(Integrated Business Planning >Change Management: New Ways to Look at Old Ideas
Building a Learning Organization
There are times small business owners must feel like the target ducks on those carnival-arcade games. You swim along in what looks like a safe direction and the whiz of incoming shells nearly shaves off your beak. After skillfully negotiating a 180-degree turn and pedaling as fast as your little duck feet can, the whistle of another incoming round turns you back in your original direction. Every once in a while, the artillery of change gets lucky and blows you out of the water.
Change is never easy, for the tin-arcade duck or the small business owner.
If small businesses are to survive the predatory world of global competition, they must develop the ability to learn faster than their competitors. The ability to assimilate data, convert it to usable information and transform it to knowledge may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. Today’s small business owner must be ready to build a learning enterprise. A learning enterprise is one that is able to rapidly respond to change and effectively manage that change. For an organization to be transformed into a learning enterprise, its members must be able to effectively share knowledge. The ability to share knowledge is the difference between success and failure. Fundamental to a learning enterprise is a shared vision, trust among personnel and teamwork. Trust can be achieved if communications within your enterprise are freely distributed, continuous and accurate.
Successful small businesses learn how to focus on the latent need of the customer — what customers might truly value, but have never experienced or would never think to request. Small businesses must explore generative learning— expanding capabilities and creating or finding the opportunity before it becomes a problem.
The best guide for small businesses who find themselves on this path is a book called The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge. In this book, Mr. Senge discusses the Five Disciplines of Learning and the Seven Learning Disabilities. This book has been a perennial favorite with business mentors and counselors. I’ve summarized these break-through disciplines here, but strongly suggest that if you only read one business book this year…make it this one.
Five new “component technologies” are gradually converging to innovate “learning organizations. In engineering innovations, components are called “technologies.” In human behavior, the components should be seen as disciplines. A discipline is a developmental path for acquiring certain skills or competencies. To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.
The Five Disciplines differ from more familiar management disciplines in that they are “personal” disciplines. Each has to do with how we think, what we truly want and how we interact with and learn with one another. In this sense, they are more like artistic disciplines than traditional management disciplines.