Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is Yours a Learning Organization?

Via Jay Cross I found this learning organisation scan under the title Is Yours a Learning Organisation? on the Harvard Business Review site, developed by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino. There is a short online survey with 12 questions, and a longer one, with more depth, can be found here. I'd recommend the longer one, with lots of relevant questions, most of them related to the culture in the organisation with regards to experimenting, networking, etc. A good tool to start talking about what a learning organisation is. To read the full article, you have to pay for it.

I think the term 'learning organisation' knows many different interpretations. A lot of development NGOs have used the Bruce Britton scan, as outlined in his paper the Learning NGO. You can find more information in the km4dev wiki here. Maarten Boers from ICCO started an interested discussion on the the email group of km4dev about the fact that ratings may go down when people become more aware of the complexity of a learning organisation. When discussions about being a learning organisation have just started, people may rate their organisation relatively high, because they are not so critical yet about their practices. Johannes Schunter linked this to a high relevant framework of the conscious competence learning framework. Hereby people move from the unconscious incompetence stage, through the conscious incompetence stage to the compentence stages. It is during the conscious competence stage that people become more critical about the practices in the organisation.

Personally, I shocked a manager once, by stating that his professionals were learning rapidly, but that his organisation wasn't. When the professionals left, the organisation was left at a loss. He was of the opinion that his professionals were not rapid learners. I made him look more carefully at the processes in the organization to leverage individual learning, to become organisational learning. For me, the crux of organisation learning is in making sure there are the processes that transform individual learning into innovation in the organisations practices are functioning. Secondly, it is important to see that the sources of learning, the feedback loops are the right ones. I have been in another organisation, where colleagues thought the organisation was learning, because it was changing all the time. However, the organisation was changing to the latest management whims rather than in response to feedback from its clients.


Dorine Ruter said...

Hi Joitske, thanks for the post.

We just set out Bruce Britton's questionnaire within our organisation. (Last year we only took some samples). We got quite a few responses stating that the list of questions was complex, some issues duplicate, or that various answers are possible depending on your interpretation of the question (e.g. "Our team learns very well, but about the rest of the organization, I wouldn't know.") The same feedback was given when we discussed this questionnaire in the "Organisational Learning" learning network (oof!) facilitated by PSO. I hope to either change the current questionnaire a bit or switch to another. Perhaps the one you mentioned.

About (un)concious (in)competence stages and how this affects people's responses to the questions: this could be a problem when comparing people's results between 2 phases. So not so fortunate as a evaluation tool when you want to show the progress you've made as an organisation, and the scan showing only decrease! However 1.) if practices / learning culture improve, you will see those results eventually on the longer term and 2.) the results of the questionnaire will give an indication what you need to work on and 3.) Being concious of what you don't know/do and what you still want to learn helps you to learn it better/quicker. Meaning that the questionnaire will become a tool to increase the organization's learning practice and culture. This is at least how we are trying to use it here (e.g. team discussions about the results). So for internal use it still seems good to apply such a scan.

Of course, maybe it is also possible that people are in a concious incompetence stage in one theme (rating that very low), and completely unconcious about failure elsewhere (rating that high). How can one interpret results then? And how do you ask/measure someone's stage? Did the km4dev dicussion get to that point (I missed part of that discussion on the list...)

Complex, but interesting!
Best wishes,

Joitske said...

Hi Dorine, thanks for sharing your ideas about the rating sheets. I tried to go back to the discussion on km4dev by using the search function. But it seems there is no indexation done since 2006. You could ask lucy to do an indexation? The conclusions were pretty similar. It is hard to use it as a measuring 'progress' tool as such, but good to discuss actual practices and ways to improve it. I think the issues are fairly similar for all kind of rating tools.