3 obstacles in building a learning organization

In category Digital Transformation | April 14, 2017

You may find so many articles over the Internet explaining what learning organization is and how to build it. Different articles would give different views on learning organization. To me, learning organization is simply to build a sharing culture in an organization, where knowledge and experience are continuously acquired and exchanged. I got a few questions privately yesterday regarding some obstacles around building a learning organization after posting my status on LinkedIn as below:

This article is going to share 3 obstacles when building a learning organization, I personally recognize during my life, in regard to the digital transformation wave. Why digital transformation? Not too much to write here but people talk a lot of it. Some are helpful, some are just hypes around stuffs like the replacement of human. But we all should acknowledge the fact that technology is being adopted as rapid as when you wake up, one day you have to change your habit. In 3 obstacles, I’m going to write down here, there are some digital transformation related portions relevant to building a learning organization.

Culture is the key, but individuals are afraid of sharing

We perhaps start by looking into building a culture of learning, in which everyone should learn and adopt in a daily work. I believe people learn every day. They learn from doing work. They learn from listening just technology trend keyword from someone in their team. They learn from some internal training sessions organized by corporate training center in the organization. However, the key thing here is how they exchange what they learn to each other. Effective learning organization to me is not just to build a learning culture, but to see how to develop a sharing culture. When you share something, you help people learn quickly from you, and they know you know that thing so they can reach you to ask more questions. Leaders always encourage sharing because from management point of view, sharing knowledge is to replicate your knowledge to someone if helpful. It’s also to retain knowledge stored somewhere accessible to anyone including new employee.

Ironically if you keep your head in a meditation mode, and think of yourself as a senior engineer, breath slowly. If you share something you have experienced on to someone, you are going to lose opportunities to him one day. Your sharing would help him catch your level up without spending time for practical experiment. In another industry, I’m not sure but in the industry of IT, it becomes true, especially coding experience. And if you are a leader, encouraging senior people to share their experience, would they be willing honestly to share? Spend your time, doing an assessment in your organization to grab your answer.

Social adoption with gamification is just the repository 

Because people are afraid of sharing individually, organizations often look into some of the approaches to encourage people to share. They implement enterprise social tools such as Facebook Workplace, Yammer, Microsoft Teams or Slack to give people a place for chatting and sharing. They also award by applying gamification methodology to the top contributor. This sounds like a good approach to gather contributor to share doesn’t this? If you have never applied then you might not realize the fact that people may cheat on you. They cheat by sharing fundamental stuffs which can be found easily over the Internet. Not much practical experience is going to be shared. You may copy a good description of software engineering pattern and paste over to your corporate social to get more view, more scores measured by the gamification system. But look at that again, how much of value does such a fundamental knowledge bring to improving knowledge for your employees?

Moreover, there is not any one-fit-all social tool for knowledge management and sharing. It depends on what you need from those tools. Otherwise you have to consider to build your own one which would cost a lot of money.

Knowledge quality is your nightmare

Back to my question in the 2nd obstacle: how much of value does such a fundamental knowledge bring to your organization. If you store knowledge which is not helpful, you are going to waste the time and money. I’ve been with many customers for years, accidentally listening around how they retain knowledge in their organization. Almost only answers to me that they only store what people share. Even knowledge in some organizations is just considered as general information accessible to people who need, for example company policy, some technical stuffs to fix your laptop’s broken internet connection. No one pays attention to whether a shared knowledge is qualified to be helpful in their organization.

Why? Because it is so hard to qualify knowledge. Knowledge quality is pretty much like data quality if you happen to do some kind of data science like myself. You must define what is so-called a useful knowledge, classify them into number of different categories. Part of knowledge quality, the problem is how much of confidence would you have on a shared knowledge. Can you measure the quality? Are you going to prepare a team of knowledge quality? Are you going to build an intelligent system where machine learning and analytics are applied? Are you interested in learning data science to build a model of quality for your knowledge? Here I would believe you’ve got my points.

Conclusion

Building a learning organization is very challenging. It’s not just to force your employee to learn, perhaps by applying some penalty rules for those who don’t learn and take examination via some corporate MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) within a period of time. It’s to build a sharing culture to fill up knowledge as much as possible. It’s to qualify knowledge. Otherwise that knowledge may damage to your organization. It’s to apply social tools, gamification and even data science to fetch and build a model of good quality. And finally, if you are not going to strive to measure sharing criteria, then how would you know whether your employees are actually learning?

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