Organisational Change Management Volume 1

Framework 6 The Learning Organisation

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(approach to transitions)

This was developed by Peter Senge and involves

Concentration on functional structures to improve performance in areas such as manufacturing, marketing and sales

Focuses on changing systems, processes and procedures like cycle time, quality management and process re-engineering

Focus shifts from improving work processes to improving how we think, communicate and lead, ie a commitment to develop capabilities that shape how people think and behave

This framework includes 5 essential components or disciplines:

1. Personal Mastery, ie ability of each individual to clarify and create his or her purpose in relation to current reality. Learning to cultivate tension between purpose and reality can expand people's capacity to make better choices

2. Mental Frameworks, ie develop mind models that objectively question one's own and others' values and assumptions. This involves the disciplines of reflection and inquiry that are focused around developing awareness of the attitudes and perceptions that influence thought and interaction. By developing a better understanding of the internal pictures of the world, people can gain more capacity to govern their actions and decisions. The concept of the "ladder of inference" depicts how people leap instantly to counterproductive conclusions and assumptions

3. Building a Shared Vision, ie developing a vision for the organisation by involving all key stakeholders. This collective discipline establishes a focus on mutual purpose. With a shared image of the future, people develop a sense of commitment.

4. Team Learning ie collective learning with an understanding of mental models. This is a discipline of group interaction. For elements such as dialogue and skilful discussion, teams transform their collective thinking, learning to mobilize their energies and actions to achieve common goals, and developing an intelligence and ability greater than the sum of individual members' talents.

5. Systems Thinking, ie integrates the 4 other components and focuses on looking at the big picture, ie takes a holistic approach. In this discipline, people learn to better understand interdependency and change, and thereby to deal more effectively with the forces that shape the consequences of our actions. Systems thinking involves understanding the behaviour of feedback complexity - the innate tendencies of a system that lead to growth or stability over time.

This framework highlights the need for an organisation to focus on generative learning rather than adaptive learning.

Adaptive learning is where the organisation reacts to specific issues and responds to them.

Generative learning is where the organisation learns from its own activities by looking at the world in new ways and by understanding the system that lies behind the behaviour and the events that are observed during the working day.

Senge sees the role of leaders as designers of the system which makes the change as smooth as possible, and also as coaches or facilitators

According to Senge, there are 2 skills required by leaders:

i. Understanding and communicating the assumptions inherent in their decision-making

ii. Overtly acknowledging that many errors occur - due not to individuals but to system problems.

The key theoretical arguments of Senge's framework:

Organisations are products of the way that people in them think and interact

To change organisations for the better, you must give people the opportunity to change the ways they think and interact

This cannot be done through increased training, or through command-and-control management approaches. No one person can train or command other people to alter their attitudes, beliefs, skills, capabilities, perceptions or level of commitment.

Instead, the practice of organisational learning involves developing tangible activities: new governing ideas, innovations in infrastructure, and new management methods and techniques for changing the way people conduct their work. Given the opportunity to take part in these activities, people will develop an enduring capability for change. The process will reward the organisation with far greater levels of diversity, commitment, innovation and talent.

(sources: Graham Hubbard et al, 1996; Peter Senge at al, 1999)


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