Organisation learning, which is different from learning organisation, has been the subject of attention and research for some time now (Burnes et al 2003; Marshall et al 2009).
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Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that although the concept of organisational learning did not emerge until the 1980s, its principles are firmly grounded on many perspectives of management and its practices identify a broad variety of factors, including organisation strategy, culture, structure and design, absorptive capability, problem-solving capacity and staff participation, among others (Wang & Ahmed 2003).
The present paper exemplifies some dimensions regarding organisation learning, especially its challenges and recommendations for practice.
Extant literature considers organisation learning capacity “…as the organizational and managerial characteristics that facilitate the organizational learning process or allow an organisation to learn and thus develop a learning environment” (Burnes et al 2003, p. 456). It is indeed true that many organisations experience difficulty in making organisational learning a reality due to a number of factors that are unique to the organisation.
First, many organisations are yet to come up with frameworks and strategies that they could use to integrate individual learning into organisational learning, implying that they have knowledgeable employees who are yet to be transformed to bring competitive advantage for the organisations due to disjointed programs and frameworks, as well as lack of collectivity of individual learning within the organisation (Wang & Ahmed 2003).
The second bottleneck to organisational learning revolves around the issue of mixed understanding of the drivers for improvement and learning, whereby it has been found that most organisations do not keep a standard practice for organisational learning initiatives, leading to confusion and unproductiveness (Marshall et al 2009).
Extant literature demonstrates that “…the ability of a workforce in an organisation to learn faster than those in other organisations constitutes the only sustainable competitive advantage at the disposal of a learning organisation” (Wang & Ahmed 2003, p. 9). Arguably, a mixed understanding of the drivers for improvement and learning ensures that the capacity of employees to learn faster remains a mirage.
The third bottleneck facing organisations in their attempt to initialize organisational learning is hinged on the issue of different and opposing perceptions about the current learning climate and capability (Marshall et al 2009).
Again, this problem is to a large extent caused by management, who fails to provide employees with a framework to guide current learning climate and capability, leaving them to progress their own opposing perceptions at the expense of organisational learning.
These opposing perceptions, according to Hoe (2007), create a fertile breeding ground for employee mistrust and hamper attempts by organisations to acquire, disseminate and use knowledge in response to rapidly shifting market forces.
The last bottleneck revolves around the issue of dysfunctional interactions of misaligned organisational cultures or structures that make it difficult for employees to benefit from organisational learning initiatives (Marshall et al 2009). A misalignment of organisational culture not only ensures that organisations have no capacity to learn new trends and ideas from the market, but also functions to weaken teamwork and motivation, which are key to the learning process (Baldwin-Evans 2007).
For many years now, Wal-Mart has been struggling to internalize the concept of organisational learning due to its huge workforce (Baldwin-Evans 2007).
To turn the rhetoric of organisational learning into reality, Wal-Mart could: 1) develop frameworks and strategies that could be used to integrate individual learning processes into organisational learning processes, 2) come up with a common standard regarding the drivers for organisational improvement and learning to avoid confusion and duplication of resources, and 3) align its organisational culture and structure to meet specific targets for organisational learning.
Baldwin-Evans, K 2007, ‘The future of organisational learning’, Industrial & Commercial Training, vol. 39 no. 6, pp. 299-306.
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Burnes, B, Cooper, C & West, P 2003, ‘Organisational learning: The new management paradigm?’, Management Decision, vol. 41 no. 5, pp. 452-464.
Hoe, SL 2007, ‘Is interpersonal trust a necessary condition for organisational learning’, Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change, vol. 4 no. 2, pp. 149-156.
Marshall, J, Smith, S & Buxton, S 2009, ‘Learning organisations and organisational learning: What we have learned’, Management Services, vol. 53 no. 2, pp. 36-44.
Wang, CL & Ahmed, PK 2003, ‘Organisation learning: A critical review’, The Learning Organisation, vol. 10 no. 1, pp. 8-17.