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Different scholars have proposed a variety of definitions of organisational learning. As one scholar defined it, organisational learning is the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding (Garvin, p. 77).
It may also be regarded as a process of detecting and correcting error. A learning organization is, therefore, an organisation that is skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge (Argyris, p.8).
According to Argyris (1977), it is also an organisation that is good at modifying its own behavior in order to “reflect new knowledge and insights that make it grow into the future”.
This paper provides a comparative analysis and evaluation of organisational learning by looking at two different organisations. One is the organisation where I work and the other is HP.
Assessing the Need
For several years now, my organisation has placed so much emphasis on the need for all staff members to keep learning and upgrading themselves.
As a result, so much energy has been spent trying to organisation information in a way that makes it easy for everyone to access it.
Part of what my organisation has done to facilitate the culture of learning is to ensure that as people do their work they get to deposit any critical information in a central database that may be used by any staff member willing to do so to learn and benefit from the skills of more skilled staff members.
To a great extent, this has made it possible to maintain crucial information and make it available for other staff whenever an employee leaves the organisation. HP came to realise the need for knowledge management in 1995 (Hewlett Packard, p.4).
Clearly, the leadership at HP understood the importance of knowledge management and knew that it was possible to leverage on the knowledge the organisation had gathered over the years.
To meet the ever demanding expectations of customers, HP management understood that effective knowledge management is an important requirement to ensuring that the organisation can progress successfully.
This created a healthy ground for the organisation to develop strong ties with its clients who knew that at any time when they were faced by challenges, HP would be there to deal with their problems (Hewlett Packard, p.4).
However, this did not make sense to many of HP’s consultants. In the same way, clients could not at first understand the need for knowledge management as they all felt that they were getting for value for their money and as such, were satisfied with the services that HP was offering.
Through different approaches, HP was able to get feedback from both its consultants and clients. Although there were mixed feelings regarding the need for knowledge management for the good of the organisation, an analysis by the company resolved to move on with plans to ensure that knowledge was managed well to provide a good background for organisational learning.
Organisations that focused on learning are apparently skilled at five activities. These activities include systematic problem solving, experimentation with new approaches, learning from their own experience and past history, learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organisation (Garvin, p. 81).
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For many companies, these are activities that are commonly practiced. Creating systems and processes that support these activities have been found to add great value to the operations of the organisation.
In the following paragraphs, my organisation is compared with HP in light of the five activities that have been mentioned above.
In my organisation, problems are dealt with in a very unique way. There are systems that have been structured to facilitate the process of problem reporting and solving.
At any time, when a user encounters a problem, he or she is expected to log the problem and record the necessary details that may aid during problem solving.
When the right person to address the problem arrives, he or she will go through the logged problems, solving them where possible (Stata, p. 4).
Once a problem has been solved, the solution is document and other accompanying details such as the date when the problem was solved, are also included.
HP on the other hand, relies heavily on scientific methods rather than guesses on what should be done in different cases. The underlying objective is, however, the same for both organisations.
My company works hard to innovate and benefits tremendously from having a team of talented staff who also happen to be quite inquisitive and are never afraid to try out new things.
Through various innovations, the company has been able to survive in the face of stiff competition that characterises today global market. When the company innovates, a lot of documentation is done to accompany the innovation and to ensure that critical information regarding important discoveries is not lost.
This creates a foundation for all employees, whether new or existing to learn. Through its research department, HP is always trying out new things with the intention of either coming up with new products or improving the existence products.
It is always important and beneficial for companies to evaluate themselves to determine which direction they are moving towards. On many occasions, companies have grown out of evaluating themselves and making changes based on past experiences.
With relevant information at hand, an organisation can make informed decisions that will move the organisation forward.
Time and again, the management at my company meets to review progress from time to time and based on the outcome of the evaluation, make recommendations to make changes in the company which may include hiring new staff, restructuring operations and intensifying marketing campaigns.
Apparently, HP also uses this approach and the company is keen to learn from its own successes and failures. Learning what worked and what did not work and improving operations on this basis happens to be an essential process for HP (Hewlett Packard, p. 6).
Once a project comes to an end, the team that was involved in it is presented with an opportunity to share with the rest of the team what they went through. It is through such forums that successes are highlighted and failures also noted.
It is important for one to understand that these forums are never created to criticise any one incase a project did not meet the expectation of the key stake holders.
Another very useful strategy is to learn from others. It is true that companies can learn from best practices of other companies to determine where to make changes in order to improve its own operations.
My company has strong partnerships with other companies operating in the same industry and from time to time, employees from the different companies meet at different forums (Levitt & March, p. 7).
During such meetings, ideas are exchanged and staff members from different organisations get an opportunity to learn from one another. In its operations, however, HP does not seem to employ this strategy.
Transferring knowledge makes it possible to spread the culture of learning throughout the entire organisation. This ensures that learning goes beyond just being a local affair. This is an approach that is also used by HP.
Information gathered from one project is made available and may be used in other projects. This ensures that subsequent projects are delivered to very high standards as most of the information will already be available.
From the discussion presented in this paper, it is obvious that learning should be an ongoing activity in any organisation that desires to grow.
By presenting employees with the opportunity to learn, an organisation will be assured of improved efficiency. Improved performance, on the other hand, will serve as a good means of attracting clients.
A learning organisation is able to win provide its clients with high quality services and in the end the confidence of clients is boosted.
A common mistake that most businesses fail to do is to treat customers well and to retain them. Whenever customers are happy, they the company can be assured of getting repeat business from these customers.
Where an organisation is not consistently involved in learning, however, there is a danger that it will not fail to meet the expectations of the customers and when this happens, the company risks losing valuable customers.
It is, therefore, important to ensure that an organisation is not left behind for whatever reason.
Argyris, C 1977, Double Loop Learning in Organizations, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1977.
Garvin, DA 1993, Building a Learning Organization, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1993, 78-91.
Hewlett Packard n.d., An Organizational Wide Program to Share Knowledge between Projects, to Learn from Success and Mistakes and to Capture Reusable Material from Engagements, Hewlett Packard, Bristol, UK.
Levitt, B and March, J 1988, Organizational Learning, American Review of Sociology, vol. 14, 1988.
Stata, R 1989, Organizational Learning-The Key to Management Innovation, Sloan Management Review, Spring 1989.