Re: Help for an article on learning organisations
Wed, 14 Dec 94 17:59:22 EST

I would like to add my comments on your very good questions regarding total
quality, reengineering and learning organizations. You asked:
"To what organistional needs does the learning organisation approach
attempt to provide answers?
"What assumption is the learning organisation based on?"

In my own anecdotal experience, I have found that those programs that are, at
their core, principally compatible with the organization's basic mission and
beliefs are most likely to be picked up by employees in the short-run and to
survive past the tenure of the current CEO in the long-run. Meg Wheatley
points to this in *Leadership and the New Science*: "A self-organizing system
has the freedom to grow and evolve, guided only by one rule: It must remain
consistent with itself and its past." (p. 135) Therefore, your questions are
very important, in my mind.

IMHO, I see (at least) two forms of error taking place regarding these

1) The loss of the picture frame that surrounds an initiative. Charles Barclay
commented on the unhappy fall from grace of the TQM effort at FPL. He said
that "their utterly mindless devotion towards teaming and quality has been
tempered and placed in context of corporate strategy and their mission." By
picture frame, I refer to the context of strategy and mission that Charles
mentions, which makes it impossible to define and measure its effectiveness.

2) Mixing metaphors simultaneously. When I see large organizations with an SVP
assigned to TQM, a large project team (or 5) doing reengineering programs, and
a senior HR manager implementing a Learning Organization initiative, I have to
assume that the executive team does not really understand either its own
driving principles or the principles of these various initiatives, and is
throwing time and money against all three, hoping that one or another will
stick and the others will die a natural death. Would other readers agree? If
so, does it work? In his response to you, Sean Gawne described this mlange as
an "unhappy experience."

As a final thought, Sean writes that TQM and learning organizations (LO's) are
closely related, but BPR is "just a tactical tool." I would disagree. I
believe that BPR (in its pure form -- not as a new name for down-sizing), like
TQM and LO's, has a basic principle that drives it. When you use the tool, you
explicitly or implicitly accept its principles and assumptions. As TQM is
founded on statistical principles and underlying assumptions of incremental
improvement, and LO's are founded on systems thinking and its underlying
assumptions, BPR is founded on (according to Hammer and Champy) "making one's
processes the heart of one's organization." I see this as highly principle-
driven and fairly provocative, given our current organizational structures. In
fact, isn't this quite compatible with the principles of learning organizations?

I look forward to some other, more substantive, descpriptions of what people
think the assumptions are that underlie learning organizations.

Marilyn Darling