In order to survive in this era of globalisation, various organisations are re-examining their management systems in order to attain competitive capacities to survive and remain relevant in their areas of operations (Aamir, 2013). Organisational learning, since its inception at the beginning of 1990s, has received overwhelming attention as managers realize that they need to promote organisational change that is more suitable for the ever-changing business environment that has become turbulent and complex (Harrison & Wicks, 2013).
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Andreadis (2012) argues that it is vital that organisations should become learning centres due the tougher competition, and shifting customer preferences. Globalisation and competitive pressures have compelled many organisations to promote learning at all levels; individual, team and organisation. Therefore, there is a need to review the significance of organisational learning as a prerequisite for proactive and holistic management. The paper will explore the strengths and weaknesses in balancing these elements as part of holistic organisational management. In addition, the paper will suggest areas within the organisational learning module that should be modified for a complete, efficient and sustainable organisational learning at the Z Centre for Educational Research. The suggestions for improvement will be presented in the form of a change management plan.
The Z Centre for Educational Research is a private education training centre in Abu Dhabi. The centre has been in existence for the last decade and very active in offering educational training to stakeholders in the expansive and dynamic education sector in Abu Dhabi and beyond. The primary objective of the centre has been offering educational training services to different schools and other training-based institutions across Abu Dhabi. The centre has the capacity of handling more than two 2,000 trainees at any given time. Being a well-established organisation, the Z Centre for Educational Research has clear goals that are summarized below:
- A centre for excellence and learner-centred education.
- A centre for holistic knowledge acquisition and application for sustainable skill development beyond theory.
- A centre for socialization and community development through the creation of a warm and pragmatic environment.
- A centre for nurturing talent and development of personalized skills in all aspects of life.
- A centre of diversity and cultural sustainability training beyond the basic human social interaction.
- A centre for promoting intellectual research and development for sustainable application towards solving the current and future challenges to humanity.
Basically, the centre has been successful in accomplishing the above goals through the integration of cognitive and traditional management skills. The centre has been ranked among the leading training establishments within Abu Dhabi because of its ability to organize relevant and competitive training services that appeal to all stakeholders. Most of those who undergo training at the centre have become competitive in the job market. In the last ten years of existence, enrolment to different training services at the Z Centre for Educational Research has grown by almost three hundred per cent. In fact, at present, it is almost impossible to join a training program without three months booking notice.
The Z Centre for Educational Research has created affordable training packages that appeal to its target market because it enjoys the benefits of economies of scale. In addition, the centre was voted as the best training establishment in Abu Dhabi. Despite these successes, the Z Centre for Educational Research, the centre has not been able to integrate the latest training technology and competitive remuneration services to the trainers. This means that the level of employee motivation at the centre is relatively low, as evidenced by the high staff turnover.
As is the case with many educational training centres, the Z Centre for Educational Research functions on the paradoxical and implicit metaphors. These metaphors form the basis upon which the centre functions on a daily basis since they are part and parcel of the mapping structure, domains, and management frame. Thus, understanding the management environment of the Z Centre for Educational Research requires exploration of its metaphors.
At the Z Centre for Educational Research, several metaphors are integrated in the current management and leadership approaches to create a holistic environment. The first metaphor applied is an organism, which defines the thinking frame of the employees as pragmatic and responsible (Arslan & Staub, 2013). The second metaphor is the machine, which micromanages the daily interaction of the employees as part of performance management efficiency (Baxter, 2014).
The last metaphor is the social system, which defines the stakeholders of the Z Centre for Educational Research as a family expected to embrace teamwork and professionalism (Dasgupta, Suar, & Singh, 2013). The use of these metaphors at the centre is informed by the need to create a clear frame of insight into the present and future needs of the organisation. Besides, the metaphors define the growth path and potential improvement module. Specifically, there is a hierarchical order of command from the top management to the lowest ranking employee at the Z Centre for Educational Research. This complies with the machine metaphor, which advocates for the organisation of the management levels to create an effective and rational performance system that can easily be optimised.
In the last decade, the Z Centre for Educational Research has experienced positive growth as management and leadership strategies evolve. As a result of improved demand from customers, in terms of services and variety, the Z Centre for Educational Research been successful in keeping up with the changes to remain competitive and improve on efficiency in service delivery and good work environment. The most common leadership styles practised within the Z Centre for Educational Research are participatory, democratic, and autocratic.
As described by Arslan and Staub (2013), the autocratic leadership style is characterised by the management of an establishment, making all the decisions without necessarily consulting the subordinates. The leadership mandated with the responsibility of making a decision then communicates these resolutions to other subordinates who must obey the decisions without questioning the manager (De-George, 2013).
For example, the Z Centre for Educational Research is characterised by the manager taking full control of all leadership roles such as being very active in making all decisions and issuing instructions to subordinate staff members on the guidelines that must be followed on a periodic basis. This is in line with the Theory X and Theory Y. According to Arslan and Staub (2013), autocratic leadership style was developed from Theory X and Theory Y, which describes this style of leadership as involving direct and close supervision after issuing instructions with the conviction that the subordinate staff members are aware of the expectations to behave in a particular way. In relation to the Z Centre for Educational Research, the autocratic leadership style is constantly applied by the managers in decision making and controlling different management processes in the organisation.
Andreadis (2012) describes the democratic leadership style as involving decision making in a consultative environment where all stakeholders are given the opportunity to make a contribution and take a vote. This means that “democratic leadership style means facilitating the conversation, encouraging people to share their ideas, and then synthesizing all the available information into the best possible decision” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2014, p. 45).
In the Z Centre for Educational Research, democratic leadership style is very flexible and broad in application, making decisions made under this style of leadership accommodative and integral to different perceptions and cultures within the organisation. Unfortunately, since this strategy of leadership involves equality in decision making through broad consultative mechanisms, it is always an uphill task to reach consensus, especially when hard decisions have to be made. This type of leadership has merits, such as proactive employee participation in decision making and consultative approach to policy creation and implementation (Escrig-Tena, Bou-Llusar, Beltran, & Roca-Puig, 2011). However, the demerits of this leadership style include a very slow process of making decisions, even in instances that require quick decisions (Senge, 1990).
According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2014), transformational leadership is critical in providing an environment where the subordinates can be easily motivated to perform at an optimal level. Among the key characteristics of the transformational leadership, strategy include empowerment, commitment, critical problem solving, and adaptability of the workforce (Bambacas & Patrickson, 2008). In the Z Centre for Educational Research, transformational leadership has been applied in the development and creation of training systems. Besides, this leadership style has been merged with proactive management to create the ideal organisational functionality environment.
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According to Cornelissen and Kafouros (2008), participatory leadership style is basically “a system in which employees of a business organisation take an active role in the decision-making process as it relates to the way the business operates” (p. 29).
Among the notable traits of participatory leadership style as practised at the Z Centre for Educational Research are the integrated level of responsibility for each employee, including teamwork, and inclusive strategy of managing different aspects of management in the organisation. This type of leadership style is very common in the education sector across the globe since management strategies in such environment require creativity and teamwork to survive the dynamics in business operations (Elving, 2005).
This means that higher level of employee motivation in the Z Centre for Educational Research organisation may be related to the income and position held by each employee, that is, subordinates at the base of the functionality pyramid may exhibit low levels of motivation in performance as compared to the employees who are at the top of the hierarchal ladder (Dodgson, 1993). Therefore, to create an ideal environment for optimal motivation, the Z Centre for Educational Research management team has rolled out programs that are holistic, friendly, and soft to employee valence. Besides, the work environment has been modified to integrate healthy and sustainable ethical decision culture to create an ideal behaviour modelling and social control structure for organisation leadership sustainability.
Stability in the communication channel between management agents and employees is significant towards creating a healthy work environment that is motivational (Harris, 2008). The communication channel in the Z Centre for Educational Research consists of formal and informal elements that are applied simultaneously, despite being distinct (Johansson & Heide, 2008). The formal communication channel encompasses properly defined and visible systems for encoding and decoding information in the form decisions made at different hierarchal steps (Opoku & Fortune, 2011).
The formal communication channel is critical in influencing the deviation and innovation period that the organisation takes to communicate and track feedback for different leadership decisions that affect the relationship with the employees (Wilson, 2010). Besides, the formal communication channel has internalised other significant elements of effective organisation communication such as leadership ethics in passing information and proactive inclusion of employees to ensure that the decisions made are not only sustainable but also friendly to the current and future work culture.
In the Z Centre for Educational Research, the integration of communication ethics in the formal communication channel is the password to a healthy work environment and inclusive stakeholder participation in generation of policies and their implementation (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2014). The informal communication channel encompasses the grapevine or intra employee relationship networks that control the group behaviour and response to different stimuli, which directly affects the performance and state of mind of the parties involved. In the case of the Z Centre for Educational Research, there is a properly structured informal communication channel that functions as the password to holistic, balanced, and socially acceptable work environment.
At present, the organisation communication channel in the Z Centre for Educational Research has been modified to the highest level possible in effectiveness to guarantee stability in performance at minimal conflict levels. Apparently, the Z Centre for Educational Research is an effective organisation in terms of balance in communication systems, corporate culture, and organisation behaviour. This is summarized in the appendix 1. In terms of the people sub-system, the Z Centre for Educational Research has endeavoured to balance the aspects of employee training, performance, and feedback to guarantee sustainable business operations as summarized in the table below:
Apparently, the Z Centre for Educational Research has an effective people sub-system since the incentives are properly aligned to the responsibilities of each employee at the corporation. As a result, the organisation has recorded optimal performance level as initiated by the continuous learning programs and responsive team work.
Organisation work processes refer to systems and channels that control the scope of operations in an organisation. The organisation work processes offer an explicit overview of the general operation of an establishment within efficiency levels. The main structural elements of the Z Centre for Educational Research’s organisation structure include work specialization, chain of command, centralization, and formalization (Aamir, 2013).
Knowing how to improve quality is crucial in the growth of business enterprise. Improved quality has great reward to the Z Centre for Educational Research. Since the management team is permanently employed in the centre, they are engaged in the training process to ensure that the organisation optimises labour as a factor of production towards efficiency. This is achieved through quality planning in the use of labour hours in departments that relate to staff specialization, rather than just keeping the personnel on standby (Arving, 2005).
Besides, the marketing team is constantly trained on the latest marketing models to ensure that they give their best in online and offline marketing of the Z Centre for Educational Research’s training services. The HRM team has specialized training on efficient performance among the employees to minimize redundancy. Quality planning of work specialization is an important policy that aims to promote long term success in business objectives, since it is focused to enhance the effective exploitation of human resources.
The Z Centre for Educational Research has demonstrated that there exists a complex network behind its formal organisational chart. The teamwork-based organisation structure actually identifies the hierarchy of command structure in order to understand the complex network. In addition, it provides myriad illustrations of the persuasive importance of problem definition within communication contemporary context.
The strategies of investigation, ramification, and elements of the problem definition are addressed in its chain of command (Harris, 2008). The current organisation structure of the Z Centre for Educational Research is characterized by a streamlined chain of bureaucracy in the chain of command. The top bracket in the chain of command consists of the five directors who report to the chairman of the Z Centre for Educational Research. Under the board of directors are departmental managers in the three departments of training, marketing, and human resource management. Team supervisors below the departmental managers report directly to managers and are the bridge between employees and the managers.
The Z Centre for Educational Research has created a healthy work environment and personal growth perspectives that apply to all situations since all the vital controls organs of the organisation are centralized. Through centralized and properly designed training procedures, talent promotion, and motivation, productive behaviour internalisation have presented the best alternative ways of solving problems in role execution. Since the Z Centre for Educational Research employees have taken a positive attitude to embrace change and create an environment that motivates change, quantifiable change has become a reality in the organisation.
The Z Centre for Educational Research institution is made up of formal systems of monitoring operations, reviewing performance and rewarding achievements. Employees’ behaviours in the company are influenced by the mutual interests that exist between the company and its workers. This mutual interest offers super ordinate objective which can be achieved only through combined determination of the organisation (employer) and individual workers in a formalized production control system (Wilson, 2010).
The physical structures of the Z Centre for Educational Research’s organisation culture promote positive relationships between favourable and effective job performance and work environment as attributes of motivation and congenial conditions. The structure encourages security, comfort and safety, and prevailing physical convenience. Measuring factors such as interpersonal relations, working conditions, support and trust, welfare provisions, and work environment has greatly contributed to the organisational effectiveness as well as employees’ behaviours.
The Z Centre for Educational Research has identified that the key driver of productivity is employees’ morale. It is revealed that engaged and productive workers are more likely to be creative and interested in their work commitments. Satisfied workers are more eager to create positive results in their work (Johansson & Heide, 2008). This element has been embedded in the company’s unity of purpose symbol designed to create the culture of efficiency and support among the employees.
Senge’s Five Disciplines
Senge (1990) establishes the basis from which businesses have the opportunity to develop and flourish. He argues that in the contemporary complex world, organisations have to be able to learn to cope with the continuous change in order to be successful: that is, they have to become learning organisations. The five learning disciplines identified by Senge (1990) are shared vision, personal mastery, system thinking, mental models, and team learning. The learning processes at the Z Centre for Educational Research are basically based on Senge’s principles of organisation learning-‘disciplines’.
These values have been embedded in the company’s tradition and practiced by our employees over the years. For example, the Z Centre for Educational Research service development charter is tasked with the responsibility of developing and driving growth strategies between management and employees.
According to Senge (1990), systems thinking theory is the cornerstone of the learning organisation model. Coherently, this system factors in discipline as a concept of theory and body. Senge argues that managers tend to focus on sectors rather than the whole. The key perception in this line of thought is that recognition of organisation systems facilitates informed and appropriate decision science by management unit and other employees.
At Z Centre for Educational Research, the organisation is viewed in this perspective as enabling the training of about 150 employees via the four employee education sections, which are research department responsible for product development, sales and customer care department, leadership and management that is responsible for professional development of employees, and the marketing department.
Senge (1990) argues that individual learning do not warranty organisational learning. However, organisation learning cannot function independently without individual learning. He further notes that organisations can also learn from people who train others. Therefore, through personal mastery is the discipline that allows people to acquire knowledge patiently in a continuous manner, while allowing such individuals to see reality objectively.
At the Z Centre for Educational Research, there is an enterprise of a large governance team called the Learning Council that is responsible for streamlining the learning organisation within the company’s four learning sections. The council’s main responsibility is to make certain that there are links in learning and development initiatives undertaken by the organisation in pursuit of its business priorities.
The Z Centre for Educational Research is involved in team learning through formal and informal activities via its various departments (Senge 1990). For example, the research department is one of the central learning organs tasked with ensuring that learning takes place across all the other departments. In addition, it ensures the delivery of guidance, curriculum, and expert advice. Similarly, ensuring continuity in the acquisition of knowledge is the Sales and Marketing group that are involved in carrying out frequent market research for new products to ensure availability of markets. The group has helped the organisation to continue to grow through growth in the market share.
Sharing knowledge with employees is significant for organisational learning process. Knowledge sharing can be expanded through shared vision, communication, knowledge, values, and information by developing the cultural norms of sincerity, open-mindedness, trust, and honesty (Senge, 1990). After knowledge acquisition, there is need to store the information in the organisational repository system so that other members can easily access and use it in their work as practiced in the Z Centre for Educational Research training department. The corporate learning and development department is tasked with ensuring that knowledge is developed and managed in an open environment where it is accessible to all.
An organisation that has objectives to attain the status of a learning organisation should employ people that are commonly referred to as high calibre workers with a shared vision. The distinguishing feature of such workers is that they have high levels of education and possess the capacity to acquire new knowledge rapidly and constantly while adjusting to new conditions within a common vision (Senge 1990). Secondly, they have the capability to work under no supervision and are able to set their own goals and objectives, while observing the attainment and the results of these goals as is the case at the Z Centre for Educational Research.
A learning organisation is comprised of workers who have excellent interpersonal skills. They have the capacity to solve problems through creative evaluation of different possible outcomes, and by using their own ideas to find solutions to the rising problems (Senge, 1990). The Z Centre for Educational Research knows that strong performance is a prerequisite for future career development and thus employ people with global mindsets, customer focus, result oriented, and deep business understanding. Thus, the acquired talents are put into a rigorous development program which relies on feedback from development centre sessions to evaluate the learning process.
Factors that Facilitate or Inhibit Organisational Learning
Based on the analysis, there are strengths and weaknesses within the Z Centre for Educational Research’s organisational learning approach. Apparently, effective organisation communication and leadership approaches are the facilitators of the organisation learning at the Z Centre for Educational Research. However, there are inhibitors within the organisational communication and leadership approaches currently in place at the centre.
The Organisational Learning Facilitators
The Z Centre for Educational Research has developed stable transformational, autocratic, and democratic leadership styles to internalise the metaphors of learning and actualise the shared vision of quality. Besides, the system thinking within the organisation is well programmed within the above leadership styles to create a flexible but effective process management. The transformational and autocratic leadership styles are instrumental in facilitating the achievement of focused goals towards quality service delivery and creation of a holistic work environment (Senge, 1990).
Through its application, transformational leadership at the Z Centre for Educational Research has fostered positive personnel commitment and motivated optimal performance without much supervision. As a result, the communication channels and organisational processes at the centre have been transformed into supportive structures that address the needs of all the stakeholders (Arslan & Staub, 2013).
Through democratic leadership, the members of the staff are encouraged to express their opinion without fear of victimization. As a result, there is a work working relationship within the centre’s hierarchy of control. In addition, the clear role definition has minimized conflicts that arise from duplication of duties and allocation of inappropriate functions. This has been possible through balancing the formal and informal approaches to leadership in decision making.
The use of formal and information communication channels within the Z Centre for Educational Research has been significant in facilitating the link between the managers and their subordinates in role execution and feedback management. At present, the organisation has a transparent policy for enhancing learning through a systematic and open process of encoding and decoding different communication feedbacks (Bambacas & Patrickson, 2008). As a result, the policy has minimized cases of resistance or disorder in the work flow. In addition, the communication channels at the Z Centre for Educational Research are intertwined with proactive management to create a holistic, warm, and stable work environment.
The Organisational Learning Inhibitors
The inhibitors of organisation learning at the Z Centre for Educational Research hide within the leadership and communication channels. Specifically, application of autocratic leadership style by the senior managers in the organisation does not auger well with the subordinates who are locked out of the decision making process. Since the autocratic leadership application does not take into account the views of subordinates, the work culture at the centre functions under the machine metaphor. For instance, a supervisor might issue orders that are not appropriate for effective performance (Senge, 1990).
However, the subordinates must execute these orders even when they are aware of potential fallout or losses. In such a situation, the disjoint created by the non-consultative autocratic leadership approach has the effect of lowering the level of employee motivation (Harris, 2008). As a result, the organisation learning environment might be transformed into a management field that is crowded by personal prejudices, abuse of authority, and demeaning subordinate opinions. From a communication perspective, the inhibitors of organisation learning at the Z Centre for Educational Research are associated with disarray in the non-consultative decision making process associated with the application of autocratic leadership style.
Areas of Change
The areas that the Z Centre for Educational Research should address to improve organisational learning are leadership approaches and communication strategies in place as discussed below:
Modifications in the Communication Channel
As a prerequisite for a multifunctional and holistic communication channel, there is a need for the organisation to create a flexible system of encoding and decoding information through a prescribed path. This is necessary to minimize potential resistance or grapevine between the managers and their subordinates. Specifically, it is necessary to modify the downward communication channel to control informal communication strategies in place (Senge, 1990). In addition, it is instrumental to evaluate and reassess the effectiveness of the current formal and informal communication channels in order to make strategic, holistic, and proactive modifications for sustainable organisational learning.
Modifications in the Leadership Styles
There is a need for replacement of the autocratic leadership style, especially at the management level, with a fusion of transformational and democratic leadership approaches to give all employees some level of participation in decision-making. This means that the autocratic leadership style should be phased out at the centre to create a consultative decision-making environment to facilitate flow in change and policy processes.
In addition, there is a need to integrate the aspect of participatory leadership style to improve on the current employee motivation level (Harris, 2008). Therefore, personnel in the senior management ranks at the Z Centre for Educational Research should be advised to be friendly to their subordinates to create a warm, interactive, and teamwork organisation work culture. Besides, there is an immediate need to re-evaluate the work process to avoid duty duplication, conflicting instruction delivery, and prejudice of the subordinates.
From the above analysis, the three areas of change are communication modelling, replacement of autocratic leadership with a fusion of transformational and democratic leadership style, and creating a teamwork culture through collective participation and shared learning.
Plan for Improvement
Based on the analysis, autocratic leadership style minimized the benefits of democratic, participatory, and transformational leadership approaches in place. The fact that senior managers at the Z Centre for Educational Research practiced autocratic leadership in managing the organisation process resulted in limited and inconsistent organisational learning. This is because the leadership approach dictates the effectiveness of organisational learning (Wilson, 2010).
Since the autocratic leadership style does not encourage teamwork, collective shared learning, proactive system thinking, and positive interaction between the managers and their subordinates, it has overshadowed the transformational leadership strategies currently in place. Thus, in order to create a strong organisational learning culture, there is need to develop a plan that integrates connectivity and consistency between the management, subordinates, organisation goals, and all other stakeholders to create a smooth work climate.
The proposed change plan will integrate the five disciplines proposed by Senge to create a self-sustaining framework for strategic and effective organisational learning at the Z Centre for Educational Research. The assessment of the proposed plan will be based on the learning dimensions such as collaboration, environmental scanning, review, initiatives and risks, vision and goals, continuous professional development, and reinforcement to create a holistic organisational learning climate as summarized in the table below (Opoku & Fortune, 2011):
|Overall Work Process|
|1-Planning||At the planning stage, all the stakeholders will hold a series of meetings to discuss and select the best leadership and communication strategies that are acceptable to the work process, organisational culture, and personnel.|
|2-Work harmonization and discharge||This will begin with capacity building through leadership training and communication management programs in a coordinated and collaborative approach for the appropriate task allocation and collaboration for each stakeholder.|
|3-Review and appraisal||The third step will review the general content and effectiveness of the plan in modifying leadership and communication channels in managing resources, work process, and general evaluation. The tools that are relevant in the assessment and evaluation include the 360 degree feedback, Senge’s five disciplines, the seven learning dimensions, and self evaluation at organisation level against the ADEC standards.|
|4-Decision- making||The findings of the assessment will be the basis upon which decisions on areas of improvement to appropriately make modifications on training, resource requirement, and strategic implementation of the suggestions.|
The review of organisational learning effectiveness at the Z Centre for Educational Research was effective in establishing the current state of organisational leadership management. The review identified the strengths and weaknesses in leadership and communication application at the centre as contributed by an imbalance in the formal and informal communication channels in addition to the autocratic leadership style.
The suggested change plan provides valuable strategies that can be put in place to improve on the organisational culture, communication modelling, leadership application, and workflow for successful organisational learning. The plan proposes creation of a formal shared vision, collaborative learning, and stakeholder motivation to create a holistic, warm, and a proactive work environment.
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