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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 consultancy resource.

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

  1. Learning approaches to strategy. Organisational policy and strategy and their implementation, evaluation and improvement, are consciously structured as a learning process.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 decisions.
  5. Internal exchange. All departments and internal units view themselves as customers and suppliers, constantly in dialogue with each other.
  6. Reward flexibility. Assumptions which underlie reward systems should be made public and alternatives investigated.
  7. Enabling structures. The organisation needs to give space and headroom to meet present needs and respond to future changes.
  8. 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.
  9. Inter-company working. Information is deliberately shared so as to learn jointly with significant others outside the organisation, such as key customers and suppliers.
  10. Learning climate. Organisational culture and management style encourages experimentation, in order to learn from successes and failures.
  11. Self-development for all. Resources and facilities are accessible to everyone in order to encourage self-development.

Source: adapted from Pedler et al (1991).

Human Resource Development   >  Development Initiatives


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