Learning in Organizations
HRD and the organization
Organizational priorities have changed in
recent years. The focus has moved from piecemeal training activities to
more systematic human resource development. Many businesses have reoriented
themselves away from training individual employees towards becoming 'learning
organizations', with the emphasis on continuous learning. (...)
Competitive advantage comes from the development of an organization's human
capital: a learning experience for employees and the organization as a whole. For
some time, this learning experience was encapsulated within a particular model of
training: a comparatively straightforward, organized function which depended
heavily on planning. The systematic training model pervaded organizations so
thoroughly as to be accepted as the received wisdom. (...) According to Sloman (1994)
this depended on a series of logical steps normally involving the following:
- a training policy;
- a method for identifying training needs;
- the formulation of training objectives;
- the development of a training plan;
- the implementation of a planned training programme;
- validation, evaluation and review of training.
From training to development
With its incorporation into HRD, training
has become a complex topic. There has been a significant shift in emphasis
away from the traditional training model. (...) Organizations demand higher levels
of training to meet their skill needs, linking training to strategic initiatives.
But this centralizing trend contrasts with a decentralizing approach to
the delivery of training. There have been changes in responsibility in line with
the growth of HRM, delayering and divisionalization. Increasingly, training is seen
as the province of line managers, with specialist trainers being used as an internal
The new approach requires an effective communication system between the strategic
decision-makers, line managers and specialist trainers. Together, these changes have made
the traditional model of training management obsolete. (...)
The emphasis on decentralizing training has caused difficulties for trainers. As with
many others in the former personnel-related area, they are seen more as facilitators and
agents of change than as instructors. Trainers have experienced considerable uncertainty.
They are more involved with strategic decision-makers but often have an unclear career path
ahead of them. In many cases they have become managers of externally sourced training,
providing advice and acting as internal consultants.
The learning organization
A learning organization is one which lives
and breathes knowledge acquisition and skill development - the ultimate
extension of 'learning on the job'.
Characteristics of a learning organization
- Learning approaches to strategy. Organisational policy and strategy and their
implementation, evaluation and improvement, are consciously structured as a learning process.
- Participative policy making. Participation and identification are encouraged in
debating policy and strategy. Differences are accepted, disagreements aired, conflicts
tolerated and worked with in order to reach decisions.
- Informating. Information systems 'informate' as well as automate. Systems allow
staff to question operating assumptions and seek information in order to learn about the
organisation's goals, norms and processes.
- Formative accounting and control. Management systems for accounting, budgeting
and reporting are organised in such a way that they assist learning from the consequences of
- Internal exchange. All departments and internal units view themselves as customers
and suppliers, constantly in dialogue with each other.
- Reward flexibility. Assumptions which underlie reward systems should be made
public and alternatives investigated.
- Enabling structures. The organisation needs to give space and headroom to meet
present needs and respond to future changes.
- Boundary workers as environmental scanners. Employees with external contacts - for
example, sales representatives and delivery agents - function as environmental scanners,
collecting negative and positive to pass on to other staff.
- Inter-company working. Information is deliberately shared so as to learn jointly with significant others outside the organisation, such as key customers and suppliers.
- Learning climate. Organisational culture and management style encourages experimentation, in order to learn from successes and failures.
- Self-development for all. Resources and facilities are accessible to everyone in order to
Source: adapted from Pedler et al (1991).
Human Resource Development