Steps to Developing a Learning Organization

Your capacity to learn from and adapt to an ever-changing environment is a crucial competitive advantage.

In life, it will keep you alive.

In business, it will keep your firm alive.

But how do you become a part of a learning organization? Here's a few ideas:

Demonstrate curiosity: everything begins and ends with leadership. Model a humble and inquiring mind that delights in discovering something new and learning from others (no matter their place in the org chart).

Your acumen is a large part of what got you into your leadership role, but curiosity is what will help you stay there and go to the next level. Your team will appreciate you setting the tone, and every genuine question you ask is a vote towards creating a culture where it's okay to not know everything all the time.

Highlight with positive feedback in real-time whenever you see someone demonstrate the vulnerability required to ask a genuine question.

Develop documentation: robust and timely documentation is the best way to carry yesterday's tactics forward into tomorrow. We all face complex and critical tasks that make sense to us, but are absolute hieroglyphics to most others on the team. Everyone's job should include creating documentation to provide for another to fulfill their function in a sudden absence.

Don't fall prey to letting your organization be victimized by a single point of failure, especially if that single point is a key person. Everyone is stronger when the team commits to externalizing the processes that make the machine run smoothly.

Reward and incentivize creating excellent documentation - some will be reluctant to create desk manuals because they feel it will increase their replaceability. Reinforce that value of robust documentation as a means to become more efficient and enduringly profitable. Therein lies true job security.

Facilitate collaboration: you don't really know something until you have to teach it, so create opportunities to gather around content.

  • Have employees record a screen cast of a recent presentation outlining an organizational shift or new business idea and post it to your intraweb or private YouTube channel.

  • Create a lunch-n-learn environment where there's a rotating cast of internal presenters offering insight on their projects and problems they're facing.

  • Develop a cadence of monthly and quarterly sessions to reflect on and capture lessons learned.

  • Implement after-action reviews with the key stakeholders of a project at its conclusion to capture in a single-page document outlining what went well, what could improve, and how next time will be different.

For a deeper dive into this topic, the classic text is Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline.

There's a lot here. Don't get overwhelmed. Identify one small thing you can start implementing now with your team. By July of 2020 you'll be very grateful you did.


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