Municipality of Port Louis as a Learning Organisation

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In a world where knowledge has become a key success factor and the diffusion of knowledge within organization is becoming more important, especially with the advent of Information and Technology, it is essential to grasp a better control on the flow of information flowing through the organization. Recording, storing and spreading the whole body of knowledge is critical in order to be proactive rather than being reactive to change. The concept of Learning Organization come into play in order to have a clearer view of the organization and a better sharing of knowledge throughout the organization.

In the context of a local government which would be heavily relying on red tapes to perform the day to day running of the organization, to reach such thing as Learning Organization would requires a great deal of resources and possibly change of mindset if such thing was not present in the past. In Managing in a Time of Great Change, Peter Drucker advocates that: "Knowledge has become the key economic resource and the dominating - and perhaps the only - source of competitive advantage". (Frappaolo. C, 2002).

2.2 What is Learning Organization?

Peter Senge, considered the Father of Learning Organization (Dumaine, 1994), is the author of the book The Fifth Discipline. The concept of Learning Organization earns its popularity after the publication of this book. The Fifth Discipline covers the five concepts behind Learning Organization which are System Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Building Shared Vision and Team Learning (Senge, 1991).

Figure 2.1: Peter Senge's Five Disciplines

Learning Organization in itself is an ambiguous concept which can have slightly different signification from case to case. Rowden (2001) defines Learning Organization as a model of strategic change in which everyone is engaged in identifying and solving problems so that the organisation is continuously changing, experimenting and improving, thus increasing its capacity to grow and achieve its purpose. Furthermore, Learning Organisation is also about group of people dedicated to learning and improving faster (Dowd, 1999).

2.3 Organization Learning

The whole concept of Learning Organization focuses closely with improvement and changing, stagnating in an economy where the main competitive advantage is knowledge could be lethal to businesses. According to Nancy Dixon (1994), the essence of organizational learning is the organization's ability to use the amazing mental capacity of all its members to create the kind of processes that will improve its own.

Figure 2.2: Single-Loop and Double-Loop Learning

Argyris and Schon (1978) take a different approach with learning in line with the Learning Organization concept. They came up with the Single and Double Loop Learning concept. Single-loop learning asks a one-dimensional question to elicit a one-dimensional answer. Double-loop learning turns the question back on the questioner. It encourages people to take personal responsibility for their action and inaction, and reveals information that can produce real change. Double-loop learning is potentially far reaching and can lead to what has been term triple-loop learning, challenging the principles and assumptions of an organization, which requires an open if not robust exchange of views. Pessimists argue that bureaucracy and learning are mutually exclusive because bureaucracies all too often subjugate initiatives to their operating routines and mindsets, even though mindsets themselves must change for learning to occur. This argument, if it holds, underscores the importance of the evaluation function in bureaucracy.

2.4 Characteristics of a Leaning Organization

A Learning Organization has aspects which differ widely from a conventional organization. John Farago and David Skyrme (1995) research lead to a conclusion that there are 4 main characteristics of a Learning Organization, they are as follows:

Figure 2.3: 4 Characteristics of LO by John Farago and David Skyrme

Learning Culture - an organizational climate that nurtures learning. There is a strong similarity with those characteristics associated with innovation.

Processes - processes that encourage interaction across boundaries. These are infrastructure, development and management processes, as opposed to business operational processes (the typical focus of many Business Process Reengineering initiatives).

Tools and Technique - methods that aid individual and group learning, such as creativity and problem solving techniques.

Skill and Motivation - To learn and to adapt, motivates the people in the organization to learn even from their mistake, which in turn would lean to better skilled employees. Vinit Desai (2010) mention that organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them. Rather leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them.

Pedler, Burgoyne, Boydell (1991; p 26-27), with a particular stress on management aspect of functioning indicate eleven characteristics of a learning organization:

The learning approach to strategy.

2 Participative policy making.


Formative accounting and control.

5 Internal exchanges.

Reward flexibility.

Enabling structures.

Boundary workers as environmental scanners.

Inter-company learning.

Learning climate.

Self-development opportunities far all.

Neegaard (1994; p.60) revealed the similar characteristics with a special emphasis on the learning process itself: the ability to continuously transform/improve itself; existence of a learning culture and climate; existence of, and encouragement of, individual and organizational self-development; the occurrence of adaptive and generative learning (that is learning takes place on different levels); systematic change processes, "high" participation, "high" innovation; integration of learning and development in daily performance; clear visions of where the company wants to go; systematic use of learning processes.

2.5 Developing a Learning Organization

Various model can be use in order to develop a company into a learning organization. There is no universal ways to turn an organization into a learning one. Since each organization is unique, a unique approach should be taken for each one of them. In the context of a local government, more precisely, the Municipal Council of Port Louis; first a research should be undertaken to know how the organization works. The various ways to gather such information will be discussed in depth in the Research Methodology of this research.

The most popular model is, again, Peter Senge's 5 disciplines to a Learning Organization. If related to the Municipal Council of Port-Louis before any research have been undertaken besides observation, Senge's 5 disciplines could be implemented as follows:

- System Thinking. Making the organizational systems clearer and show how all parts are interrelated and how they affect each other. Making sure that the individual employee of the Municipality really knows how the organization works and where she/he fits in the organization.

- Personal Mastery. A level of proficiency where individuals become committed to their own lifelong learning due to continuous clarification, deepening of personal vision, focus of energy in developing patience and seeing reality objectively. Making them want to learn.

- Mental Models. Giving up the individual's assumption and generalization of the world and the action we take. Be open to others influence and ways of thinking. Letting others influence the individual allows better transfer of knowledge. Being more open minded rather than being stuck in bureaucracy within the council.

- Building Shared Vision. Making up a vision and have the commitment of the workforce, the leader should be able to translate his personal vision to shared vision where everyone will be driven by commitment instead of being driven by compliance and alienation to perform a job.

- Team Learning. Team learning is about learning in group; tackling problem by working collectively and share individual experience to the group through dialogue and suspending all assumption so that the team can think together.

Watkins and Marsick (1993) present another model which taps into different part of an organization in order to lead to a learning organization (a learning culture). They have look further into the Learning Organization concept to find some interrelation between the individual, team and organizational levels in a learning organization. In order for the Municipal Council of Port-Louis to gear towards a Learning Organization, the 7 main points advanced by them is:

- Continuous Learning: The point of continuous learning is not about learning from taking courses but, more importantly, learning to learn. Individual experience should be an opportunity to learn and problem solving should be seen as the latter.

- Inquiry and Dialogue: Encourage questioning and feedback especially from bottom to top, making it safe for people to share openly and take calculated risks.

- Team Learning: Team learning is the process of working collectively to achieve a common objective in a group. In the Learning Organization context, team tends to share knowledge and complement each other skills.

- Empowerment: Signifies an organization's process to create and share a collective vision and get feedback from its current members about the gap between the current status and the new vision.

- Embedded System: When the organization manage to get hold of all the information flowing within the company and make the information available to the individual of the company then the organization have successfully been able to create and embedded system where information in one department is easily shared and spread to other departments.

- System Connection: It's basically the process of connecting the organization's internal environment with its external environment. It reflects global thinking and actions to connect the latter.

- Strategic Leadership: When the leader of the organization start thinking strategically about how to use learning to create change and move the company in new direction or market then strategic leadership is achieved.

Those are merely 2 models which is widely use for Organizational Learning but each organization will fit it and customize it to their needs so that to be more efficient. Other models are use in conjunction so that to tap into different areas within the organization for example e-HR, culture and knowledge management which all takes an active part into building a Learning Organization.

2.6 Problem and Issues for a Learning Organization

Based on a study of attempts to reform the Swiss Postal Service, Matthias Finger and Silvia Bűrgin Brand (1999) provide with a useful listing of more important shortcomings of the Learning Organization concept. They conclude that it is not possible to transform a bureaucratic organization by learning initiatives alone. They believe that by referring to the notion of the learning organization it was possible to make change less threatening and more acceptable to participants. 'However, individual and collective learning which has undoubtedly taken place has not really been connected to organizational change and transformation' (ibid.: 146). Part of the issue, they suggest, is to do with the concept of the learning organization itself. They argue the following points. The concept of the learning organization:

Focuses mainly on the cultural dimension, and does not adequately take into account the other dimensions of an organization. To transform an organization it is necessary to attend to structures and the organization of work as well as the culture and processes. 'Focusing exclusively on training activities in order to foster learning… favors this purely cultural bias' (ibid.: 146).

Favors individual and collective learning processes at all levels of the organization, but does not connect them properly to the organization's strategic objectives. Popular models of organizational learning (such as Dixon 1994) assume such a link. It is, therefore, imperative, 'that the link between individual and collective learning and the organization's strategic objectives is made' (ibid.: 147). This shortcoming, Finger and Brand argue, makes a case for some form of measurement of organizational learning - so that it is possible to assess the extent to which such learning contributes or not towards strategic objectives.

Remains rather vague. The exact functions of organizational learning need to be more clearly defined. As mention earlier, the Learning Organization is a very ambiguous concept and differs from organization to organization.

Those are generally the main issues encountered during the process of assessing or transforming an organization in a learning one. As Dale (1994) mention, there is no right model for Learning Organization and there are no recipes for success.

2.7 Conclusion

This literature review is a framework for this research on the Municipal Council of Port Louis. The research will gear in a first instance to see whether there is a Learning Organization characteristics present at the Municipal Council of Port Louis and later on will analyze the said research to see how far the Municipality can either improve or whether it's possible for it to transform into a Learning Organization. The systems viewpoint is generally oriented toward the long-term view. That's why delays and feedback loops are so important. In the short term, you can often ignore them; they're inconsequential. They only come back to haunt you in the long term. (Senge1990: 92). A Learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continually transforms itself (M. Pedler, J. Burgoyne and Tom Boydell, 1998).


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Article name: Municipality of Port Louis as a Learning Organisation essay, research paper, dissertation