bethune managed to save a company that had almost been condemned to eventual death. First, Bethune came out as a transformational leader. Transformational leaders put a lot of emphasis on the need for learning among employees, both at the individual and organizational level. During his tenure, the gap between him and employees was almost non-existent. He understood his employees and middle-level managers fairly well. For him, most of the time was spent communicating with staff, a process that established a culture of learning new ideas and sharing them with the rest of the CA community.

For one to learn about the events taking place in an organization, a reasonable level of knowledge regarding all aspects of the company’s operations is essential. Bethune had a background in the Navy and civil aviation. Having worked at Boeing, Bethune was at an excellent position of understanding many things about the airlines business in the US.

Bethune evidently worked hard to put in place most of the characteristics of a learning organization (Brenneman, 1998). One of these characteristics is a shared vision and personal mastery. The president had a reasonable personal mastery of the technical aspects of the aviation industry. Moreover, being a transformational leader, he was keen to nurture a shared vision that had been lacking at all levels of the organization.

Right from the beginning, Bethune made sure that employees had a clear sense of purpose, direction, and properly-articulated goals for the company’s future (Brenneman, 1998). Bethune spearheaded the development of a vision that he called “The Go-Forward Plan”. This vision involved simple and straightforward objectives, including flying to all the places customers wanted to go, maintaining clean airplanes, getting to destinations on time, ensuring customers’ luggage never goes missing, serving meals on time, and getting all this done right away. This vision was articulated in simple terms, making it easy for all employees to remember.

In all instances of organization learning, it is common for some form of employee resistance to change, particularly in the process of leading organizational change. Overcoming employee resistance was one of the greatest obstacles to the integration of change into the company’s operational culture and practices (Forster, 2009). This culture was characterized by low employee morale, absenteeism, labor turnover, and a high number of work injuries (Forster, 2009). Doing away with the culture of distant top managers with dictatorial tendencies was difficult. CA’s employees had to unlearn the old way of doing things and embrace new ones. For instance, the company’s cargo handlers needed to learn how not to tear off company logos when going home for fear of being recognized as employees of Continental Airlines (Forster, 2009).

In an environment of poor communication such as the one that prevailed at Continental Airlines prior to 1994, it was difficult for organizational learning to take place (Brenneman, 1998). It was shocking that employees had gotten used to reading about the happenings in their company in the press instead of getting this information from their own supervisors and managers.

The double-loop notion as used in the learning organization is applicable to the case of CA. Through the double-loop process, commitment is normally to both individual and organizational learning on a perpetual, long-term basis. Indeed, organizational learning is a double-pronged process that should put into consideration both the learning needs of the individual and the goals of the organization. At CA, a major step forward involved getting the right professionals on board and giving them opportunities for both individual and organizational learning.

In an environment where drastic action is required on the part of every employee, it is imperative that all learning processes are reinvented. At CA, employees were made aware of the importance of this reinvention. Failure to reinvent would lead to a third bankruptcy, eventual liquidation, and a loss of some 40,000 jobs (Forster, 2009). Such a major reinvention effort cannot occur without a clean-up of the house. This explains why the company replaced some senior managers. Specifically, 50 out of the company’s 61 managers were replaced with a “smart team” of highly dedicated, experienced, and dynamic professionals, in most cases from within Continental Airlines (Forster, 2009).

A critical consideration in the choice of senior managers was the ability to engage in team learning. Team learning is one of the defining characteristics of a learning organization. Incidentally, this is what CA was aspiring to be. For team learning to occur, everyone needed to be treated with respect and dignity for the environment to be extremely collaborative. For CA, a major source of attraction to new recruits was a provision for stock options. The message to these recruits was that if the shareholders of the company started benefiting, the new employees would also be deriving benefits. This turned out to be true since numerous millionaires started emerging along the ranks of company’s workforce.

With a shared vision and team learning in place, a significant level of progress can be made in leading organization change. However, without systemic thinking, the efforts of leading organizational change may bring about the desired results. It is through systemic thinking that straightforward and workable strategies are developed.  Although aspects of systemic thinking were not explicitly articulated at CA, they were inherent in the overall change management strategy of the company.

Systemic thinking is about coming up with ideas that bring about change across the organization rather than tinkering with just one aspect of change management. As the company’s president pointed out, every modern business organization must put in place a strategy that addresses areas of financial operations, market, people, and product (Forster, 2009). At CA, focus was on people, systems, customers, clients, structure, and processes. These elements of strategic change were appended into the original vision because they had not been clearly articulated at the beginning.

Prior to 1994, the company’s employees did not know such a thing as company strategy. After 1994, due to concerted efforts by leadership, they became aware of various slogans underlying the company’s strategy including “Fund and Future”, “Fly to Win”, “Working Together”, and “Making Reliability a Reality” (Forster, 2009). The awareness of these slogans marked the beginning of an organizational learning process for the company’s employees. By delving deep into the meaning of these slogans, employees could easily obtain more detailed information regarding the activities being launched at the company. For instance, the “Fly to Win” component was about a constant shut-down of all unprofitable routes and winning back the hearts of all disgruntled customers (Forster, 2009).

In terms of mental modeling, the president and senior executives at CA also did fairly well. They quickly established a culture of extensive two-way communication along all ranks within the company. This opening up of communication channels provided the managers with a great opportunity to understand the mental model of each employee. Moreover, individual employees were able to test their individual assumptions against those of other employees as well as against the “collective memory” of the organization. With this awareness, the managers knew which aspects of learning to focus on.

For instance, Bethune focused a lot on the use of symbolism in the communication process (Brenneman, 1998). To change the mental models of employees, the senior managers constantly informed employees that they believed in their abilities to put Continental Airlines back on the path of efficiency and profitability. Some of the symbolic gestures of positive communication included attending the graduation ceremonies of the company’s employees, leaving weekly phone-recorded messages on the company’s events, handing out prizes, and introducing an annual questionnaire for ascertaining the success of the communication strategies as part of the “Go Forward” plan (Forster, 2009).

Lastly, the process of leading organizational change could not have been deemed complete without inculcating a culture of involving all employees in celebrating the company’s successes. However, not much was done by way of scenario planning. Nevertheless, the concepts of the learning organization and organizational learning were at play at Continental Airlines. The application of these concepts was instrumental in spearheading a turnaround in organizational culture at the company. In 2006, CA had started reporting healthy profits. In March 2007, the company was named the world’s “The Most Admired Airline” (Forster, 2009).

The case of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

One of the main reasons for success at Continental Airlines was that nearly all elements of a learning organization were incorporated during efforts to lead organizational change. For this reason, remarkable corporate turnaround was achieved. However, in the case of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), these elements were missing.

ABC has traditionally been criticized for being too elitist and reliant on the money of Australian taxpayers. In such a scenario, it was normal for the organization to be accused of not being sufficiently commercial in the way it carried out its business activities. With this criticism in mind, the Liberal Government approved the appointment of Alan Shier as the company’s new director (Forster, 2009). The main objective for Alan Shier was to bring reforms to the sluggish organizational culture at ABC, to increase the broadcaster’s viewer numbers, and improve its business growth potential.

However, Shier was sacked after only 19 months on the job, during which time he had not managed to bring about any meaningful changes at the company. By this time, the number of viewers loyal to ABC had dropped even further. This happened for various reasons. First, there was a lack of a systemic understanding of all the components  required for organizational change to be realized. One of these components was in the person of Alan Shier. Shier did not pass of as an energetic and transformational leader. He was unable to articulate a more positive future for ABC. In other words, he was unable to create positive mental models at both individual and organizational levels. For this reason, he seemed reluctant to walk the talk. The company’s employees even gave him the nickname of “Satan” (Forster, 2009).

Alan Shier did not succeed in creating a shared vision for ABC. In fact, he did not seem to make any efforts towards this end. Instead, he attracted negative attributes such as egotism and arrogance. Moreover, he openly criticized “reactionary” ABC employees. Other accusations leveled against the company’s boss included high-temperedness, intimidation, bullying, and sexual harassment. In many ways, Shier fits the description of a toxic leader. With such a leader at the helm of an organization, it becomes virtually impossible for a culture of a learning organization to be established. This is precisely what happened at ABC.

ABC’s managers also failed to focus on aspects of mental modeling as a way of transforming the company into a learning organization. Instead, the managers resorted to sacking senior staff without any explanation and replacing them with highly-paid inner-circle of friends from outside the corporation. With such events taking place, the remaining employees found it difficult to desist from resisting change. When this resistance finally came, the managers did not make efforts to address it. After all, they had not prepared for such a scenario. After only 19 months at the helm of the company’s leadership, it was evident that Shier was the wrong man for the job. It was evident that he did not understand the corporation’s culture. More importantly, he was inexperienced in more basic aspects of running an organization.

For a large company such as ABC, a sense of urgency, such as the one introduced at Continental Airlines, is normally an essential component in leading organizational change. Without a sense of urgency, the change management efforts may not be taken seriously. Employees may think that it is business as usual. At that point, it becomes virtually impossible for a shared vision to be developed. It also becomes increasingly difficult to assemble various learning teams under the framework of systemic thinking. The approach that Shier adopted did not demonstrate any sense of urgency. It is therefore not surprising that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was not transformed into a learning organization. The case of ABC shows the importance of putting a transformational leader at the top of the leadership hierarchy in efforts to change an organization into a learning organization.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the notions of “organizational learning” and “learning organization” are closely related. The main difference is that in organizational learning, researchers adopt a descriptive approach while in the learning organization, a prescriptive approach is adopted. Another difference is that organizational learning seems to have a more stable theoretical and empirical basis while the notion of the learning organization is devoid of such a basis. Many practitioners prefer to focus on the idea of the learning organization and its practical use, and this has made it more popular than that of organization learning. Even in the present paper, most of the literature explored address aspects of the learning organization.

From the analysis of this literature, it may be true to say that organizational learning entails the process through which learning occurs in organizational contexts. Many scholars have been making efforts to describe this process. On the other hand, in the learning organization, focus is primarily on the mindset that people within the organization must have constantly to learn things that are useful for organizational development as well as unlearn those that do not add value to the organizational culture. Nevertheless, these differences seem to exist largely in theory; in practice the two concepts are used interchangeably.

This paper has identified five characteristics of a learning organization; namely a shared vision, systemic thinking, scenario mapping, team learning, and mental modeling. Efforts to lead the organizational culture at Continental Airlines succeeded largely because the transformational leader who was given this task was able to create a sense of urgency for change, thereby creating the right environment for these elements to be introduced into the company’s organizational culture. Each of these elements contributed to the dramatic turnaround that marked the company’s return to the path of profitability.

In contrast, at Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the leader appointed to lead change lacked the much-needed transformational qualities. For this reason, the organizational leader failed in establishing a new organizational culture.  Essentially, all the elements of the learning organization were missing since the first day of the culture-change efforts.

Reflective analysis

I have learned several things from writing this assignment. First, I have improved my writing and research skills. I have learned a lot about the important of reading many research articles with a critical mind. By reading all research articles critically, I was able to understand the subtle ideas contained in each one of them as far as the concepts of organization learning and learning organization are concerned.

I have also learned several things relating to organization learning and learning organization. The most enlightening moment was when I was able to differentiate between organization learning and the learning organization. I was also delighted to learn about Kolb’s learning cycle. I was keen to find out whether the various stages of this cycle are a reflection of my personal experiences as far as the learning process is concerned.

 

References

Brenneman, G. (1998). Right Away and All at Once: How We Saved Continental. Cambridge: The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Forster, N. (2009). Maximum performance: A practical guide to leading and managing people at work. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Kim. W. & Mauborgne, R. (2005). Value Innovation: A Leap into the Blue Ocean. Journal of Business Strategy, 26(4), 22-28.

Levitt, S. & Dubner, S. (2006). Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: Penguin Books.


 

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