Organisational Learning

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It has been stated that a business derives value from knowledge, know-how, intellectual assets and competencies rather than ‘things’ and that these capabilities are vested within people (Hamel, 2005). Consequently, in order to create an enduring competitive advantage, a company must therefore focus on the retention and development of its organisational expertise (skills set, tacit and explicit knowledge, capabilities and core competences) and how to engage staff in the process (Porter, 2004; French, Rayner, Rees & Rumbles, 2008). Two contrasting learning philosophies appear to exist within organisations – a basic, predominantly instructional approach focussed on remedial action to correct errors or omissions; and a more comprehensive lifelong learning recognising the fundamental importance of employees to business therefore adopting a more developmental approach (viewing people as assets) (Beardwell & Thompson, 2014). Training is a planned and systematic way of improving an individual’s knowledge, skills and attitudes so that they can perform their current role more competently, whereas development is the process of preparing a person to take on more onerous responsibilities or equip them to face higher level, future challenges within the organisation (Malone, 2003: 76). Learning is the process that brings about a persistent change in behaviour through the acquisition of increased competence to deal successfully with the operating environment through the acquisition of knowledge, skills and required attitudes (French et al, 2008: 123). Whilst learning is focussed on the acquisition of the required skills and competences to perform effectively, this has to be linked to performance i.e. combining this essential learning with the motivation to engage in a manner that applies it in a way that delivers improved or enhanced results (Bratton & Gold, 2007). This learning (and its application) can take place at various levels within a company – such as on an individual or team/group basis – but the focus of this paper will be on organisational learning aspects (French et al, 2008).

Key Definitions and Concepts

Organisational learning can be viewed as the process by which a company can build a collective or shared knowledge base and the development of mechanisms to retrieve and disseminate this knowledge (Hora & Hunter, 2014). This is built upon the premise that as an organisation grows and adapts, it is able to generate/create a store of institutional knowledge that delivers a collective business benefit exceeding that which could be expected to be provided by employees operating individually (Hagen, 2010). As a company develops over time, the collective learning that takes place generates organisational knowledge – the shared intelligence specific to that company accumulated through both formal systems and the shared experiences of people in the organisation (Cole & Kelly, 2011; Johnson, Whittington & Scholes, 2011). Organisational learning therefore requires an entity capable of continual regeneration through the application of knowledge, experience and skills by creating a culture that encourages challenge and review (Johnson et al, 2011). The traditional, rigid, hierarchical structures that ensure the command and control of individuals are no longer conducive to competing in more dynamic environments or for generating organisational learning (Henry,

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