Continuous improvement requires constantly looking for ways to ‘make things better’ by challenging the status quo. It requires having a mindset where all ideas are welcomed, shared and people from different functions work together in unison to fix a broken process or to improve it.

Knowledge sharing seems straightforward but to work on a corporate level, it needs to be part of a learning strategy. This strategy should incorporate several aspects – culture, tools and policies, among others – to enable a learning environment. Having a solid infrastructure and technology in place is not enough, as many companies have experienced. In my opinion companies know this is important in the long term and invest in the tangible resources (i.e. training programs, tools, applications), but forget the intangible aspect (i.e. culture, environment, leadership). Most of the time they do not invest time in developing a strategy that incorporates both given the time and effort required to do it, lack of immediate financial impact or the difficulty of a changing economic environment.  They mainly adopt a ‘top down’ instruction approach to implement and use the tools.

Before developing a learning strategy it is important to have a baseline. The organization should understand how is the learning system working as a whole and identify which components are in place. When implementing LEAN and as part of the Diagnostic phase the implementation team needs to assess if the learning components are working effectively or not to Design an optimal learning strategy and system.

David Garvin, Amy Edmondson and Francesca Gino in their article Is yours a learning organization? propose three main building blocks required to support a learning organization: the infrastructure (i.e. systems, policies), a conducive environment/culture, and supportive leaders. The reading focuses on the assessment tool and provides a comprehensive survey to diagnose the current state of an organization and identify focus critical areas that require attention. It helps to prioritize all the areas to establish a targeted work-plan, always remembering that all of the building blocks need to be addressed. I completed this survey for my own organization and though it was a helpful tool and easy way to understand specific areas of opportunity, compare results to industry benchmarks and reflect on ways to improve relevant categories.

In MSLOC 420 we discussed the Multifacet Model of Organizational Learning proposed by Raanan Lipshitz, Micha Popper and Victor Friedman. I think this framework is very useful in practice to make sure the learning strategy and approach are holistically defined and designed.  The model is comprehensive and includes the critical pieces needed to complete the learning puzzle. The authors propose the following “facets”, which are basically the areas that need to be considered and develop when implementing a learning strategy.

  • Structural – relates to the mechanisms or systems in place to support and validate the learning process (i.e. quality reviews) and to the process of reflection required to learn from the mistakes, integrating both is critical
  • Cultural – identifies five norms that need to be in place for the learning process to be adopted: transparency, integrity, issue orientation, inquiry and accountability
  • Psychological – relates to taking risks and be open to share the learnings with others
  • Policy – relates to having the policies and procedures in place to enable the learning process including those that enable employment safety when making errors, identify how errors are addressed and dictate how much time should be dedicated to learning purposes
  • Contextual – incorporates how factors impact the strategy including external environment drivers, leadership communication and commitment, understanding the consequences of errors, making sure individuals work as communities (sharing knowledge) and how the overall system is tied to the vision, mission and values of the organization.

I argue that when changes takes place, the culture aspect is the most critical one. Organizations can have sophisticated systems, policies and processes in place but if the employees do not have a learning attitude nor support the learning strategy, then nothing will be achieved. Companies need to get employee buy in ahead of time for the success of the strategy.  Employees need to be involved in all stages of the implementation process; including strategy formulation, brainstorming, tool selection and deployment stages. As their involvement and stakes in the learning strategy process increases, they will serve as learning champions. They could help leadership spread the word, create momentum, obtain buy in and ultimately teach other employees and peers the value of the tools and overall learning system. For the strategy’s sustainability, employees need to own and be advocates of the movement not mere spectators of the changes taking place.  Developing a knowledge sharing strategy as part of a LEAN movement is great because not only it enables the required environment and structures, but the culture aspect is also considered as part of the methodology design and implementation processes.

Hope these tools help you as much as they have helped me!

Stay tuned to learn more about how ESNs enable the structural and cultural components…