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Why Learning is Important November 5, 2010

Posted by wooddickinson in Change, consulting, executive leadership, Systems Thinking.
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I have people ask me what I mean when I say Learning Organization.  Everyone feels like they learn every day but I ask you to stop and think about it. Does your organization allow teams to fail? Does your organization examine the actual systemic forces acting on it? Does your organization capture information useful across team lines and store it and share it in a truly useful way?

Usually the answer to these questions is no but why should I care what other teams are doing? If you haven’t noticed we are living in chaotic times. Jobs seem iffy, company survival is being tested to its fullest. If there ever was a period of uncertain times, chaotic change and second guessing going on I don’t know when its been. Not in my lifetime.

With the workforce of companies shrinking due to uncertainty employees are being asked to shoulder more responsibility which brings with it a greater chance at failure and ultimately unemployment. This is why you care about ALL the teams. We are in this together and I don’t mean just organizations in isolation. Wholesalers must talk to store owners who must talk with manufacturers so a complete picture can be gained and knee jerk reactions minimized.

The best way to do this is to delve into systems. Learn what is really going on. Look at what the principle stock is then what are the balancing feedback loops and what’s in the reinforcing feedback loops. You need to identify the driving variables so the shifting dominance in the system can be studied.

Dynamic systems research doesn’t predict the future it explores what might happen. This gives you valuable information that will affect decision-making. When all teams are working this way and you extend the systems out toward all companies that have an impact on your product or service then everyone learns what may be coming and can make better use of what little time we have to do the right things.

This sounds oh so difficult but it isn’t really. A systems thinker can look at a situation and from even a small amount of data make predictions of what might happen if the organization keeps to its current course without regard to the systems operating around it.

I saw a situation unfold in one North Face retail store that spoke volumes to me. From the limited information I had I predicted trouble was coming. I could tell they didn’t understand retail operations and were making choices based on personal loyalty regardless of what the store employees were telling the company. They completely failed at delving into systems having an impact on retail operations and I saw failure in their future with the closing of all retail outlets with in five years.

North Face makes a tremendous product but they need to leave selling it to outfitter and other retail operations that know what they are doing. The environment that has been created in their own retail stores is one which has pitted floor employees against management. No learning going on here. Check them out and see where North Face is a year from now.

Just think about it. We are all in this together. There’s enough competition without creating more with in the walls of your own company.

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