“Learn something new and you’ll never be bored a day in your life”. What if the same was true for the health, vitality, and sustainability of your business? Poll a group of CEOs on their values and many will mention learning. But few actually place it front and center in their organization. Learning organizations do just that.
Peter Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management first popularized the concept of a learning organization in his book The Fifth Discipline. He describes them as places “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”
A learning organization is one skilled at creating, gaining, and communicating knowledge internally and externally. These organizations are also genuinely willing to redirect their own behavior to reflect new input, knowledge, and insights. They prioritize creating a company culture in which people are encouraged and celebrated for learning new skills, stepping beyond their role to add value, trying and failing at new things, and generally being nimble, agile thinkers.
In our post-COVID world, employee happiness is paramount, innovation is essential, and change is key. Structuring your business as a learning organization has never been more necessary to the health and vitality of your enterprise.
Here’s how becoming a learning organization can help you thrive:
Stronger community and collaboration
In this new world of virtual connection, it’s hard to build a dynamic and flourishing company community. But structuring yourself as a supportive learning organization can help get you there. Learning environments have four distinct characteristics:
- Psychological safety: employees feel safe to make mistakes and ask dumb questions
- Appreciation of differences: learning happens at the nexus of opposing ideas
- Openness to new ideas: the novel is welcome
- Time for reflection: there is enough time between other duties to genuinely mull over new concepts
Learning organizations depend on collaboration and mind-melding to function, fostering stronger interpersonal and intellectual bonds.
When an organization incentivizes its employees to increase their learning through supplemental courses, certificate programs, research projects and the like, they bring new ideas to the table. New input ignites innovation. Visionary companies like Google and Facebook have succeeded in creating cultures where employees have the time and space to learn, explore, and pitch off-the-wall ideas without retribution—and their profitability reflects it. When you welcome new ideas, employees spend more time brainstorming and collaborating cross-departmentally. Intrinsic—not extrinsic—motivation leads individuals towards more frequent and impassioned ideas that can become a profitable reality for your business.
Greater employee happiness & retention
If the “Great Resignation” has taught us anything, it’s that employees are willing to leave companies that aren’t serving them. To retain top talent, companies must create an environment where hires feel effective, engaged, and respected. When employees feel listened to and invested in, they are less likely to feel burned out. Having the ability to develop their career through company-funded learning opportunities (like courses and certificates) increases employee confidence, quality of contribution, and perception of their employer. When the organization takes their feedback seriously, it instills pride in where they work, and increases their engagement going forward — producing a ripple of benefits for everyone involved.
Post-COVID, the pace of innovation is moving at a faster clip than ever before. The collaborative mindset and opportunity for intellectual growth that learning organizations provide positions them perfectly as hubs for speedy transformation and creativity. When employees can easily access knowledge outside their departments, they can overcome inefficiencies and drive better and faster results for your customers, too. Quicker turnaround times and greater quality of deliverables can help poise you as the industry leader you want to be.
Becoming a learning organization is key to your success in the new world of work. By providing tools for growth, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, you’ll emerge with a happier workforce, greater efficiency and collaboration, and more innovative results.