A Learning-Based Approach to Organizational Change: Five Case Studies of Guided Change Initiatives

Topics: Change management, Learning, Strategic management Pages: 25 (9405 words) Published: September 8, 2013
A LEARNING-BASED APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE:
FIVE CASE STUDIES OF GUIDED CHANGE INITIATIVES

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Five successful examples of a learning-based approach to organizational change were studied in order to identify some key success factors. All five change initiatives, in major manufacturing corporations, were guided and supported through the MIT Center for Organizational Learning . Following the change there were dramatic improvements in business results . This article examines several factors that made these change initiatives successful. One central finding is that the goals for a successful learning-based change initiative are typically formulated in a way that combines two crucial elements: 1) meeting a critical business need, through 2) making fundamental process improvements. In each case there is a different solution to the seemingly-contradictory demands of work and learning, short-run business results and long-run process improvement. An important role is played by a "core learning team", a reflective leadership group that develops collaboratively a shared vision and strategy for the initiative which combines the two key elements in a way that works for the setting. The learning-based initiative is viewed as a living system that typically progresses through three phases, centered around the pilot project.

A LEARNING-BASED APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE:
FIVE CASE STUDIES OF GUIDED CHANGE INITIATIVES

INTRODUCTION
By the end of the 1990's "the learning organization" and the concept of "organizational learning" had become indispensable core ideas for managers, consultants and researchers. For any business or organization, it is understood, the ability to learn better and faster than its competitors is an essential core competency. Here we shall look closely at how five businesses successfully changed to become more like learning organizations, responding more creatively and effectively to the problems and opportunities they faced. A learning organization can be recognized from the outside by its agility in changing how it relates to the external world and how it conducts its internal operations. It can be recognized from the inside by an ethos in which learning from challenges and mistakes is central. While successful results are very important to learning organizations -- typically they set very high standards -- they recognize that often success is only achieved after initial mistakes, and what people learn from those early mistakes is often the key to eventual success. And people must learn from everyone's mistakes, not just their own. It is too costly to have people repeating mistakes that have already been made by others. A story from IBM tells of a very worried manager going in to see his boss right after the failure of the big innovation project that he had headed. Wasting no time, he said, "I suppose you're going to fire me" . "Why should I do that," replied the boss, "when I've just invested $6 million in your education?" That tale reflects several ways of thinking that are characteristic of a learning organization: important learning comes from mistakes -- once they have been properly analysed; this form of learning is at least as important as formal training, and a company must take good care of the people who develop this knowledge . A learning organization is good at two kinds of learning: good at creating new solutions and good at sharing knowledge with other members who may need it. So there must be openness to new ideas, wherever they come from, and to sharing knowledge for the good of the business -- setting aside the embarrassment over sharing one's mistakes and the reluctance to ask for help or to borrow someone else's solution. It is not just individual attitudes that have to change, though, it is also the policies and patterns of management behavior that make it harder for employees to be good learners and sharers. When employees can trust...
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