What places to work!

Org Learning – Post 2

From the case studies that Dixon describes and several articles I’ve read on Chaparral Steel, all of the 3 organizations look like they would be inviting places to work. At some level I might even be tempted to ignore the actual work done (which may not be so interesting) since the pictures of the respective work environments are so attractive. What makes it attractive to me? I guess it mostly comes down to a sense of respect and trust that seems to permeate the cultures – from policies to procedures, and attitudes and even plant/office layout. An interview with the Chaparral CEO Gordon Forward says Chaparral’s philosophy was that people must be give the ‘freedom, skills, education, encouragement, and support to succeed.’ Forward said, ‘Real motivation comes from within. People have to be give the freedom to succeed or fail.’  (1)

Ah, it seems so rare to find a whole organization where such lucid simplicity is put into practice (or perhaps even considered). I have worked with organizations where there there was an underlying philosophy or idea that we are each motivated from within, but it wasn’t stated so explicitly. And so often it seems that without explicit measures to bring into the consciousness of management and workers alike, quite often the lesser of human qualities seem to make their presence shine – those things like control, manipulation, fear, possessiveness, and so on… those things that make up Argyris Model I behaviors — saving face, always win, keep your thinking/reasoning private…

I’ve worked with people who are encouraging and supportive who have helped me to learn and develop skills. They really have been guiding lights along my path, helping me to see my mistakes and where I can grow. But to be in an organization where the whole could be considered a learning organization seems to be half way to utopia. I don’t know how long I could really make sausage (or if I could at all, since I eat a totally veggie diet), but working for an organization like Johnsonville Foods seems like it would be incredible. How motivating, enriching, creative, exciting it must be!

And so, now the question is how to bring aspects of a learning organization into whatever work I do now. It seems like to really implement/change an org into a learning org, a start would ultimately need to come from higher mgmt. However, I’m interested to learn more of how I might be able to introduce some aspects, at least to start, of learning to an organization I do volunteer service for.

(1) Foundry Mgmt & Technology, Oct 2000, p. 31


3 Responses to “What places to work!”

  1. 1 yovhane 15 September 2009 at 8:58 am

    I have had so much experience with superiors who embody the Argyris Model I behaviors, and it is so frustrating! As a “subordinate,” I feel untrustworthy and perceived as incompetent. Naturally, those who are subjected to this type of leadership/culture invest less emotionally into their position and contributions, because they get less returned. I wish I could guarantee that given the same opportunity to lead, shape, and influence I would promote organizational learning tendencies, but I think you have to reverse the indoctrination.
    I do have to disagree with your description of learning organization environments as “lucid simplicity” only because I think non-learning organizations employ the most simple, automatic tendencies. The creation of a learning organization seems like a very purposeful and carefully plotted analytical process only because it is so easy to revert back to the majority’s way of doing business. Very easily, a group could be excluded or overlooked especially in a larger organization. How do you give maintenance staff a vested stake in the success and growth of the information systems company? I do agree that the myth of the learning organization (I say myth only because I haven’t been inside one yet, not that I can think of) does seem slightly utopian. I have mulled this word around as we’ve been reading. Because there are obvious drawbacks and challenges, I’d choose democratic over utopian. It’s not representative because everyone gets their own voice through one avenue or another. One thing definitely not utopian is the suggestion by Dixon that underperforming employees should be fired immediately rather than moved around. This approach generalizes all lags in performance as irreconcilable when the particular fit may not be correct. If enough credibility existed to allow the person onto the team initially, there must have been expediency and benefit the human resources team/organization recognized as valuable.

    • 2 bluesky55 15 September 2009 at 12:08 pm

      Yes, I do think it is would be a challenge to put the ideals/actions of a learning organization into practice. Primarily, it seems to me that a leader must be willing to learn themselves before helping to create a learning environment for an organization. To me, it seems that the ability to self-examine is important – one’s own perspectives, assumptions, habits of mind. This is what I have found frustrating when working with leaders or team members – that there doesn’t seem to be the openness to learn or examine the possible validity of another point of view.

      As to my view of a learning organization as ‘lucid simplicity’, I realize that to actually create the culture, policies, structure, even perhaps physical layout of space of an organization would take much work and continuous effort and refinement. What strikes me as the lucid simplicity is perhaps that when there is respect and trust in the potential of each human being and systems and structures are created to enable this, then it seems such a natural environment for the individual as well as an organization to thrive. However, I do not think it is so simple to create such an environment. Perhaps I can look at myself as an example of why. I know there is a gap between my espoused theory (Model II) and my theory-in-use (not always, but enough of the time, Model I)…

      thanks for your feedback.

  2. 3 Edward Howard 16 September 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I find it most interesting how many of use in the class expressed some sense of envy and desire to work in, as you put it, a place that is half way to utopia. It speaks volumes about the extent to which what we are reading is NOT common, sadly. I too found myself thinking…“ I could work on the line, make steel or sausage…maybe even give shots in a 3rd world country”.. O.K. maybe not the shots. But, you get my point.
    Yovhane and I both mentioned how our own individual perspectives, based on the American culture and upbringing that is so grounded in competition and winning etc, needs to be unlearned if we serve are to be advocates for change in our own organizations. You mention so of the same existing with most organization cultures and the need to ‘unlearn’. Further, it seems all three of us seek to be those advocates, wherever we are working. These concepts also make me think how fun it would, if you had a truly comprehensive working knowledge of all of these learning concepts, to be a business consultant in this area.
    In my own work, I do not have the benefit of mentor type who helps guide me, as you spoke of. I do however think that mentor mentee relationships within organizations are extremely helpful…especially in the area of learning leaderships skills and best practices.

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