Do your assumptions about what organizational learning should be leave you with a lack of alternatives?
One of the reasons why many people, including myself, love books like Freakonomics, Super Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational, or The Economic Naturalist is that is takes our assumptions about the world around us and stands them on their head. When what we assumed about our world is discovered to be incorrect, we must develop alternatives in our thinking and our approach to the world around us.
We have created a model of organizational and personal learning based on our assumptions about it. So let's consider our learning assumptions and models.
As part of the book The Organization Of The Future, James O’ Toole contributed an essay titled “Free To Choose: How American Managers Can Create Globally Competitive Workplaces” In his essay he describes 3 “Emerging Employer Models.” He describes them as follows:
- They are paid at (or close to) the minimum wage.
- They receive few if any benefits
- They have no job security
- They are given only the amount of training needed to do jobs that have been designed to be simple and easy to learn.
- Increasingly hire people on a contractual basis and, where possible, outsource and offshore work.
- Offer their “contingent” workers no security beyond the time limits of their contracts, and no promises of a continuing employment relationship.
- Often look outside to hire even permanent and top-level employees, carefully limiting how much they respond on developing managers and professionals, let alone on the training of workers.
- Frequently offer “then new employment contract,” in which they commit to telling employees what their strategy is and where they think future jobs in the organization will be, and workers then are told that their continual employment depends on their performance and the fit between their skills and the needs of the business.
- Are constantly searching for workers with the skills needed for today’s challenges. And although they pay top dollar for that talent, they expect employees to work long hours and, especially, to be productive.
- Challenging and enriched jobs
- A say in the management of their own tasks
- A commitment to low turnover and few layoffs
- A relatively egalitarian workplace, with few class distinctions between managers and workers and relatively small ratios between the salaries of the CEO and the average worker
- Jobs organized in self-managing teams
- A strong sense that every employee is a member of a supportive community
- Extensive, ongoing training and education to all
- Salaries rather than hourly wages
- Employee participation in company stock ownership and a high share in company profits
O’ Toole advocates for the High-Involvement Company as the model of the future.
According to James O’ Toole, the most successful companies now and in the future will be those that choose to address the deepest needs of their employees.
• Financial resources and security
• Meaningful work that offers the opportunity for human development
• Supportive social relationships
So, to which model would the current system of organizational learning belong?
Does the current organizational model meet the 3 deepest needs of it's employees?
It is our assumptions about what learning is, where and when learning, teaching, and training takes place, and how learning systems should be organized, that control the current organizational face of learning. We have built what we assumed is the best model for delivery of instruction.
What, however, if those assumptions are wrong?
Have you ever considered the fact that the assumptions you make about what organizational learning is and what is should be are wrong?
As O’Toole puts it, “Remember, it was once widely assumed that no airline could trust its employees to decide how best to serve customers—until Southwest did. It one was assumed that no company in the discount retail industry could succeed while paying its employees decent salaries and offering them full benefits—until Costco did. It was assumed that poorly educated blue-collar workers in old-line manufacturing firms could not be taught managerial accounting and then left to be self-managing—until SRC Holdings did. Once the conventional wisdom was that employees must be closely supervised and governed by rules—until W.L. Gore proved otherwise. And it was assumed that the first thing a company must do in a financial crisis is to lay off workers—until Xilinx discovered alternatives.”
Are there alternatives to our current model?
Do your organization have learning alternatives? Are your organizational leaders willing to honestly explore them? William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Is what we have built the "wise choice of many alternatives", or is it simply what we have ended up with?
Archibald MacLeish once said, "What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice." Will your organization and those in it ever have the freedom to develop and create alternatives to the current model. Will we be free to pursue the The High-Involvement Company or the Global-Competitor Company, as described by O' Toole, or a hybrid of the two, or even something not yet discovered?
As O’ Toole says, “The statement ‘I have no alternative’ is one of the surest indicators of leadership failure.”