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Structural and Cultural Approach Toward Learning Organization Essay

In the study of private sector firms organizational learning has been a long-running area of concern, and from here the defining concepts of the literature come. It is a much more recent in the study of public sector organizations, This research will mention the importance of learning in the 21th century, cultural influence and focuses on setting out a model of structural cultural approach of organizational learning that brings insights and some specific features of public sectors, specifically government sector.

1 (a) What’s Learning Organization

Learning organizations are not simply the most fashionable or current management trend, they can provide work environments that are open to creative thought, and embrace the concept that solutions to ongoing work-related problems are available inside each and every one of us. All we must do is tap into the knowledge base, which gives us the “ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to communicate ideas and concepts, and the ability to cooperate with other human beings in the process of inquiry and action (Navran Associates Newsletter 1993). A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and one that develops, adapts, and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself (Navran Associates Newsletter 1993).

1 (b) Importance of learning organization in the 21st century

As the world is changing day by day, each generation have to adapt and make changes in a very limited time. Hence, continuous learning is essential for survival and success in today’s world. Technological change is having a marvelous impact on all our lives. Today, society is far more sophisticated than the world in the earlier days. As technological changes are in a fast manner, it becomes more difficult to predict the future developments and plan for the future changes (Gilley, 2000). In order to cope up with the changing world we have to change our activities and ideas according to the changing world. Successful people have the ability to and are prepared to change and adapt. All successful people are learners; likewise successful organizations too are learning organizations.

Learning organizations alone can make improvements and they never become stagnant. Although organizations are learning and adapt to change they are so slow in making changes. Successful organizations consider change and development as the most important factor, which determine their success (Gilley, 2000). Learning organizations have the capability to control the external pressures rather than be a slave to it. If an organization is a learning organization it will reduce the staff turnover and it will become more attractive to potential employees.

Learning process will enable the organization to respond to the changes and new situations more quickly than its rivals. The ability of the organization to focus on organizational goals and secure staff commitment to their achievement will lead to far greater efficiency and a better quality of product or service. The popularity of learning organization is increasing day by day.

2) The Learning Organization from the aspect of Public Sector (Government)

A simple transposition of the private sector work on Organizational learning cannot be read across to government sector departments and agencies. As Warwick (1975, p. 204) commented at a more general level: ‘It is not enough to unpack a briefcase with concepts and measures developed in other settings, unload them in a public agency and expect them to encompass all of the worthwhile reality to which they are exposed’. Yet Bozeman (1987) points out that in many senses all organizations are public, and that arguments for the distinctiveness of public and private organizations are often overdrawn. Like government agencies, large companies are ‘public’ in many aspects of their business, respond strongly to external stakeholders (such as the media, market analysts, major investors, and their boards) and cope with strong loads of legal, economic and environmental regulation.

The 1999 government white paper on Modernizing Government famously proposed that: ‘The Public Service must become a learning organization’ (1999, p. 56). The clear intention of ministers was to signal that Organizational Learning would play an important part in a ‘continued drive for responsive, high-quality public services’ (Auluck, 2002, p. 109). But of course ‘the Public Service’ is not (and cannot be) a single organization, nor could it remotely learn in a standard way. McKnabb (2007, pp. 126-7) defines a learning organization as one that is inherently agile: ‘one that is quick to identify, digest and apply the lessons learned in its interactions with its environments. For public-sector organizations, this involves developing innovative solutions to the constantly changing legal, political, economic and social environment’.

On similar lines, Common (2004, p. 38) argues that: in the public sector [organizational learning] can be regarded as the ability of an organization to demonstrate that it can learn collectively by applying new knowledge to the policy process or innovation in policy implementation. Implementation also involves learning, through piloting innovative services and structures. It is also argued that organizational learning can improve the policy making capacity of government, whereas policy learning helps to explain what is learnt beyond the limits of government, and how it is learnt.’ Figure A: shows the path of learning in the public sector.

3) The Structural Approach of the Organization towards Learning Organization The structural approach is sharper in its criticism of the explicitly cultural perspective on learning and argues that authors such as Cook and Yanow exclude the role of individual perception. Structuralists agree with Simon, who claims that “all learning takes place inside individual human heads; an organization learns in only two ways: a) the learning of its members, or b) by ingesting new members who have knowledge the organization previously didn’t have” (1991, 125). Many of the features of organizational life including variables that affect learning simultaneously feature both cultural and structural components.

Scholarly efforts that attempt to divide all of the antecedents of learning into structural or cultural variables will misdiagnose the causal mechanisms of learning by underestimating the importance of culture to what are classified as structural variables, and the importance of structure to variables deemed to be cultural. The model is presented in figure 1. Some variables, such as information systems and resources, reflect largely structural influences on learning. However, other variables demonstrate the lack of a clear distinction between structure and culture. Formal rules can try to establish a clear understanding of purpose and empower managers, but mission orientation and patterns of decision authority also rely on complementary cultural norms. Learning forums can be created by formal rules, but only the appropriate cultural traits, such as a willingness to acknowledge error and entertain the views of others, can ensure the success of such forums.

Information Systems: “Established structural and procedural preparations that allow organizations to thoroughly collect, analyze, store, distribute, and use information that is relevant to the effectiveness of the organization”. Performance information systems often fail to generate valid, sincere, and functional performance information (Bouckaert1993), or fail to allocate this information in a timely fashion to the right audience. These are not modest problems. A formal requirement for a performance information system is a poor guarantee of learning.

Mission Orientation Relative to performance information systems, the employee’s mission orientation is their understanding of the mission, vision, goals of the organization, is a more as a cultural aspect of performance management. A mission orientation might be the product of structures of communication and strategic planning, but it also reflects the compatibility of an organizational culture with mission and goals. When a mission-based culture exists, employee behavior is guided by shared norms and expectations about the organizational purpose. Mission orientation overlaps with two aspects of Senge’s (1990) model of learning organizations. The first is building a shared vision, where employees become dedicated and align their actions to the organizational vision. The second is systems thinking.

Decision Flexibility: Decision flexibility allows operators to participate in decision making and a chance to link learning with decisions. One of the major barriers to learning is when teams “lack the power to act in the domains about which they are learning” (Senge 199, xvii). Popper and Lipshitz (1998) recommend providing employees with “elbow room” to consider alternatives and experiment. Schulz (2001) has found that work units with more autonomy report have higher levels of learning. Decision flexibility has both structural and cultural components. An excellent illustration comes from reform efforts at the federal level during the 1990s.

At a time when the federal government was trying to provide agencies with greater flexibility through formal grants of authority and eliminating rules, Ban (1995) found that organizational culture shaped agencies’ willingness to exert flexibility and work around formal constraints. Subsequent empirical work has provided additional evidence on the cultural aspects of flexibility, showing that organizational culture interacts with perception of rule constraints to affect the performance of agencies (Pandey, Coursey, and Moynihan 2007)

Learning Forums:

Learning forums represent a merge of the cultural and structural approaches. Such routines are likely to be formally established. Pisano, Bohmer, and Edmondson (2001) found that firms with formal procedures for learning are more effective learners. However, the nature and efficiency of the dialogue in such forums will depend greatly on the cultural attributes of the organization. Learning forums work best if they occur within a culture that is purpose driven, encourages the open sharing of information, supports the presentation of different perspectives, and examines errors to solve problems rather than to allocate blame (Moynihan 2005). The literature on organizational learning suggests that argumentative uses of data lead to defensive reactions rather than learning, and that learning forums that establish collegiality and an equal footing for members are likely to overcome defensiveness and substitute information sharing.


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