An Experiential Approach To Organizational Learning

organizational learningHow data is presented to the chief executive is often more important than data itself. When employees are empowered to share what they know, then experience that those concerns matter, organizational change becomes easier to facilitate. And if employee problems are clearly visible to executives, eliminating those problems takes the form of opportunities for improving both people and process––leading to more engaged employees, satisfied customers, and greater stakeholder equity. Learning to see problems and value through the eyes of the customer rather than shareholders––with input from team members closest to value adding activity, is key to gathering this meaningful data.

This type of leadership approach differs substantially from Western culture, whose approach to leading is based largely upon manager’s and executive’s a priori explicit knowledge: Knowledge or justification independent of experience gained from the local value adding team member level. On the other hand, an a posteriori approach, gathers tacit knowledge through an Eastern culture experience––an experiential method to leadership, relating to or derived specifically by reasoning from observed and pragmatic facts.

By transforming organizational learning and leadership development from a priori to a posteriori, chief executives gain maximum visibility into real time opportunities for continuous improvement of people, process, and profitability.

“It won’t be easy to convince all team members to share their tacit knowledge.”

What To Do For Cultures In Need Of Improvement

It won’t be easy to convince all team members to share their tacit knowledge. In fact, if your culture is in crisis, you’ll experience resistance to this approach.  But rest assured, there are employees longing for the day when the boss values, listens, and acts upon employee’s daily work experiences. By taking advantage of employees who want to be heard, you set the tone for those who don’t.

One method used to capture team member’s a posteriori knowledge is through the use of an hourly data collection/charting program. Handwritten data, highlighting employee’s hourly problems occurring throughout their local stream of value transformation.

Here’s how to go about it:

Rather than trusting an Enterprise Resource Planning system, or waiting until a day, a week, or even a month has passed before employee problems become visible, have value adding team members begin documenting problems occurring each hour. Properly utilized, this system gives managers and leadership teams real time visual feedback into employee’s tacit knowledge surrounding issues creating barriers to operational, organizational, and employee’s professional excellence.

While this type of charting sounds daunting and time consuming, it isn’t. Especially when you consider the significant opportunities for improving people that aren’t highlighted on a company’s 10k or 10Q––where Western based, a priori knowledge, traditionally leads to masking problems and focusing on stakeholder equity, rather than value creation and innovation through the eyes of the customer.

It is a posteriori learning, that––once standardized in an organization through proper training and implementation, creates daily opportunities to engage employee’s curiosity and creativity. It is those experiential opportunities that continually improves company’s 10k’s and 10Q’s. Using real problems, impacting real team members from the value transformation level, up to and beyond the C-Suite.

Hour by hour charts are highly visible, and easily enable team members to keep track of issues that interfere with strategic objectives. Enabling chief executives to visit and see problems for themselves. Especially those impeding employee’s abilities to perform at a continually optimized level. The more visible the problems, the easier it will be for executives and local managers to understand value streams while observing actual problems first hand.

The Importance Of “Doing Leadership” Rather Than “Telling Leadership”

As the new habit for problem documentation takes root, so must doing activities that optimize employee curiosity, creativity, and explicit knowledge to solve those problems. Failure to do so is the transformational equivalent of taking three steps forward then four steps back.

While hour by hour charts are documented by those closest to the value adding activity, supervisors must gather that data to make it even more visible. This requires a location be identified where all data collected from streams of value is visible to everyone. This “war room” of sorts, is where data is collected, stored, analyzed, and separated into the businesses’ most common problems. Within the war room, employees and leaders also learn how to use tools such as a Pareto analysis to aggregate problems according to those which show up most often.

Here are the logistics required:

  • Secure the hour by hour charts. There are very effective charts available online at no cost.
  • Learn how to use these charts effectively. If there is no one within the organization who understands how and why they exist, find someone outside to help. Too many times managers educated in Western cultures use hour by hour charts as tools to measure production rather than identify opportunities to improve people. Measuring productivity is not the primary purpose of hour by hour charting. Creating a culture where employee’s voices are heard, is.
  • Initially, choose a simple value stream to learn how hour by hour data collection systems work, then run a test for a few weeks, preferably at least three. Habits often are formed between the twenty first and thirtieth day of constant, repetitive behavioral change. Become an enthusiastic coach during this time frame, a champion of the improvement process. Show employees you mean what you say; coach them and let them learn how to fix problems and become good leaders themselves, rather than telling them how to do so.
  • After a few weeks, gather the team together to find out what worked against plan, what didn’t, and what needs improvement.

Costs are not causes; costs come from causes. Hour by hour charting helps executives identify real causes that drive costs up and people down and out. Strong leadership requires good problem-solving skills, but also a strong understanding that the human pursuit of that which we don’t know, makes life meaningful and fun. Using employee’s tacit knowledge is another tool for the chief executive to do just that.

Colin D. Baird
Colin D. Baird is an operational turn-around and leadership consultant and the Managing Partner of Five Why Leaders. An organization that provides service to companies in crisis. He is also a consultant to TBM Consulting Group, a global leader in operational excellence with management consultants on four continents. Colin can be reached at colin@5whyleaders.com.

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