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Your #1 Strategic Imperative: Build a Learning Organization

By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 4, 2013

The greatest investment you can make in your business is to assure you living the example of a lifelong learner for your organization and then surround yourself with other lifelong learners.

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Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software special interest area as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Eric Vessels on Mar 04, 2013

I rank Peter Senge's "Fifth Discipline" as second only to "The Cluetrain Manifesto" as influential books. Both were years ahead of their time and both left me with a profound sense of wanting more from my work.

If anyone reads this (great piece btw, Jen!) and wants to go deeper I highly recommend Senge's work. Cluetrain is a given. Really hope everyone has read that by now! ;-)

 

By Elizabeth Gooding on Mar 04, 2013

Jennifer - great article and very timely given that rapid change is not confined to Internet channels. In my career I have interviewed literally thousands of people from entry level positions to senior management and everything in between. One of the common traits I looked for in any candidate was what I refer to as "intellectual curiosity;" the desire to understand how things work and how their job intersects with and impacts other people's jobs within the organization. I believe that this trait has become even more important over time - not less.

While I agree with you that employees who say "what's in it for me" or "will I get paid" when offered an opportunity to learn new skills are short sighted, I also believe that employers have a responsibility to create a culture of learning and I think that is an area where many organizations are lacking. I contrast the example of the employee who wants to get paid for time spent taking an online class to expand their general knowledge with a common organizational problem today. Problem: teams within an organization who find themselves in the midst of major infrastructure overhauls with little or no training on the impact to their job. Printers moving from traditional to digital printing, from black and white to color or from toner to inkjet platforms face major changes that their staff is often quite inadequately prepared for. You have probably seen similar situations in web-to-print and software transition situations. Employees have to be willing to invest time, energy and sometimes even hard dollars in their own career advancement but companies also need to recognize that as the pace and scope of change accelerates, the employer also has to invest in their employees.

 

By Duane Pogue on Mar 04, 2013

I agree regarding the "Fifth Discipline". I read it when it came out and read the latest version recently. This is a "must read" for anyone interest in this excellent article.

 

By Wayne Lynn on Mar 04, 2013

I read the Fifth Disipline too. Great book. Does a nice job in addressing what you're talking about Jen and more. I have a recommendation for those who really want to get after your thought process. They should give Jerry Scher a shout and look at his tools for helping select people. Building the type of organization you are describing does not happen by chance. BTW, your usual excellent article!

 

By Jennifer Matt on Mar 04, 2013

Eric, Elizabeth, Duane - thank you for your comments. The primary difference that I observe between print events and technology events I attend here in the San Francisco Bay Area is paramount to this topic. Digital natives expect change, they actually thrive on it. Digital Laggards are scared of change.

The digital economy and infrastructure enables a more rapid pace of change. The digital natives see this as opportunity while the laggards view it as a threat.

If you can't beat them, join them. Embrace the "beginners mind" and accept that everyone is on the same steep learning curve together.

Jen

 

By Paul Deuth on Mar 05, 2013

I pursue learning because it makes life worthwhile for me; life is fresh and new when I'm learning.

Let me make the point that organizational learning gets a large boost from the methods of Quality Management, especially the use of Plan-Do-Check-Act, Six Sigma, and/or Kaizen. These methods propose a hypothesis, run some tests, and extract learning from the results. The Scientific Method is the basis for all of these methods.

Learning can occur, too, without the formal proposal of a hypothesis and formal experiments. Simply knowing your intent and/or mental model (see Senge) and checking your results after you act will provide material for learning, if learning is what is desired.

The alternative to learning is not supportable or sustainable over time. It's not a competitive strategy, not adaptable to changing conditions. The alternative to learning does support the status quo, however, and most current management methods. These barriers to learning are real and, in our industry, powerful. Proceed with your eyes open.

 

By Jennifer Matt on Mar 05, 2013

Paul - the desire to learn is best when it comes from the inside, that's why I think you have to hire people who are "curious" by nature. As you said, that leads to making life fresh and new.

The alternative to learning (as you describe) sounds miserable - very good point that it does support the status quo which can be a formidable barrier to progress.

We all get stuck because it feels good to be good at something, feel confident. An aggressive learning curve can be discouraging and make us feel vulnerable but its the only way to progress.

Jen

 

By Paul Cavanaugh on Mar 06, 2013

Another great book if you are on the path to developing a "Learning Organization" is: The Chief Learning Officer, Driving value within a changing organization through learning and development.

Excellent article Jennifer...

 

By Thomas Smith on Mar 15, 2013

"We don’t have the time or money to spoon feed our employees the things they need to learn in order to stay relevant as value creators in our organizations." BOLD and TRUE!

As an industry consultant, I unfortunately see leadership continue to ask why they do not have a culture of learning - I say look in the mirror.

A good executive leads by example by having a very good understanding of the markets and customers served, the products, services and solutions they provide and the underlying technologies, process and people that deliver them. They know why they are in business, what their customers are willing to pay for and how they deliver it.

If a leader is unwilling to learn all these things, how can they expect anyone south of them to do the same.

 

By Jennifer Matt on Mar 15, 2013

Thomas,

Thank you. I think you have to develop a deep appreciation for curiosity - for new things. I have to agree with you - if you don't lead by example, you're in a tough battle. I firmly believe that organizations take on the personality of their leaders - all you have to do is change that reality looking back at you in the mirror and you start to change your organization.

Jen

 

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