How to Increase Employee Productivity by Building Learning Organizations

The Link between Organizational Learning and Productivity

Learning organizations are productive organizations. When employees acquire knowledge, they learn to actualize efficient and productive ways of working. When they share the knowledge acquired thus, they tend to ensure that other employees are productive as well.

When the entire team collaborates and works together, they leverage the synergies from teamwork and actualize efficiencies from scale and the economies of collaboration.

Indeed, the term “Reinventing the Wheel” is used to describe those organizations where employees often do the same repetitive iterations of work without learning from past cycles whereas in learning organizations, employees simply can refer to the learning and the insights of others who have done similar work before and apply them accordingly to ensure that each iteration or cycle of work does not reinvent the wheel.

Instead, they build on the strengths of others or in other words, “stand on the shoulders of giants” and become taller in the process.

This is the reason why reputed certification institutes such as SEI or the Software Engineering Institute have a CMM or Capability Maturity Model which rank organizations on how mature their processes are and in turn, these rankings indicate how much learning has taken place and how it can apply to successive iterations.

The VUCA Paradigm and the Challenges of Organizational Learning

Having said that, building learning organizations is not that easy in volatile and uncertain times where ambiguity and complexity are the norm rather than the exception.

Indeed, the VUCA Paradigm so-called for its description of the external landscape as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous captures the difficulties and the challenges faced by organizations to actualize a learning workplace.

To explain, middle and senior managers find it challenging to manage the stress and the chaos caused by these factors and in turn, do not devote their energies in teamwork and collaboration.

Moreover, as one journal puts it, “The greater the mess, the higher the stress” which means that in organizations that do not learn to deal with the VUCA factors, there is always a certain scramble for doing things in an Ad Hoc manner without any structure or order or what is also known as a “Method in the Madness”.

Thus, this means that organizations necessarily have to invest in building organizational learning wherein there is horizontal and vertical learning and more importantly, there is sharing of knowledge across the board instead of hoarding it.

Knowledge Hoarding and Why Internal Competition Should be Managed

Talking about hoarding of knowledge, one common scourge of even the best learning organization is that some employees who are often the highest performers often keep the knowledge acquired by them for their own progress rather than putting it in the public domain or sharing it with others.

Indeed, as one HBR or Harvard Business Review author puts it, this is the result of competition between the team members wherein organizations that incentivized high knowledge acquirers and place a premium on competitive appraisals often find that taken as a whole, the organization loses.

In other words, when the performance review system is skewed and biased toward ensuring competition rather than collaboration, there is a tendency towards synergies and efficiencies being lost in the process.

On the other hand, in learning organizations, there is a greater emphasis on sharing of knowledge and collaborative team work those results in higher productivity for the organization as a whole.

Thus, it is clear that the choice between organizational productivity and individual productivity need not be binary and instead, organizations can put in place strategies where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Indeed, in these brutally competitive times, such binary choices should be shunned and while external competition must be encouraged, there is absolutely no reason for internal attrition due to competition for knowledge.

The Knowing Doing Gap

Having said that, it is also the case that simple knowledge acquisition and sharing serve the purpose as there is something called the Knowing – Doing Gap. This term describes organizations where everyone knows what needs to be done but they do not act in reality.

This happens mainly because of complacency as well as organizational inertia wherein time spent in knowledge sharing and learning meetings is often all Talk and No Work or in other words, such meetings are merely Talk Fests without any follow up for the outcomes.

In a book that first coined this term, the authors speak about how some organizations are adept at converting knowing into doing whereas others are neither knowing nor doing or in the middle, they are knowing but not doing. The solution for this conundrum lies in the way the organization approaches the practice of learning.

For instance, feedback about the knowledge learning and sharing and surveys that capture the metrics of how much such learning processes have contributed to actual doing or implementation can go a long way in bridging the Knowing – Doing Gap.

Lastly, in times when there is abundance of knowledge due to the internet, it is fairly easy for anyone to access such knowledge.

However, the trick or the key to success for organizations hinges on determining how relevant such knowledge is and how it can be embedded into the organizational learning processes.

In other words, while you and I can indeed become knowledgeable due to the internet, when we are working in an organization, how much useful that knowledge is, who has the more knowledge, and who can share effectively, and lastly, how much of that knowledge that we are putting into practical work is very important.

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