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3 Things That Will Help You Become a Learning Organization

I have been visiting customers in Taiwan this week, and one of them asked me to talk about the topic “How can we become a continual learning organization?” This is one of the best questions that a customer has ever asked me. An IT organization that realizes this is something they need to do has already gone a long way to making improvements – I usually have great difficulty getting people to understand the importance of organizational learning and improvement.

 

Fortunately the customer had sent the question a few days before the meeting, so I had a bit of time to think about the answer, and I was able to put together a presentation with some of my ideas. We used this as a basis for a wide ranging discussion and I think this customer now has a great opportunity to improve.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how effective this will be in practice for their organization.

 

The advice I gave was to create a programme with three major parts. 

 

3 components of a learning organization

 

Each of these parts uses well known approaches and techniques, but when used together to help you become a learning organization they could completely transform how you work and the value you deliver to your customers.

 

Continual Improvement

Why is it needed?

Continual Improvement will provide structure and process to enable monitoring and improvement of services, service management processes, and every other aspect of how value is delivered to customers.

How to get started?

The most important thing to do in starting continual improvement is to create a continual service improvement register and give someone the authority to manage it. This CSI register can be as simple as a spreadsheet where you track all of your improvement opportunities.

You can populate your CSI register with improvement opportunities you identify from many sources, including:

  • Service reviews with customers
  • IT staff suggestions
  • Internal process reviews carried out by process owners
  • Monitoring of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Regular assessments and benchmarking of services, processes and technology
  • Supplier reviews
  • Major incident reviews, problem reviews, change reviews, project implementation reviews etc.

You can then use the CSI register to prioritize the opportunities, track their progress, and report on achievements.

 

The ITIL Continual Service Improvement publication describes a model for continual improvement based on the steps.

  • What is the vision?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How do we get there?
  • Did we get there?
  • How do we keep the momentum going?

I have used these steps very effectively as a way to populate an initial CSI register, and then used the CSI register to drive the improvements.

 

Knowledge Management

Why is it needed?

Knowledge Management will provide a capability for sharing experience and understanding, so that people can effectively learn from the experience of others.

How to get started?

I recently wrote a blog titled 6 steps to get started with knowledge management which recommended the following steps for starting knowledge management:

  1. Start with a list of the roles in your organization
  2. Identify activities that would benefit from improved knowledge
  3. Identify tools and techniques to help with knowledge transfer
  4. Motivate people to share the knowledge that is needed
  5. Motivate people to use the knowledge that has been shared
  6. Manage your knowledge to ensure it remains relevant and helpful

 

In this blog I pointed out that knowledge is only valuable when it is in someone’s head, enabling them to make decisions and deliver services. There are many ways to help people develop the knowledge they need and it is important to recognize that knowledge management involves much more than managing documents.

 

Please refer to 6 steps to get started with knowledge management for more detail.

 

Management of Organizational Change

Why is it needed?

Management of Organizational Change will facilitate the required changes in attitudes, behavior and culture needed to ensure that everybody in the IT organization takes a full part in the new “learning organization”

How to get started?

There are a number of different approaches that can be used to drive a change through an organization. J.P Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change has been in use for many years and can be very effective.

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy for the change
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower broad-based action
  6. Generate short term wins
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture

 

I have written before about the value of gamification in helping to change behavior, and I think that it can be a very significant contributor to the Management of Change needed when creating a learning organization.

 

In discussions with this customer, and with my colleagues, I later identified other activities that could contribute to becoming a learning organization, including:

 

Blame free post-mortems

I came across this term in a blog on the Etsy web site. Creating an environment where people can openly discuss errors and mistakes is an important part of the Management of Change work that is needed to create a learning organization.

 

Architectures and standards for technology

The learning organization also needs technology solutions that can learn and improve. If all of your technology is configured to well documented architectures and standards then you can replicate improvements across many environments, so that one technology solution can “learn” from another.

 

Learn from other organizations

We all learn from our mistakes, but sometimes it can be better to learn from the mistakes of others. You can learn from others by participating in your local chapter of itSMF or ISACA, by following discussions on the back2ITSM group on Facebook or by following some of the many blogs available on the Internet. You can also learn from published best practice such as the ITIL Publication Suite or COBIT 5, and from training courses based on these.

 

I would love to hear about your experiences of organizational learning. What have you tried? What worked and what didn’t? What advice would you offer so that we can learn from your experience?

 

Learn more about HP Consulting Services and how HP can help you shift your focus from operation to innovation.

 

And, if you want ideas about how to start thinking strategically, then read some of my other blogs:

For more info about me and what I can do for your organization, see my profile on our Technology Services Experts page.

 

Follow me on Twitter @StuartRance

 

Comments
Margaret_Hanlon(anon) | ‎10-18-2012 09:29 PM

Stuart,

 

Great approach to address the question.  You highlighted  3 important aspects of learning and improving and provided excellent advice.

 

Another thought that struck me is how management leadership in the area of learning will add impetus to changing the organization's culture.  Leading by example can inspire and encourage others to change.  For example, with our Voice of the Workforce (VoW) feedback mechanism, our Senior Management  actively encourage employee participation, they learn from the employee feedback, and then hold themselves accountable to implement improvements.  This sends a very strong message that we are a quality driven company.

 

Thank you for framing this solution in such a concise manner and for sharing your knowledge.

Stuart_Rance | ‎10-20-2012 03:26 PM

Margaret,

 

I agree with you 100%. My previous blog titled The Five Cs of Change Management, included a quote from Ghandi  who said "An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching." Senior management must demonstrate the culture they want for the organization by how they behave.

Joe Albano PhD(anon) | ‎10-20-2012 10:25 PM

Stuart and Margaret –

 

You raise some excellent points. I think the theme of culture is extremely important, but often misunderstood.

 

Culture is “the way we do things around here” – more specifically the way that we do EVERYTHING around here. I think this distinction is indicative of the kind of segmentation that often takes organizations off track. Take Stuart’s example of “blame free post-mortems”. In many organizations the goal would become to create a blame free post-mortem PROCESS. This approach creates many challenges including:

 

  • a focus on process at the expense of focusing on learning
  • creating process silos - e.g., getting the post-mortem process “right” but not integrating post-mortem feedback into other processes

 

The top challenges, as I see them, are:

 

  • distinguishing between working on the business which includes setting the direction for the organization and reinforcing the evolving culture from working in the business to execute the mission
  • recognizing that working on and working in the business may occur at many levels of the organization – leadership is more than positional power
  • shifting top management’s attention to culture—the way we do things around here, the values we support, and the mission we are pursuing—and away from the systems used to do the work (this is a lower level, working in the business, decision)
  • paying attention to governance—the way we make decisions around here—and recognizing governance as a key element of culture
  • establishing governance at all levels of the organization and pushing decision making down as low as possible – this increases agility and ownership

 

I suppose a lot of it boils down to being willing to look at the enterprise as an integrated system: recognizing that change anywhere sends ripples everywhere else. Unfortunately the prevalent management focus still seems to be on spot solutions. 

Stuart_Rance | ‎10-20-2012 10:45 PM

Joe,

 

Thank you for your observations, which are as usual very pertinent.

 

Isn't it strange how often we end up in this same place, regardless of where we started. If we want organizations that work then we have to attend to leadership and governance.

 

Chuck Darst(anon) | ‎10-26-2012 04:56 PM

Stuart,

 

This is very interesting and I wonder if you could layer this on top of a maturity discussion - understanding where an organization is at and where they want to reasonably get to.

 

From my point of view, it seemed that lots of IT organizations where looking to improve and learn reflecting what you wrote up until about 2008. For the past ~4 years, surviving the next 6-12 months was more of the order of the day and cost saving initiatives where the primary focus. I would submit that as we exit 2012 and look forward 2013, many IT organizations are taking a fresh look at how they can incrementally improve more hosticially and pragramtically.

 

Chuck

Stuart_Rance | ‎10-26-2012 05:37 PM

Chuck,

 

Thanks for the comment. I do agree that the desire to learn has not been as visible in the last few years as it was in the past, but I am starting to see organizations who see this as a way to build competitive advantage over the longer term.

 

I think that becoming a "learning organization" is something that can be done at all stages of maturity. For the less mature organization it is actually easier as they have so many "learning opportunities".

 

Bartolini Claudio(anon) | ‎10-29-2012 02:59 AM

Stuart,

 

inspiring post, as usual.

My initial reaction is that the knowledge management component could be further specialized into innovation management: the whole process of sourcing new ideas about innovative ways of doing things, let the best ones bubble up to the top of the organizaiton and from then have a top-down approach at funding those with promise so that the continual improvement cycle can be fueled.

 

Thanks for sharing,

Claudio

Stuart_Rance | ‎10-29-2012 09:16 AM

Claudio,

 

Thank you for your comment. I think that innovation management might be appropriate for the more mature IT organizations, but many of the customers I see are not yet ready for this, and for them some basic knowledge management is more important.

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I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...


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