What is Organizational Learning?
Organizational learning is the cycle of gathering, analyzing, applying, and evaluating tasks, policies, and procedures mission-wide. By mission-wide, I mean every role/position/office that is targeted towards the mission. If your position is directly connected to outcomes, your process should include organizational learning.
Consider elephants--which are known for their impeccable ability to remember almost everything. Elephants, like many animals, understand the importance of organizational learning. They rely on the eldest elephant to lead the way because it has a memory of the most effective way to get the herd to the desired destination. This ability to rely on learned experiences and consistently improve as a group is what makes elephants, and living things in general, remarkable.
Imagine if the leading elephant lost his or her memory?
Did you know that you could be making improvements in your process by trial and error, but still make the same mistakes year after year? If you're not course correcting, re-directing, and disseminating, or what I like to call CRD, organizational learning is not taking place. And you know what else isn't taking place? Interdepartmental communication!
Recently, one local college came under scrutiny for not meeting state requirements for accreditation. Only 3 of the 14 were not met, which jeopardized the organization's standing. If the strategic planning committee's various departments were actively working towards the same goal, which could include but not limited to:
Sitting at institution-wide strategic planning meetings
Evaluating program effectiveness and writing yearly reports
And Delegating changes to departments affected
How could they have left something out?
Lack of intentional organizational learning can be a danger to lasting progress, and is a symptom of ineffective communication throughout. A culture of "idea exchange" is important and conducive to organizational learning, even when the ideas offered are coming from an outside source--say, another department, a board member, or a consultant. (Shameless plug).
The great news is that making the same mistakes year after year doesn't mean your not doing a good job; it just means you're not organizing the organization's learning process.
How do we get started?
Keep a running record of the ideas that are considered for each project, including what was productive and effective and what was not. That is the course-correcting and redirecting piece. It is important to understand the data to the point that it can be communicated as policy and procedure, as well as disseminated to the teams.
Keep the process going! And if you're too far-gone, or you have a major impending review, call a consulting firm. Don't be the elephant that's lost his memory! You can migrate safely to your organizational goal if you remember CCR!