Continuous Learning for Organizational Changes

Subject: Organizational Management
Pages: 12
Words: 3704
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: PhD

Executive Summary

Learning and continuous learning process is examined and the various benefits have been explored through this report. A major IT company has been chosen to understand the various methods employed by them to run the learning cycle effectively. The learning at various stages in the course of the project needs to be addressed with utmost importance and this turns out to be 360-degree learning. Organizational learning and skill enhancement are required to keep pace with the changing business requirement, market situation, delving into new areas of projects, and most importantly self-development of the employee. Kolb’s model has been considered in the report for better understanding. Change Management and the role of continuous learning to have a positive impact in the organization is briefly explained. A structured method to ensure that organization gets the maximum return of investment is to be crafted efficiently. A wide range of proven and successful methods have been discussed in this report. As an organization, it is required to have an objective way to measure and know what the employees know. The projects are getting more complex and customers’ expectations are increasing. An assessment or certification is a good way of judging competency to decide on the right task assignment. A structured framework gives the employees a roadmap to continuously improve their skills – depth-wise and breadth-wise – systematically. Most importantly, an assessment also enables the employees to know what they know, and address gaps if any. It is intended to give them self-confidence and direction in growing their technical prowess. The paper closes with a summary followed by a recommendation of effective learning in a continuous mode aimed at achieving higher organizational growth.

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Introduction

We are always in the process of learning day-after-day and nobody can ever contradict this. Our learning begins at home and goes on during educational, professional, and social life. Organizational learning is a special case where learning processes, requirements, time frame, and methodology are defined by better knowledge persons or teams and are imposed on the employees. The paper tries to understand the benefits of learning and continuous learning to the employee and organization through understanding Kolb’s model and its effectiveness. Various methods applied, benefits, focus, and motivation are discussed with respect to the organization selected.

Amongst many understandings of what organizational learning is, the apt one in this context would be that learning involves creating, acquiring, interpreting, and retaining knowledge to empower people and adapt effectively to the mutual benefit of the employee and organization.

Organizations must keep in mind the considerable effort, time, and dedication is required. “The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time.” (Stanleigh n.d). A properly structured framework allows benefits and results in a positive change. Mitigation plans must be in hand to counter any problematic situation. The framework should aim to have a clear understanding of resources required/targeted for the learning, activities in the learning process, the process adopted to ensure effective learning, and the alignment with objectives. In an organization, it is possible that there is pressure to find innovative ways of providing learning opportunities in-house, at all levels for the employees. Organizations must change because the business environment is constantly changing. Organizations frequently change by reengineering, implementing total quality management systems, encouraging innovation, and restructuring the organization. Organizational learning requires all the four steps of learning cycle and the purpose is the continuous transformation of the organization.

Background of the organization selected

The organization which was taken for reference is India based Information Technology Major – Wipro Technologies (NYSE:WIT) which employs close to 0.1 million people and has a net revenue of around $5 billion. The experience levels in this organization ranges from fresh graduates to people with 20 -25 years of experience. As the organization kept growing and businesses expanding to new horizons, it was required that a unified and comprehensive plan be set up towards the organization’s growth through employee knowledge development. This idea worked out very well that within a short span of 2-3 yearsit was awarded the MAKE-2009 Award (Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise).

Understanding learning, continuous learning and its significance

Indeed, continuous learning is needed to keep pace with the ever changing business requirements and market trends. The Japanese word – Kaizen which means ‘change for better’ has presented itself as a new dimension in the learning methodology and is being widely adopted across the industry.

Learning occurs in multiple dimensions and is multi faceted. The organizational learning could be due to a strategy required by the organization to impart basic and/or advanced learning. The underlining principle is ‘as you sow, so you reap’. These are formulated in such a way that the employee benefits from the training in turn helps the organization grow. Sustainable growth to the organization and increased client base is possible only with employees of high calibre. Especially in the rapidly changing market scenario and technological advances, it is required that the core skills of the employees are enhanced and showcased to the client as a confidence building measure. Also, newer technology learning should be a separate investment for the organization. This would create a virtual pool of employees ready to be moved when a new project is won by the organization. “From an organizational perspective, many learning initiatives aim at least in part at formalizing and capturing the knowledge of the workforce so that the knowledge can form an asset of the company.” (Mulholland, Zdrahal & Domingue 2005, p.128).

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The next learning is when the execution of the project happens. There could be many problems faced by the team in initial days of the project’s life cycle. This could be due to cultural differences with the client, time zone difference, non-availability of help, newer technology, lack of time or even lack of skills from the employees. These learning are to be documented properly so that these are not taken ahead and repeated in the next phase. It is justifiable to the client, when a mistake happens once, but if the same repeats, the delivery managers would have no answer to appease the customer. The best possible way to record these learning and apply them continuously is through stringent quality audits and by embarking upon a concept called ‘knowledge champion’. The role of the knowledge champion would more be oriented in collating the various possible defects, to put them as a check list during review process and keep adding to the checklist every time a new problem arrives. This method of continuous learning is absolutely required especially in the development and maintenance projects in the organization. Apart from technical loop holes, the managerial misbehaviours also need to be recorded and corrective methods be followed. This kind of continuous learning at all levels of the organization ensures that misbehaviours are not repeated come what may.

Organization gains a lot from this kind of learning methodology. The implementation of recording could be done in the form of war-rooms, wikis, forums or storing in a separate shared location. When a new team member is inducted in to the team, the basic training should include a peek in to these project-specific learning also. Thereby it saves lot of time in terms of class room sessions and re-works in case of mistakes. And from an organization perspective any man-hour saved is translated in to increased revenue.

In the case of a start up company, the principles of management are to be translated through every deed of its employees. This can be done by sending continuous mailers to its employees. But this might not be very effective. A better way is to create CBTs (Class room Based Training), by encouraging employee participation and by clearing all pre-set perceptions about its staff. This continuous training ensures that every employee is aligned with the organization goals. Learning involves investment in terms of revenue, time and effort. The return of investment although is what that encourages the organization to push more into training and skill development. Time saved skipping steps would sometimes backfire. Critical mistakes in any phase of the project lifecycle can have a devastating impact by reducing the momentum and negating hard-won accolades. All learning contributes to the right change if they are implemented properly and planned in such a way that there is not much overhead for the employees. If an employee is made to undergo rigorous training along with the project activities, thereby overloading him, it is human tendency that the potential output declines gradually. Also, failed attempts during the learning process could de-motivate the person. Another aspect is that the employee might receive all the required training from one organization and switches his job to another. By inductive reasoning, it is evident that if proper framework and guidelines are issued to raise the motivation of employees, the learning process is going to be more enjoyable for the employees and also would benefit the organization, which means that the change would be positive!

The significance of learning in change management and the various approaches to learning

Change management is the pre-defined process to switch individuals, divisions/teams and organizations to a desired better future state from the current state. The aim is to minimize the failure risk which might surface due to the implementation of change. The concept of change management primarily deals with human aspects of change. It is widely accepted that learning is applied by force for change and change management can be forced learning. It is well known that change cannot be brought in to an organization just like that. Prior to anything, change should be analyzed, measured, planned, communicated and managed. Learning process is fuelled by a perfect attitude, strong values, quest for knowledge and intrinsic ability. All these aim to bring a change in behaviour and performance thereby achieving the goal of adding value to an organization. Continuous change propelled by continuous learning unleashes the hidden potential in any organization.

Various approaches to the learning exist and it applies to different sectors of industry. Class room trainings, online sessions, visual learning, learning from personal experiences or through the experiences of others are common learning approaches. 360 degree learning model is the current buzz word. This brings in innovation and improvement. Learning is carried sometimes consciously or unconsciously. We normally tend to learn from the situations also – through imagination, discussion, observation etc. The choice of method should ensure robustness, cost-effectiveness and business translation of results. Courses like PMP (Project Management Professional) ensure that the proven process of managerial skills is imparted through effective training in learning process. “PMI advocates project, program and portfolio management that can enhance and accelerate organizational change – driving innovation, improving bottom line performance, and strengthening competitive advantage.” (About PMI, 2010).

The factors of changes in a dynamic environment

An organization adapts change because of the constantly changing business environment. Organizations regularly transform by reengineering and restructuring the firm, encouraging innovation and implementing quality management systems. There are many forces which either push the firm towards change or resists changes in an organization. The forces/factors influencing learning can be classified into internal and external forces. An internal force is required to reorganize the period/time for implementing an idea where as external force could be a law that develops new responsibilities for commercial firms.

Internal forces that resist changes in an organization were categorized at organizational, functional and individual levels. At structural level, different divisions and functions view the source of a problem differently thus increasing the organizational inertia. Mechanistic structures are more resistant to change. At a group level, resistance happens inclusively due to collective thinking and negative motivation of commitment by a peer group. At the individual level resistance is offered due to the insecurity and uncertainty of the outcome. Habit also dissuades people from the thought of change.

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External forces of change, at most times, are uncontrollable and demand immediate change in actions. This could be to counter competition or to gain a competitive edge in the market. Economic reforms and political policies also play a major role as external forces of change. The policy changes could happen due to wider perspective as directed by the NAFTA or EU or it could be due to business realizations in low cost foreign competitors.

In summary, the forces for change could be grouped as Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural and Technological Environment which is commonly abbreviated as PESTLE analysis.

 Structure of learning organization
Figure 1: Structure of learning organization

Organizational learning is multi dimensional and can be classified broadly as:

  • Domain/technology specific
  • Management skills
  • Soft skills
  • Behavioural skills

The pre-requisite is to have a clear cut communication to the employees about the organizational drive to enhance the knowledge amongst them. A specific team with varied experience on the above listed areas should strategise the grooming programme and should be linked with the benefits of the organization. To be more streamlined and specific to the employees, each team could be named and referred to (for instance) the technology team as foundation development group, the management team as future managers etc.

Next is the need for a proper framework which would have a proper mapping of the expected learning level, experience level and designation.

Table – 1: prospective framework in a software industry:

Experience Designation Target KM
0-2 Engineer C/Java Beginner
2-3 Engineer Advanced C/Java
3-5 Senior Engineer Expert level
5-7 Team Lead – technical C/Java Geek
5-7 Team Lead – Management Behaviour skills – medium

Learning portals

The employees need to be provided with sufficient mechanism to learn, understand and apply the learning pattern to which they are tagged. This needs that proper training material, exposure within the project and otherwise, trainings (classroom, live meeting or offline) may be required. Corporate learning portals and wiki replicas can be created to rope in more participants. Discussion forum may be set up with expert level solution being provided when ever required.

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The management related trainings including behavioural skills, oral and written skills that are to be groomed before a person is assigned to such a role. There are many instances where the person could be technically brilliant but as a manager he could be ridiculous. Effective learning programs from business leaders and management experts can help the managers-to-be to get into a rhythm which would benefit the employee and the organization largely.

Evaluations

Since anything which goes on without a deadline is worthless, a typical time frame (say 1 year or 6 months) should be given for learning and practical assessments to test the understandings. The exam would serve 2 purposes – one being that the employee can themselves asses their weak areas and put in more efforts there and the second being for the organization, where they can have a tab on the employees performance. Domain specific examinations (for instance main frame, windows, UNIX, banking) may be applied and special recognition be given for them. Impetus should be given for participating in external and internal forums such as technology conclaves, IEEE summits, presenting technical reports and white papers. Promotions and special bonus/hike can be linked to the examinations set with a realistic target and learning cycle.

Understanding of the learning cycle with reference to Kolb’s model

Learning cycle is a research supported method for education. Kolb suggests a cycle through which learning progresses in an individual in an effective manner. Individual learning is a self motivated method wherein increasing experience results in enhanced knowledge and all round self development. Learning cycle concentrates on interpretation of experience and mediates actions in line with interpretation. Kolb’s model is based on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). ELT model states that experience is the best source for learning and development. ELT model focuses on two methodologies – firstly on procuring experience and secondly on converting experience into value-adds. Kolb’s model involves 4 learning styles namely Immediate or concrete experience which result in observations for reflections which in turn becomes abstract concepts and its resulting actions. A set of 4 resultant methods are produced by grouping in these concepts.

  • Diverging – results from reflective observation and concrete experience and is adopted by people who like to observe the problem and accommodate different view points from several angles.
  • Assimilating – results from reflective observation and abstract conceptualization and taken for virtual learning and grooming of ideas. A theoretical approach serves more value than the practical one in this model.
  • Accommodating – results from Active experimentation and concrete experience and is taken for practical problems and a hands-on experience is what matters most.
  • Converging – results from abstract conceptualization and active experimentation and is taken when experimenting with innovative thoughts to result in practical results.

The organization or individual chooses an approach based on the feasibility and requirement. Individual Learning Plan (ILP) can be formulated by the organization based on the Kolb’s model and this can be used to logically asses and employee.

Management’s Role

The management can play an effective ball game with the requirement of the enhanced learning process. The contributions made by the employees to the knowledge management repository could be used to appreciate and give complimentary awards as a token of appreciation. This can be done on a monthly basis or on a quarterly basis. Thus, identified knowledge management champion should be given special incentives so that it serves as motivation and inspiration for the co-workers.

The knowledge management should be included as a part of the annual goals and objectives settings and should be reviewed by the supervisor of the employees. This should happen from the lowest level to the top management level. The annual sops should be partially based on how good the employee completes and contributes to the objective set forth to him. Special benefits for project rotations, location preferences may be provided to the employee based on the number of certifications/seminars/white papers presented.

Employees’ Role

The underlining fact of knowledge management and effectiveness of the program is in that in its entirety it is based on employee participation. There should be a top-down approach in the organization where the top management serves as an example and role model for the younger lot to indulge themselves in knowledge management and enhancement. The employees should be able to facilitate sufficient time (in however small quantum it is) towards the organizational goal and building up skills. Proper planning and support should be given from the supervisors. “Top leaders and managers serve as learning roles models by sharing their own learning goals and by encouraging others to learn. They also recognize the need for individual learning for all levels of employees.” (Agarwal n.d). With this kind of involvement, a motivated set of employees can increase the KM-index of the organization manifold in a short duration. This also ensures that employees are up-to-date with the changing markets, newer technologies and have been put in sufficient efforts to ready themselves for a newer or better role whenever a challenge comes up. The bench strength of the organization increases in terms of ‘ready for project’ resources and thereby reduces the training and grooming time required.

The outcome of learning and changing in an organization

Learning outcome is what an individual knows, understands and is able to practice once the learning process is completed. The learning outcome is an integrated system of proficiency acquired during the training, created by trainee’s knowledge, professional behaviours and capabilities.

  • One of the learning outcomes is better equipped employees generated at the end of the learning cycle.
  • Learning cycle creates personnel with up-to-date knowledge in technology and domain.
  • Organizational learning reduces mistakes in the process which lead to more customer satisfaction. This improves chances of winning more projects thereby more revenues are generated.
  • Organizational learning eventually improves brand image by continuous improvement of process.
  • Learning motivates the employees by bringing in a feel that they don’t work on obsolete areas and results in generating work satisfaction.
  • Important outcome due to Organizational Change is strategic/planned changes in the organization thereby reducing the risks of failure at the end. Planned changes are “for the purpose of enhancing individual development and improving organizational performance, through the alteration of organizational members on-the-job behaviours” (Weick & Quinn1999, p.3).
  • Learning results in changing the attitudes and behaviours of individuals.

Conclusion

Learning is a continuous process and should be applied in every task performed. Management should set the right tone, motivation, infrastructure, benefits and credits to have an effective learning mechanism in place. Proven learning models formulated by industry experts and educationalists can be chosen and should be tailor-made to suit the organizational requirement and individuals. Rating learning through meaningful assessments would provide an opportunity for self-development for the employee. A motivated set of employees with enhanced skills indicate higher involvement which indirectly means higher revenues. Increased brand value, customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Employee satisfaction (ESAT) can be reached if the program is streamlined to produce a lot of better informed individuals.

Recommendations

The following recommendations are made for effective learning process to succeed:

  1. The learning approach should be goal driven and should have organizational objective, department specific objectives for learning and project specific learning objectives. This will ensure that the employee excels in the area closest to his area of work.
  2. The framework should be clearly defined and should not create chaos or confusion to the employees.
  3. Heavy usage of discussion forums, wikis, unified portals and availability of robust training materials are mandatory for the effective execution of the program.
  4. Use of Class room Based Trainings (CBTs) and trainer based sessions should be held as per requirement.
  5. The assessments should be realistic and proper time frame should be allowed for effective learning.
  6. In-house trainers are to be utilized effectively where ever possible. This can control the training costs. However, on a case-by-case basis, external trainings in different locations/expert institutes, sessions from management and industry leaders should be held.
  7. Virtual mini projects should be encouraged and practiced. The areas chosen should be newer areas which could be potential business opportunities. Prototypes thus developed can serve as both business reference and learning model.
  8. The organizational goals and benefits should be the driving reason for any change in policy in this regard.

Reference

About PMI, 2010. [Online] Project Management Institute. Web.

Agarwal, A., n.d. Learning organization. [Online] Hr folks international, p.5. 2010. Web.

Mulholland, P., Zdrahal, Z. & Domingue, J., 2005. Supporting continuous learning in a large organization: the role of group and organizational perspectives. [Online] Elsevier: Applied Ergonomics, p.128. Web.

Serrat, O., 2009. Building a leading organization. [Online] Knowledge Solutions, p.1. Web.

Stanleigh, M., n.d. Effecting successful change management initiatives. [Online] Business Improvement Architects. 2010. Web.

Weick, K. & Quinn, R., 1999. Organizational change and development. [Online] Annual Reviews, p.3. Web.