In recent years, various businesses have adopted organisational learning as a way of creating and retaining knowledge within the confines of the business premises. The knowledge is usually transferred from one department to another. Senge (1990) asserts that the rate at which organisations tend to learn can become a source of competitive advantage. Gaining competitive advantage is paramount for most businesses due to the desire to survive in light of high competition in their fields of operation. Organisational learning acts as a favourable source of competitive advantage since it recognizes individuals’ needs in conjunction with the business circumstances (Peler, M., et al., 1989). Through organizational learning, managers also have the ability of identifying errors within the systems hence making the necessary adjustments (Argyri, 1977). This is enabled by the environment created whereby all the employees feel empowered and have a sense of belonging. They are no longer reluctant to report to the top level management when things are not going as planned since they are aware of what is required from them. Examining areas involved with innovation, strategy and knowledge management would help in gaining insight on how organizational learning aids in understanding workplace practices.
When it comes to strategy, organisational learning helps in the decision making process. Lyles (1981) asserts that for a strategic problem, problem solvers usually develop models which are then used in devising solutions. Organisational learning plays a huge role in this workplace practice since a lot is dependent on the relevant employee. The strategy that he or she will devise is dependent on his perception with regards to the problem’s environment. In this case the solution must be in agreement with the problem solver’s experience. As a result, he must consider past problems on how they affected the organizations and the solutions that were brought forward. There is also the need of examining how these solutions affected the organization either positively or negatively. From this knowledge, the relevant employee can now come up with a solution to the strategic problem having put several organizational aspect s into consideration. This ensures that the strategy developed does not conflict with any other strategy that has been employed within the organization hence eliminating aspects of redundancy and promulgating efficiency.
Schwenk (1988) says that formulation of strategies at the workplace is usually dependent “on a single informed brain”. What this means is that individuals tasked with the responsibility of devising strategies within the organization need to be informed based on the issue at hand. Lack of information would result to development of strategies that are not relevant to the organization’s problem and might result to deterioration of the issue at hand. Organizational learning ensures that such instances have been reduced. This is because individuals tasked with strategy formulation have sufficient knowledge regarding the organization and its systems. According to Lyles (1981), decision makers ought to create simple mental models when they are tackling complex problems. What this means is that they will have to approximate rationality in their quest to solve the problems. As a result, they might be subjected to selective perception if they are unable to evaluate all relevant variables. The simplified models end up not resulting to the desired complex model. Use of organizational learning eradicates such aspects since the relevant knowledge is available hence eliminating aspects of perceptual biases.
In order to shape a strategic direction at the workplace, there ought to be various policies governing the employees (Fredericks, 2003). Such policies are usually put in place to ensure that all the decisions being made are in line with what the organization stands for. As a hypothetical example, there might be a policy that if a certain system has been put in place, there is no way another specified system should be established. Such a policy is aimed at preventing the conflict that might arise if the two systems were run together, or maybe it is a way of preventing duplication of efforts. However, there are some policies at the workplace that are not stated explicitly. Strategic direction of the organization under this respect is dependent on the evaluation that will be made by the employee tasked with the responsibility. Organizational learning comes in handy since the individuals will be able to assess the dos and don’ts based on the knowledge that has been acquired during the time that they have been in the organization.
Whittington et al. (2006) postulates that due to increased competition that organizations are facing there is always the need to continually adjust the strategies that are being used. Such adjustments are usually dependent on various aspects. Among them is what the competitors are doing and strengths emanating from the organization. This means that individuals at the workplace tasked with the responsibility of making the adjustments need to have a wide range of information. Missing on the critical areas might result to making adjustments that might ruin organizations prospects of competing effectively. In a workplace where organizational learning has been enhanced is easy to avoid such mistakes. This is because the decision makers have knowledge of what needs to be done when a certain situation arises.
On the innovation aspect, organizational learning can help us understand several things that are involved. In recent times, innovation is replacing quality and efficiency as the main avenue through which organizations can gain competitive advantage (Swan et al., 1999).This is because it is through innovation that various things in the organization can have the ability to change. The changes might include the brand, quality of the products or services being offered, composition of products among others. Swan et al. (1999) says that there needs to be effective networks and networking in the organization for innovation to prosper and be implemented in the best way. These networks comprise of employees at all levels of the organization as well as other outside stakeholders like consumers and suppliers. Organizational learning ensures that people derive certain knowledge in their day to day activities. How one individual understands something within the organization is quite different from the way another individual perceives it. As a result, establishment of internal networks ensures that employees can share knowledge gained in different ways. A combination of this knowledge would be a stepping stone towards generating innovative ideas. External networking on its part allows employees to learn about new technologies that might be helpful to the organization (Swan et al., 1999).This is because they are able to acquire knowledge from the external environment and transfer it within the organization. Convincing other employees on the importance of the acquired knowledge is vital since it results in pooling together of the skills required for its implementation. The resulting innovations might work as a competitive advantage.
According to Cariile (2002), knowledge is problematic in organizations especially when development of new products is involved. This is because as it acts as a source of innovation, it can also act as barrier to the same. Knowledge becomes a challenge to innovation due to the boundaries that exist in organizations. These boundaries are usually created by the levels of specialization in organizations (Cariile, 2002).There is a dilemma in this respect because specialization has also contributed significantly with regards to innovation in the past. This is because people concentrate in what they are good at hence the end product is of superior quality. Now this is an indication that these boundaries are not only a critical challenge, but a perpetual necessity to the organizations because most of the production is reliant on specialization. Different individuals in different departments tend to specialize in different forms of knowledge hence end up being dependent on each other. Organizational learning helps in ensuring that the knowledge boundaries that might exist in the organization have been eliminated. This is because apart from encouraging and helping employees to acquire and maintain knowledge, it also plays the role of ensuring that knowledge has been shared. In an organization where specialization is high, it becomes easier for different departments to attain the knowledge acquired in other departments. This means there will be aspects of working in partnership, which will enable transfer of knowledge. As a result, the levels of innovation in the organization tend to be high.
For a long time economists and other scholars have been using the terms “theory of the firm” while referring to organizational activities, but there is no multipurpose, single theory of a firm (Grant, 1996). Grant’s arguments can be analyzed under the respect that a business enterprise is always designed to address specific set of behaviours and characteristics. An organization comprises of individuals with very different backgrounds. They have experienced varied things in their lives hence their way of thinking is quite different. Bringing these individuals to work together efficiently takes more than just policies and rules. There must be something bringing them together, something that gives them a sense of belonging and the urge to work in partnership. Without this any attempts to boost the levels of innovation in the organization will not be productive. This is where organizational learning comes in handy. Through organizational learning, these individuals are able to learn several things that are involved in day to day activities. Whatever one individual learns is similar to what the other one learns since they are subjected to similar systems and circumstances. They have the ability to discard their previous knowledge and embrace new knowledge. The new knowledge is maintained in the organization and is transferred to new employees within the organization. Working in partnership becomes a possibility hence the prospect of boosting innovation in the organization goes a notch higher.
Knowledge management on its part is a critical element in organizations since it ensures that knowledge is captured, developed, shared and used effectively. Kugot & Zander (1992) assert that a firm’s knowledge and technical know-how has a huge probability of imitation by competitors. Imitation of knowledge would easily occur based on its nature. The simplification and codification of knowledge makes it susceptible to this act. This is because technology transfer and imitation tend to occur in a similar fashion. The same way technology can be transferred from one department or generation to another, is the same way that competitors can imitate it (Kugot & Zander, 1992). On most occasions firms learn new skills by merely recombining current capabilities. Imitation of knowledge would deprive an organization its competitive advantage hence hinder its progress. This is where the organization sees the importance of organizational learning. Through this learning a lot of complex systems and mechanisms can be passed to different employees. No matter how complex the systems are every employee will have the ability of learning due to the nature of presentation. Complex classification and coding of information means that only desired individuals can make sense of the knowledge that is being presented. This is to mean that an elaborate and effective organizational learning process can enable the organization manage its knowledge by preventing aspects of imitation.
Andreua & Ciborrab (1996) postulate that Information Technology can be used as an avenue that transforms resources in to capabilities within the organization. This makes it a critical ingredient in the organization’s success since core capabilities are essential for firms to attain competitive advantages. There must be a learning process in place if a resource is to become a key component of core capabilities (Andreua & Ciborrab, 1996). What this means is that there must be an established avenue through which employees can learn various aspects related to Information Technology. The learning process usually follows a certain pattern. It is always a similar case with organizational learning. There are those things that individuals tend to learn first before they can learn others. Failure to follow a certain order based on how the organization has been structured might result to failure in the learning process. A similar case happens with strategic information systems. A certain procedure must be followed for efficiency. When an organization is enhancing Information Technology prospects it can borrow a lot from organizational learning. This entails deriving ideas on what ought to be done first, what not to do among other things.
Knowledge structures are usually used to define expected behaviours, actions and relationships for employees (Lyles & Schwenk, 1992). The ultimate reason behind this is because the aspect is somewhat different from the organizational culture in that it deals with cause and effect beliefs, goals among other cognitive elements. What this means is that knowledge structure in an organization is more likely to change, but it is a great catalyst for developing organizational knowledge. Organizational learning plays a vital role in ensuring that structures built are of the required standard. This is because it is through organizational learning that individuals gain various beliefs regarding the workplace. With the help of this knowledge, the management can share the superior and beneficial beliefs in attempt of developing favourable knowledge structures. Ensuring that these beliefs remain in the organization usually guarantees that the knowledge structures developed will last for some time.
In conclusion, many businesses have adopted the use of organizational learning at the workplace. Its presence in these organizations can help in explaining various practices. Organizational learning helps us understand that making of strategic decisions is usually dependent on the nature of knowledge acquired and transferred within the organization. Lack of sufficient knowledge would act as a big impediment toward solving strategic problems. With regards to innovation, organizational learning helps us understand how important networks are. It helps cultivate the culture of sourcing and retaining knowledge from both internal and external sources. Without transfer of knowledge innovation would be hindered hence depriving an organization the prospect of attaining a competitive advantage. When it comes to knowledge management, organizational learning helps in preventing imitation by ensuring that employees are able to understand and acquire complex knowledge, which is not understandable to competitors. The learning process that takes place can be used in reinforcing information systems. This is because the management has learnt the steps of instilling knowledge on their employees who in return have leant the art of acquisition and retaining knowledge.
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