Never stop learning: A quick introduction to change management and learning organizations

Embrace change to improve the status quo. (Photo: John Baker on Unsplash)

Change processes in organizations might take a very long time – or take up a large amount of energy. Anyone who goes through the cycle of change and learning will also be able to guide change processes in companies and organizations. It’s important to be aware of some principles that allow an ongoing, successful management of change.

In the master’s degree study programme Content Strategy at FH JOANNEUM, in which I participate in, we recently discussed the elements and laws of change and how to handle – and actually manage – change within organizations. While doing research and reading on change management, I came across several concepts and models. An interesting approach, the one about “learning organizations”, especially caught my attention. I’ll share a quick introduction to this approach in the following lines.

What is change management?

Change management can be defined as the planned management of change processes, taking off an initial state and aiming to reach a target state. The “management of change” includes all aspects of implementation.

The main task of change management is to intervene in process in goal-oriented, structured, strategic and effective ways. In successful change processes, the individual steps are strategically planned, controlled, monitored and stabilized. Change management thus means the implementation of a strategic orientation using various methods, concepts and instruments.

Two perspectives of change management

Change management might start at different points:

  • On the one hand, radical changes can be made in a rather short time.
  • On the other hand, an evolutionary change can take place and is carried out in small but permanent steps.

The change management model of the “learning organization” is based on a continuous development process of companies and organizations. Systems scientist Peter Michael Senge drafted out a new thinking in management in his book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization”. He coined the term and the overall principle of the learning organization. In his book, Senge writes that globalization and rapidly changing conditions are increasing the demands on the employees of an organization. He thinks that an ongoing further development of employees is crucial, also for the success and sustainable growth of an organisation. Above all, the organization itself must have a high degree of flexibility and versatility – it has learn constantly.

The aspects of a learning organization

The change management model of a “learning organization” puts emphasis on learning and knowledge. In order to maintain competitiveness, e.g. for a company in a certain industry, the aim of a learning organization is to establish an ongoing, evolutionary learning process and to be able to react to the changing environmental conditions in the best way. Learning organizations become more agile and adaptable over time.

The changes take place through learning processes in which all employees in the organization participate. The adaptability of an organization is based on the learning and knowledge of the individuals. To be successful, it is crucial that the concept of learning is implemented in a holistic way. The organization as a whole is able to anticipate changing conditions and adapt in time.

We can characterize a learning organization as follows:

  • Employees are encouraged to learn, can develop their potential and are willing the take the initiative.
  • The development of skills beyond formal education within an organization is encouraged.
  • This form of learning culture is also not only established within an organization, but is also expanded to customers, partners and other stakeholders.
  • Processes of individual and organizational learning become a core business activity and are part of the organization’s strategy.
  • Learning organizations are subject to continuous transformation coming from internal development, not from external pressure.

The five principles of a learning organization

Senge defined five disciplines that are essential for learning organizations:

A condition for learning organizations is the individual learning of the own employees. They have to develop their skills and abilities independently. The opportunity for intellectual development and openness is the basis for creating individual visions and sparking creativity.

The principle of mental models is primarily concerned with the perception of the world by the members of the organization. It’s important for the organization to identify and communicate these perceptions and assumptions. In this way, the team can get to know other mental models, combine them and create something new.

The CEO knows the strategy and goals of the own organization very well. For learning organizations, however, it’s essential that all members know and understand the overall goals of the organizatino. Everyone in the team needs to know exactly what they need to accomplish.

Learning in a team means that you understand things together in contexts and connections. Team solutions are usually more sophisticated than individual ones and can also be implemented better in a group.

Thinking in the system is a step back to see the whole. Not only individual parts of a process are considered, but a holistic view is created. We can speak here about a “dynamic complexity”.

This set of certain processes forms the basis for a learning environment and needs to be practiced.

The five principles of a learning organization. (Visualization: Emanuel Jochum)

Organizations need to embrace change as it can’t be ignored. The concept of learning organization is rarely old and was coined by Senge a long time ago, but the principles are still valid. How do you experience change? Which concepts, models or methodes to you use to manage change within organizations? How can a ongoing learning culture be established in an organizations? I’m looking forward to reading your stories.

Experience designer, aspiring content strategist, humanist, world citizen, traveller, mountain hiker, Cuba Libre aficionado, fairness advocate. www.ejochum