Are You In The Right Learning Organization?

What do successful companies like Amazon, Google, IBM have in common? The answer: Learning Culture. Quite recently, they have gone deeper into offering postsecondary credentials, bypassing traditional colleges, with expanded training options (Fain, 2019). Other giants like FedEx, Oracle, and Microsoft, offer extensively long-term collaborations with universities to instil lifelong learning (Lutchen, 2018). Likewise, newfound companies like Coursera, Udemy, and McGraw-Hill are jumping in that burgeoning bandwagon of innovating learning and transforming the way we see learning (The Muse Editor, 2019). So if you observe our increasingly intelligent world today, from leadership, knowledge-driven outlook, down to technology utilization, it is clear that organizational initiatives and corresponding leadership directions are putting a premium on strengthening its learning ethos.

Learning Organizations

To sustain the competitive advantage of the organization’s culture, be it in theory or practical perspectives, leadership and learning are always underscored as it is interconnected. No matter how much the organization’s vision is tailor-fitted to its creed and circumstance, cultivating universal building blocks on learning are research-proven to be crucial in addressing strengths and weaknesses that impact overall performance (Garvin, Edmondson, and Gino, 2008). Organizations are more receptive to nurturing a holistic learning culture for their people by providing avenues for dialogue on how to create, acquire, and transfer different sets of knowledge. For example, the successful companies mentioned (FedEx, Oracle, Microsoft) earlier expose how their leadership teams demonstrate a willingness to new ideas and options for learning, triggering new process, innovative products, and collaborative teams (Lutchen, 2018).

In one recent study on organizational capabilities, particularly in ensuring effective organizational innovation and talent, five dimensions (1. connection, 2. community, 3. dialogue, 4. experience, 5. risk) have been recognized to have substantial interrelationship in leadership and learning performance (Tohidi and Jabbari, 2011). Organizational capabilities for utilization of learning factors require suitable diversity in language, daily culture, and resilient motivation to generate stronger results (Graupp, Jakobsen, and Vellema, 2014). Learning organizations are heavily influenced by core and external facets that are also abstract, dynamic, and qualitative, learning-oriented leadership is necessary, but should not be considered a standalone. For example, the successful companies mentioned (Amazon, Google, IBM) reveal how their leadership teams are sensitive to the widely varied local cultures of learning, therefore offering customized local-centric learning environments (Fain, 2019).

Leadership in Learning Organizations

Leaders must understand and become “lead learners” themselves to craft their leadership strengths and styles in terms of clarity, coherence, and capacity (McDowell, 2018). This enables the leaders to go beyond the challenges and differences of their inclined leadership styles, and influence learning and change. Different kinds of leaders must lean into their core leadership skills in seeking out ways to create a culture of learning that has no endpoint, but more of “built on as you go” (Center for Creative Leadership, 2020).

In navigating learning cultures and changes within an organization, great leaders who have preferred leadership styles, especially with more experience in life and work and wider geographic/demographic exposure, are often seen as adjusting according to the diverse circumstances within which he spearheads learning (Zhu and Valerie, 2017). Instead of identifying whether leaders are charismatic, transformational, or transactional, considerations should be on achieving fluid leadership (Goleman, 2017). This kind of leadership in action strengthens people with the right push for learning and maximizes reasons behind the inputs and characteristic results behind the outputs (Gallup, Rath, and Conchie, 2008).

Such fluid leadership in a learning organization is FedEx. Spearheaded by FedEx’s Chief Learning Officer Bob Bennett, the organization advocates for various pioneering programs in developing and measuring employee’s learning culture. For the past four decades, FedEx meticulously leverages its annual survey feedback action to maximize day-to-day tasks and find knowledge management approaches for the right teams, while championing existing platforms (FedEx, 2020). To become true partners of its people when it comes it achieving learning objectives, FedEx expands its extensive leadership training from entry-level positions up to ensure that leadership styles are non-monolithic (Corporate Learning Network, 2014). 

True to “The Purple Promise” of making every experience outstanding, FedEx builds different kinds of informal leaders depending on their strengths, current roles, and future aspirations are embedded into the culture (FedEx, 2020). FedEx (2008) takes this to the next level through the Skills Pledge, a government initiative advocating for its employees’ skills, which includes a learning ‘passport’, a virtual academy, a tuition assistance fund, and a government-recognized qualification. This demonstrates chances for its inexperienced/experienced leaders with specific predisposed styles to experience varied life-long learning and contemporary learning approaches that are not only specific to the organization but also general leadership-building skills.

Reflection

I like to echo March & Olsen’s (1976) theory on learning organization and organizational learning, which centres on adapting behaviours in terms of experiences and modifying understandings that are intendedly adaptive to bring meaningful engagements and results. This holds true, particularly when blending suitable leadership styles and learning processes to create powerful experiences, be it for innovation, competitive advantage, or knowledge sharing. Equally, this holds relevant, especially in times of crisis, ambiguity, and volatility, leadership impact should be a contagiously outstanding learning experience.

This blogpost is intended to be interactive, so feel free to leave a comment in the section below or, alternatively, you can send a request to find out more about the academic references used in this article.

32 thoughts on “Are You In The Right Learning Organization?

  1. Fantastic article. Leadership is indeed a continuous learning journey. In the corporate world it’s important to transform the way we learn and do things to achieve best results and business sustainability

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Firstly I love the creatives you’ve put into this wonderful piece of work – totally love the yellow! Your blogs are a stimulating read, always triggering in a good learning sort of way 🙂 I was thinking how interesting it is that Fed Ex has the “purple promise” akin to Disney having the “magical experience” as a cult brand promise. Does this mean linking L&D to a brand promise forces the company to take L&D seriously? Just thinking that for consideration and discussion! Thanks for sharing as always, hope you continue to blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well described the learning organisation and organisational learning. When it blends with a suitable style of leadership, it will make the learning organisation more powerful in their learning process and outcome. Thanks for sharing great examples. My reflection from your script is both Leadership and Learning organisation are needed to work hand in hand. Both are the driver to make organisation sustainable in this fast changing World. Thanks for sharing. Look forward to reading more of your blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This line struck me the most: Leaders must understand and become “lead learners” themselves to craft their leadership strengths. Leading by example is the best way to influence others to spark a change and drive innovation. Very excellent read!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is true that leaders must understand and become lead learners themselves. Though it may not happen all the time, I would still think those who strive for a conscious approach to learning throughout their lives at work (or otherwise) tend to be more successful – in whatever way they define success. Great blog and thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing the article.

    It is a great read. In fact leadership style always affects the downstream. The team and/or employees will always work well if they knew that the leadership is good. This will end up having a more productive team to help the organization grow.

    A leadership that has an exposure to learning culture tends to face success and will always have a wider perspective to handle certain situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You are so natural in writing a blog and my most favorite part is your reflection. How you summarise the whole thought of the topic and apply it to your own experience. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoyed this post. Lots of good advice here, I personally fully agreed with Leaders must understand and become “lead learners” themselves to craft their leadership strengths. Thanks for sharing. Hope you’re having a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Indeed, people empowerment through provision of learning opportunities and open communication is a potent tool to keep employees motivated and create an inclusive, growth-focused environment. I agree that leadership and learning go hand in hand in building a thriving and productive organization. Another awesome article, thank you Eldrin.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As always great graphics and write up. Thank you for sharing how Fedex stayed true to their purple promise, in building a great company to work in, while staying relevant in these times.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for sharing! Cant believe that this is already the last episode!

    Certainly agree that in an learning organisation, leadership has to be fluid in terms or transactional or transformational.. with a tinge of charismatic would be great. In all, some work better under different circumstances.. the onus is on the employee to understand what type of leadership configuration can best bring out his potential, and for the leaders to adapt the right balance to lead the team or organisation effectively.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree with you that the learning culture established in these large companies makes them grow faster. Thanks for the sharing of the importance of the leadership in building a learning organization, especially with the examples given.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Something really catch my attention is the Fluid Leadership that picked up by Fedex. This is very powerful leadership weapon that applying in such a huge corporation to train up the staffs from entry level to leadership team. Truly appreciated the insightful blog from Eldrin.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wonderful illustration of the effectiveness of leadership in the learning organization. Like Roger Gaunt ever said “Before I can lead others I must first understand my own motivations and myself”, strongly agree that the suitable leadership should facilitate learning processes to create powerful experiences, innovation, competitive advantage and knowledge sharing. Thanks for the great sharing, Eldrin!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The reflection part is always the one I like the most from all your blogs. Growing and sustaining that kind of learning organisation start with leadership. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. For an organisation to be sustainable, it must always innovate and learn. Good article from Eldrin showing FedEx ability to learn and change in this competitive logistics business. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The reflection part is always the one I like the most. Growing and sustaining that kind of learning organisation start with leadership. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. In our organization, I find the 70-20-10 model to be extremely helpful. the model describes the different ways of learning effectively – 70% from hands-on experience, 20% from coaching/mentoring and 10% from formal education/trainings. I like how it puts emphasis on applied learning. And yes, creating a learning organization, with learning leaders at the top is crucial to success especially in today’s VUCA world.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Eldrin, another good article, I got some inspiration from your article. What successful companies have in common is a good learning environment and a competitive learning organization. The role of the leader is to become the leader of organizational learning and create a good learning culture. The FedEx example is great. thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Well written article. Especially in this digital driven era, all actions and decisions are magnified. Hence, a leader who is knowdledge-ready and resilient is a big advantage to the organization.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Hi Eldrin, Well-written article! I like the statement of “Lead-Learner”, indeed, the leader is the one who demonstrates, guides, motivates, and shapes the learning organization, leadership style determines how the leader reacts to the organization. Leaders who include their subordinates in decision-making processes, listen to them, keep communication channels open at all times, and prioritize information sharing will improve efficiency. Managers’ attempts to encourage workers to learn and assist them in acquiring expertise from internal, external, and information exchange networks, would enable them to use the knowledge to solve a challenge or fulfill a need that arises in the future. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. really enjoy reading your blog and truly agree with you that leaders need to be ‘lead learners’ to set the example. Thanks for your insights and research on fluid leadership with FedEx example !

    Liked by 1 person

  23. It is interesting to learn about fluid leadership and the “purple practice” by FedEx. I have learnt something new. Can not agree more on your reflection that with the right leadership style and learning process can create powerful experience. Great write-up, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. The reflection part is always the one I like the most from all your blogs. Growing and sustaining that kind of learning organisation start with leadership. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Impressive! Love the style and contents of the blog. Everybody talks about leadership and learning but in separate contexts. This article has given me a lot of insights into the critical relationship between leadership and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Well written and we’ll explained points. A true masterpiece with beautiful graphics. Like on the point where Microsoft and linked has so started to offer courses to the public as they see the importance of knowledge acquisition

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Great post on the importance of continuous learning and how FedEx makes it a priority and it is quite interesting to know that they even have a Chief Learning Officer! Insightful comments as well on how leaders can leverage the power of learning during uncertain times.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Impressed by your expression that leaders must become “lead learners”. I hope your blog can be read by the managers/ companies that put the importance of learning out of their mind. You are such a talented writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Appreciate your research and profound advisory opinion on corporate learning and knowledge management. I fully agree that this is a leadership area where it is worth for each company but also for the leaders themselves to invest time on checking in whether available systems, processes and resources are future-proof, i.e. helping their organisation to unleash its best potential.
    Thanks for this teaser and looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

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