I’m not a big fan of buzz words. I also have to admit there are times where they actually become useful. The problem with this particular one, “learning organization” is that it’s often misused.
I do believe that if you really want your company to get better you must have regular learning going on. At the same time, just saying you have one doesn’t make it true. Here are 6 things you might want to think about if you’re really serious about making your company better through learning:
You have to celebrate mistakes.
This is the most important thing for you to focus on. We all make mistakes. In many companies we do our best to hide mistakes when they’re made. Mistakes aren’t celebrated. In fact, in many cases mistakes aren’t even tolerated.
Go back to when you learned to ride a bike. Did you get it the first time around? Most likely you fell off a few times before you got the hang of it. Use the same principles with mistakes in your company. Let people fall off the bike and when they do cheer them on.
You have to learn from the mistakes that are made.
We don’t want to have our mistakes go to waste. Every time a mistake is made here’s the question you need to ask, “What did you learn?” If you don’t learn something from your mistakes, there is no chance you’re ever going to get better.
I know you’ve heard the saying, “the first sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” If you find that people keep making the same mistake in your company your people and you are not learning anything. Demanding some sort of learning from mistakes is what a learning organization is all about.
You must demand personal responsibility.
This one took me a while to learn. When I first started in business I wouldn’t tolerate mistakes. People working for me learned really fast to either blame others or justify their mistakes. When this happened they would get off the hook and we were ready to make the same mistake over again.
Once we finally learned that we needed people to own their mistakes and mistakes were not bad things we set the stage for people to take ownership of their actions. If your people know that they won’t be punished for making a mistake, you’re on the right track.
At first, you’ll want to focus your company’s attention on what projects to focus on.
When a company has a culture of letting mistakes be made there is often a formalized company wide improvement process going on. If you hire a consultant to help you with this process they might say that you should let projects bubble up from the bottom.
I find that this is a mistake. Your people have not been trained to focus on what’s important. In many cases the things that get chosen at first by your employees might not even be very important. When you start down the road of establishing a learning culture take responsibility for the projects and choose them yourself.
You’ll want to get your people involved on focusing on improvement areas. Eventually you’ll even have them recommending what to focus on. Before you go to advanced learning, start as a beginner for both you and those in your company.
You have to stay with it when things don’t go so well.
All improvement projects have times when things are going backwards. When this happens you need to stay with the program. This is where you get to show your employees that you’re serious about the program.
You have to realize that your employees really don’t listen to what you say. They watch what you do. If you don’t stay the course your employees will know that you’re not serious. Instead, they’ll start mocking your program. I think that if you’re not going to learn how to handle set backs you’re better off not starting in the first place.
You have to have patience.
These programs take time. In many companies it take as long as ten years before a learning organization has been institutionalized. I believe that you’re better off not to announce that you’re putting together a learning organization. I think that you’re going to get more mileage with just doing it.
When you start to see some real traction, then you can talk about what a learning organization means. After all, you’re going to make mistakes getting this program off the ground. It might be a good idea for you to learn from your mistakes and not crow about what you’re going to do.
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