Organizational Learning Strategy: The What, Why and How

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Organizational Learning Strategy: The What, Why and How

An organizational learning strategy enables a company to keep learning, improving, and developing new capabilities based on past successes and failings. Let’s have a look at all you need to know about creating an organizational learning strategy.

Contents
What is organizational learning?
What is an example of organizational learning?
What is an organizational learning strategy?
Why is having an organizational learning strategy key to your company’s success?
How to create an effective organizational learning strategy

What is organizational learning?

Before we dive into the details of an organizational learning strategy, let’s have a look at what organizational learning actually is. 

Organizational learning is the process of building and transmitting knowledge within your business and using that information to change your strategy. As your company grows and gains experience and expertise, your organization should integrate the new learnings into your overall work process.

Organizational learning is a broad topic; it can cover areas such as product-market fit, your ideal client, or product development.

There are three key results to organizational learning:

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  • Knowledge creation – Recognizing new insights into the organization.
  • Knowledge retention – Turning individual tacit learnings into clearly documented information. 
  • Knowledge transfer – Sharing the learnings with the business.

For example, imagine you work for a Software as a Service (SaaS) company. Your customers are leaving because your product is not easy to use. Organizational learning would be taking the information you’ve learned from the customer, clearly documenting it, and then making an actional plan with sales, product, and IT to improve the product to prevent further churn.

Through a structured internal program, not only will you be able to ensure that the team retains gained learnings within your company but that they are also shared with relevant teams and decision-makers.

Knowledge communities

There are four types of knowledge communities in an organization:

Individual

  • As you can probably guess from the name, individual learning has to do with one person. In this case, your employee will learn new hard and soft skills that will impact your team’s productivity and overall success. It is up to the individual to decide if they want to share their learning with their direct team or broader organization. Most importantly, when the employee leaves the team or business, their knowledge also goes with them.

Group

  • We all know that people can learn a lot from each other. This is especially important in an organization. There are a few conflicting definitions of what group learning is. Some believe that group learning is defined as a team taking action, getting feedback, and then funneling it into their subsequent actions. Others see group learning as team members sharing individual knowledge with other team members. Regardless of the definition, a group setting is an important place for new information sharing.  

Organizational

  • All four types of knowledge communities contribute to your overall organizational learning strategy; however, it is essential to mention it separately from the other three. Organizational learning is how knowledge is created, organized, and retained within your business. It happens in all of your company’s activities, for example, people management, customer success, or IT security. These learnings also occur at different rates. For example, rapid product team experimentation will create learnings faster than quarterly sales learnings. Organizational learning aims to adapt to changing business conditions, acclimate to uncertain situations, and improve your team’s efficiency. 

Inter-organizational

  • Inter-organizational learning is how different organizations share knowledge and learn from each other. Through this method, your team can work faster because someone has already done your research. It also decreases risks since you can learn from another company’s mistakes. You most commonly see this method used by a franchiser when they study their franchise business model.

What is an example of organizational learning?

Many companies use organizational learning to grow their products and create more revenue. Let us take The Walt Disney Company as an example. Many of us know them for their Disney princess movies and theme parks. However, Disney continues to invent new forms of entertainment through its organizational learning. They have a TV network, produce music, and got into the streaming service business with Disney+. 

Disney launched its first streaming service in the United Kingdom back in 2015 to meet consumers’ changing needs. This product was called DisneyLife and was Disney’s first product in the streaming service line. Over the following five years, Disney gained learnings on what consumers wanted from a streaming service. Then, in 2019, they released the better Disney+ version we know today. 

While this is an example of a company’s shift into a new product market, becoming a learning organization doesn’t mean that you need to have massive company-wide changes every week. Instead, your organization should learn and implement small changes daily if done right.

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Organizational Learning Strategy

What is an organizational learning strategy?

According to McKinsey, only 8% of executives see clear results from their learning efforts. However, having an organizational learning strategy is integral to your organization’s success. A well-crafted organizational strategy provides a solid framework to aid your team in contributing to your company’s overall strategic goals. It also includes knowledge retention and transfer that can help you fulfill the needs of your employees, partners, and clients. 

An organizational learning strategy should answer four fundamental questions:

  • What do we need to know to be effective in creating a learning company?
  • How will we create, analyze, share, and use our new business understandings?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring that we create, analyze, share, and use our learnings?
  • How will our company reinforce these methods within our organization?

Organizations tend to lose direction and effectiveness without a detailed strategy.

Why is having an organizational learning strategy key to your company’s success?

McKinsey reports that the global workforce has been changing over the past ten years due to many different factors such as an increasingly competitive business landscape, a digital revolution, a multigenerational workforce, and constant employee reskilling/upskilling to stay competitive with the times. Therefore, having a solid organizational learning strategy will help your company by: 

  • Ensuring competitiveness in a changing business environment: One of the primary challenges of a business is to stay ahead of its competition. Retaining the competitive advantage involves enforcing many tactics across your whole organization to make your business stand out to the consumerBy making sure that employees are constantly creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge, your organization will be able to innovate and stay in the lead of your competitors.
  • Being adaptable: All business leaders know that their company needs to be flexible to survive over time. We saw many companies doing this during the Covid pandemic when teams needed to work from home. Companies not only had to approach a new way of working, but they also needed to rethink their product-market fit. Problem-solving skills have become essential to success.
  • Increased productivity and profitability: Learning organizations are more productive and profitable than non-learning organizations. When employees attain knowledge, they use it to make their way of working more productive. When they share their new learnings with their team, they ensure that their coworkers are productive as well. Additionally, when your team is more productive, it leads to more profits for your overall organization.
  • Enabling innovation: Having a robust organizational learning strategy is crucial because it promotes innovation, allowing your business to reach its full potential. It does this by creating a work environment where people are introduced to different ideas, interact productively, experiment, and are given time to reflect on the data.

How to create an effective organizational learning strategy

1. Align your organizational learning strategy with your business strategy

The number one goal of implementing an organizational learning strategy is to align with your company’s strategic objectives. For example, if your business goal is to help grow sales by a certain percentage in a new market, your strategy should help your team achieve that goal. Once you have decided on your goal, make sure to share it with your organization, so they are aware of the impact it should make.

Business units must closely collaborate with the Human Resources and L&D departments when creating a strategy for organizational learning. Together, they can ensure that the organization is using both business and learning and development best practices to build and use new knowledge.

2. Integrate organizational learning into your corporate culture

If organizational learning is part of your organization’s DNA, it enables you to hire and retain people who resonate with learning, improving, and innovating. There are many ways to build a learning culture within your organization successfully. One way is by making learning a clearly defined core value and using it as a performance review indicator for your team.

Creating a culture of learning within your business and having a solid talent development program in place allows your employees and teams develop strategic new skills, competencies, and behaviors effectively. That, in turn, enables an organization to make improvements and changes.

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3. Facilitate experimenting

Experimentation is all about learning. For example, you may need to try out a small business strategy, such as testing a new product in one city. Through the implementation of experimentation, your team will be testing hypotheses and gathering data to make more informed decisions as you gain more experience.

Of course, performing experiments means you will see many ideas fail, but failure is vital to learning. Without failing, you’ll never learn what you could do better in the following experiment. 

4. Work on your knowledge management

Organizational learning is about building knowledge as an organization. That’s why you have to make sure that the knowledge doesn’t disappear when a coworker leaves. Having a detailed system for communication and collaboration is an essential part of knowledge management.

There are a few ways your company can implement knowledge retention and transfer, such as through visuals and videos, documentation, CRM systems, or even a dedicated team whose role is to facilitate learning. There are also many internal knowledge databases tool your organization can set up to retain and transfer knowledge, such as Confluence, Nuclino, or Gitbook.

5. Promote collaboration

To make learning effective, people need to learn from one another continuously. In a study by Salesforce, of 1,400 individuals interviewed, 86% stated that a lack of collaboration was responsible for failures in their organization.

You can promote collaboration through stand-ups, cross-team weekly meetings, or brainstorming sessions which will help get your team in a knowledge-sharing mindset.

6. Consider the remote/hybrid setup

Your strategy needs to consider the virtual environment your organization is operating in. According to Scientific American, research has shown that working in a hybrid or remote model has an innovation advantage over in-person teams when adopting remote working best practices.

If your team is still working from home, has moved permanently remote, or is on many different timezones, there are tools such as Slack, Asana, or Miro for asynchronous alignment and to promote innovation and continuous learning.

7. Measure the progress

Track how your organization creates, retains, and transfers knowledge. Bear in mind that there is no one way of measuring this. A straightforward way of doing this is dividing creating, retaining, and transferring into three separate parts. From there, you can create KPIs and goals and set up metrics for each part.

For example, if you want to measure knowledge retention, make a goal for your team to create three new documents in your knowledge databases per month. Or, if you’re going to track transferring knowledge, see how many brainstorms your team is having weekly or set quarterly company-wide knowledge transfer meetings.

A final word

A solid organizational learning strategy helps a company improve its competitiveness, productivity, and profitability through learning. Making it an integral part of your organization’s overall learning strategy brings you closer to reaching your organizational goals.

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