Organisational Change Management Volume 1

Framework 35 Learning Culture

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The creation of the characteristics of a learning culture involves 10 steps, ie

  1. proactive assumption
  2. commitment to learning to learn
  3. positive assumptions about human nature
  4. the assumption that the environment can be dominated
  5. commitment to truth through pragmatism and inquiry
  6. orientation toward the future
  7. commitment to full and open task-relevant communication
  8. commitment to diversity
  9. commitment to systemic thinking
  10. commitment to cultural analysis for understanding and improving the world

1 Proactive Assumption

Assumes that staff members are proactive problem-solvers and learners and do not exhibit passive acceptance. At times there can be an evolution where passive acceptance is the central assumption of the culture, such as religion; while in business the new assumptions of active problem solving co-exist with the old assumptions, eg Singapore has had spectacular economic success based on Asian (old religious assumptions) and Western (proactive business assumptions)

It is more important to be committed to the learning process than any particular solution to a problem. Furthermore, the learning process becomes part of the culture, not just the solution to any given problem

2 Commitment to Learning to Learn

Learning must include changes both in the external and internal (relationship) environment and how well the organisation is adapted to the external change

The key to learning is feedback and this includes time to reflect, analyse, and assimilate the implications of what feedback has been communicated

Furthermore, learning is the ability to generate new responses; to try new ways of doing things and obtain feedback on the impact of the new behaviour. This takes time, energy and resources,

"...a learning culture must therefore value reflection and experimentation, and must give its members the time and resources to do it..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

Leaders need to believe in the power of learning and demonstrate behaviours that support this by seeking and accepting feedback, and by displaying flexibility of response as conditions change

3 Positive assumptions about human nature

Learning leaders must believe in the positive side of human nature, ie staff willing to learn. Otherwise leaders will create organisations that will become self-fulfilling prophecies, ie lazy, self-protective, self-seeking, and control-orientated. These latter types of organisations will find it hard to survive in the more turbulent environments, especially as technological and global trends will make problem-solving more complex.

In other words, as stated by Schein, (2004), McGregor's insights into Theory X (cynical mistrust of people) and Theory Y (idealistic trust of people) are useful. A learning organisation follows Theory Y where mutual trust is paramount

4 The assumption that the environment can be dominated

A learning culture has a shared assumption that the environment is to some degree manageable. The more turbulent the environment, the more important it will be for the leaders to demonstrate that some level of control over the environment is desirable and possible

5 Commitment to truth through pragmatism and inquiry

There is a need for the shared assumption that solutions to problems are derived from the deep belief in inquiry and pragmatic search for truth, and to avoid an automatic assumption that wisdom and truth reside in one source or method, ie as problems encounter change, so too does the learning method, and knowledge and skill come in many forms. The learning organisation will have to learn how to learn and come to terms with its own lack of expertise and wisdom. Learning is a shared responsibility and should involve experiencing different cultures

6 Orientation toward the future

Especially with an increasingly turbulent world, there is a need to think beyond the past and present to the near future (are one's solutions working?) and far future (assess the systemic consequences of different courses of action)

7 Commitment to full and open task-relevant communication

This involves honest, open and truthful communications of information through multi-channels that allow everyone to connect to everyone else and to be exposed to information that is relevant to them. This involves a high degree of trust

8 Commitment to diversity

The more diverse organisations will be better able to handle unpredictable events. Such diversity will create sub-cultures that will provide a necessary source of learning and innovation. For this to happen, there needs to be good cross-cultural communications and understanding between the sub-cultures

9 Commitment to systemic thinking

With the world becoming more complex and interdependent, there is a need to think systematically, to analyse fields of forces, and understand their joint causal effects on each other, and to abandon simple linear causal logic in favour of complex mental models, ie systems thinking (see techniques in Volume 4)

10 Commitment to cultural analysis for understanding and improving the world

Need to understand the concept of culture, ie artifacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions (see techniques in Volume 3)

In summary: a learning culture assumes

"...- the world can be managed

- it is appropriate for humans to be proactive problems solvers

- reality and truth can be pragmatically discovered

- human nature is basically good and in any case mutable

- the best kind of time horizon is somewhere between the far and near future

- the best kinds of units of time are medium-length ones

- accurate and relevant information must be capable of flowing freely in a fully connected network

- diverse but connected units are desirable

......the learning culture must assume that the world is intrinsically a complex field of interconnected forces in which multiple causation and over-determination are more likely than linear or simple causes..."

(source: Edgar Schein, 2004)

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