What constitutes a Learning Organization?

Quite often, the term ‘learning organization’ is used in lateral level discussions, I say lateral because the term has become quite common to ‘impress’ our peers and colleagues. Actually what is a learning organization? Why has it come into existence in recent times and what are the benefits enjoyed by such organizations? The questions are many and the answers are varied.

Learning is the ‘key’ to success — some would even say survival — in today’s organizations. Knowledge should be continuously enriched through both internal and external learning. For this to happen, it is necessary to support and energize organization, people, knowledge, and technology for learning. When I say this, I mean continuity; because growth is a continuous process and so is the Change! One cannot set definite terms but can only give directions to Growth and when it comes to Change, nothing is predictable! So, how do we get to ‘this’ ( read: learning organization)? Let me narrate some experiences I have faced myself in the past. I used to work for a ‘franchising’ organization during the years 1989 – 1991. Aparna Mafatlal & Jay Kunder promoted ‘Maegabyte Group’ conceived a futuristic idea of setting up several basic computer education centers and business communication outlets in urban, B class cities, rural areas across India. And they did succeed very well and also managed to enrol the passionate youth on their payrolls and also appoint franchisees to run these set ups. Should we term Maegabyte as a learning organization? Let us look at what it had to be called one?

– The corporate vision was inspiring – as no other organization had the courage to go mofusil in the late 1980s and create new markets especially when ‘franchising’ as a business option was very new in India!
– The leadership of the Managing Director Jay Kunder was exemplary and supporting learning culture within the organization.
– There was good use of communication to sustain interest, motivation, drive among their employees.
– The sales force were reflective practitioners analyzing the pluses and negatives at the close of every day; I know I did do that.
– Dissent, conflict and debate were considered as positive sources of learning.
– Planned learning was designed through strategy, structure, systems, procedures and plans.
– Failures and un-intended outcomes were addressed through constructive discussions to arrive at new approaches.
– And the best thing – there was positive energy in the organization; percolating even to the far-flung offices of deserving franchisees.

In essence, since the company was a learning organization it became a training center for the freshers from degree colleges to join, learn and unfortunately leave as the remuneration offered was way below the industry average. This is where the company failed and could not maintain continuity and the tempo/ momentum generated. Soon, the learning organization ‘Maegabyte Group’ became extinct and turned out to be only a dream unfulfilled. Allegedly, its Management could not utilize its financial resources generated in the right manner bringing disrepute upon itself. Not surprising, there are many such ‘defaulting’ organizations in India as well as abroad. But, my effort is to narrate an experience where ‘learning’ served to be a ’cause’ for splendid, quick growth of Maegabyte Group. Nothing else to add on that.

I have mentioned about Infosys Limited as leading Indian learning organization in my earlier post – Infosys could sustain continuous growth just like Reliance Industries Limited has done because the funds generated from its business operations were used well and the company interest remained much above any other interest – individual, family etc. In fact, Reliance has a punch line saying ‘Where Growth is Life’! Quite natural, isn’t it? We know that, don’t we? Life is Growth and Growth is Life. But, why do we forget when it comes to learning? Isn’t learning essential to grow, to live? Results have proved time and again! Learning Organizations cannot remain to be only a dream sought after by the curious minded; a unsolved mystery; an unrealistic expectation; a feared derivative, etc. Don’t we need learning organizations to progress and forge ahead in our business objectives?

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2 thoughts on “What constitutes a Learning Organization?

  1. jay Kunder actually very smart and over qualified lady at the time when computers were just gaining grounds in India..she was the one with vision but not others.. she could have pioneered if given the right sources at the time..
    She and her classes were most advance at the time. I was amongst the first batch..was very young and realized that this field is nt for me but I stuck around for some time.. She once looked at me and said.. Aslam you are good but not good for this.. I flunked in exams.. It was the most expensive computer classes at the time.. I did not feel bad or low but the advice she gave.. I can never forget.. Today I am GM with sales & marketing experience of 19years in luxury retail business of fashion industry..
    Jay told me.. I don’t know but you must find out what is good for you and what is that you like.. you will excel in that.. she said you are smart and very creative…search and you will find out someday soon… this kind of advice is common now but not in 1983..those words were imprinted in me..and I finally found out what was good for me.. and I stuck to it from the word scratch…. Creativity was my soul interest and this is the word she had used then……

    • Thanks Mohammed. Yes, Jay kunder is quite smart to bring about computer education at the grass-root levels. But, she did not follow it through like NIIT has done. She could not retain good employees too. 🙂

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