A Critical Review of Learning Organizations in the 21st Century

A Critical Review of Learning Organizations in the 21st Century

Victor C. X. Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-068-2.ch014
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This article critically reviews what constitutes a learning organization. The author argues that a learning organization is born out of a static organization. In determining whether organizations are learning organizations, components such as structure, atmosphere, management philosophy and attitudes, decision-making and policy-making, and communication must be considered. In addition, these components are discussed in comparison to the characteristics of static organizations. The theme of this article is such that in order for organizations to remain competitive in this global economy, organizational leaders must be flexible and people-centered. Successful organizational leaders should engage in the use of supportive power, involve high participation at all levels, and conduct multidirectional communication in order to turn static organizations into learning organizations.
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Organizations take many forms and sizes. A company comprised of five employees is an organization. A multi-national corporation comprised of several hundred employees is an organization. A small college is an organization, and a mega-university is an organization. A church is a religious organization. Even a whole country can be treated as an organization. As an organization, there must be rules and regulations. There must be leaders, managers, supervisors and above all employees, or followers or members. As an organization, there must be a hierarchy or chain of command. Otherwise, there may be chaos in any organizations. A society or a culture can also be an organization. People are the major players in any organizations. People in an organization make policies, rules, and regulations as to how people should contribute to a certain organization. There are organizations where people are takers from their organizations. There are organizations where people are basically contributors to their organizations.

People label organizations different names. Some organizations are labeled as learning organizations (the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment), and other organizations are labeled as static organizations (fixed practices, fixed size. Like static equations, these organizations have no variables -- time doesn't change them significantly). It is not that people enjoy doing this without following certain rules or criteria. Certain criteria do apply when people label their organizations. Organizations leaders do many things in order to push their organizations to a new height. Takers or contributors of organizations do have some common goals (even imposed upon them by their superiors), that is, organizations are supposed to add “value” to society. In Marx’s terms, humans are capable of producing “surplus value,” and it is this surplus value that helps human society make progress from one stage of development to another (Marx, 1929; Wang, 2006). Indeed, without the surplus value, humans would stay in the primitive state as a society.

In organizations, people receive education and training in order to be more productive citizens in society. Organizational leaders design training so that employees can be more educated. In this new century, people need more formal and informal education and training in order to work. In primitive society, people did not need education in order to work (Wang & King, 2008, 2009). Organized training can be traced back 6000 years ago when scribes received formal training in order to copy documentation from documentation. In order to remain competitive, learning organizations are committed to providing education and training to all employees.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Static Organizations: In general, static organizations refer to organizations that are not moving or changing in the right direction. In this article, static organizations refer to organizations that are rigid, task-oriented, controlled through coercive power without proper participation expected at all levels etc. Any decisions made in these organizations are considered final and communication is top-down. Many factors lead to static organizations. Confusion between management and leadership is a huge factor that leads to static organizations. Employee morale is another factor that leads to static organizations. The level of education of employees also contributes static organizations. When examining static organizations, it is always a good idea to approach them comprehensively. One single factor alone does not necessarily leads static organizations.

Learning Organizations: Learning organizations refer to innovative organizations that strive to transform themselves from static organizations to learning organizations. Anything that does not work for these organizations is bound to be changed in a timely manner. In this article, learning organizations are flexible, people-centered, operated through supportive power with high participation at all levels. Decisions are treated as hypotheses and their system is open. Communication is multidirectional. Above all, employees’ energy is released rather than suppressed. Learning organizations are full of learning facilitators instead of knowledge dictators. Leaders in learning organizations serve as resource persons, linking employees to learning resources. Leaders in learning organizations reward their employees in a fair and open manner. Leaders in learning organizations are creative leaders that strive to release the energy of their employees. They understand that power they hold need to be delegated rather than reinforced through coercion. Coercion is a technique mostly used by leaders who do not believe in the Y assumptions of human beings. Creative leaders in learning organizations have faith in pent up energy of human beings. Therefore, they utilize a facilitative approach to their leadership styles.

Ambiguity: This is the noun of the word ambiguous which means confusing, able to be understood in different ways.

EI: It describes the ability, capacity, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived grand ability to identify, assess, manage and control the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.

Dimension: It this article, it is used as a countable noun. Thus, it means a measurement of something in one direction.

Merging: It refers to the process of being combined or becoming combined. Organizations often merge into one in order not to waste resources. For example, recently K-Mart and Sears in the United States of America merged into one company where customers can use the same credit card issued by Sears to shop at both K-Mart and Sears. This kind of merging will facilitate their management at both Sears and K-Mart. Many universities and colleges in developing countries have merged into mega universities in order to better serve students.

Restructuring: It refers to the process of reorganizing an organization, often to make a work force smaller in order to be profitable in a global economy. Restructuring often occurs as a result of organizational leaders’ changing their management philosophies. Sometimes, organizations have to shut down in order to do restructuring. Leaders and employees in these organizations need to reflect upon their practices to find out where things have gone wrong. Often times, they find conflict between leadership and management. Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Management is about coping with complexity whereas leadership is about coping with change.

Downsizing: It refers to the process of making smaller, esp. a work force or business. In this article, it also refers to laying off employees. Although this may not be the best solution to existing problems in today’s organizations, this technique may help ease the shrinking operating budget of an organization. Employees are meant to produce surplus value. If they are unproductive for whatever reasons, their jobs should be terminated and handed over to those who can produce surplus value.

Hierarchical: This is the adjective form of the noun hierarchy which means an organization from higher to lower by rank, social status, or function. In this article, it also means that a static organization is too rigid. It adheres to a rigid chain of command.

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