– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

Learning organizations and strategic planning

Sometimes during discussions I receive the question, whether there is a link between learning organizations, knowledge and strategic planning. My answer is “yes” and I would like to illustrate this matter a little bit more.

Before I start I have to define the term “learning organization”: In general the learning organization can be described as an organization which “encourage continuous learning and knowledge generation at all levels, have processes which can move knowledge around the organization easily to where it is needed, and can translate that knowledge quickly into changes in the way the organization acts, both internally and externally.” JOHNSON and SCHOLES (1999) see that the learning organization “is capable of benefiting from the knowledge, experience and skills of individuals through a culture which encourages mutual questioning and challenge around a shared purpose or vision”. PEDLER et al (1991) sees learning organizations as an organization that enables learning of all its participants and transforms itself.

But now let’s come to business.

In order to understand the importance for strategic planning it is essential to make a distinction between organizational development and learning organization. They have to be distinguished in terms of the change perspective. Organizational development considers change as temporariness; after the achievement of objectives the change process ends. Often those change take place in the way of projects initiated by top management. Opposite to this the learning organization sees change as normal case. Change is not based on projects; instead change is integrative part of organizational measures.

The learning organization is based on five learning disciplines:

  • Interactions and processes: Identification of interactions instead of linear cause and effect lines and a perception for change processes instead of snapshots
  • Personal mastery: Steady development of personal capabilities to achieve personal objectives
  • Mental models: A critical review and change of existing personal mental models through experiences and learning changes the organizational mental models
  • Shared vision: Participants of the organization share the perception of the future. 
  • Team learning: Knowledge and skills of teams are large than personal capabilities when it comes to the development of team cogitation. Dialogs and qualified discussions are major tools within team learning. Since teams instead of single participants represent the primary learning unit of an organization, team learning is crucial.

Organizations which using these five learning disciplines can develop specific capabilities in terms of objective setting, critical reflection of thinking as well as identification of changes and dynamics. This also includes the ability to express these insights in a revisable way.

Taking into account that today organizations have to manage issues like increasing complexity and an accelerating dynamic of change it can be summarized that the concept of learning organization offers ideas that should be considered during process of strategic planning. Due to the specific requirements of strategic planning processes in particular three of the five learning disciplines – interaction and processes, shared vision and team learning – can be described as important organizational capabilities. In summary those capabilities enable the organization and its participants to share knowledge and to understand complex issues better, causing a better planning process.

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