Brewing Up A Learning Organization

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Reflective Blog 3

(An imaginary memo to the owner of a small but successful local brewery)

TO: John Whitney – President and Brewmeister, Whitney’s Gold Brewery

FROM: Adam Bernstein, Innovation Impact / Creativity Consultants

SUBJECT: Creativity & Innovation Initiative

John – It was a pleasure meeting with you last week and discussing a more intentional effort to integrate creative and innovative thinking into the internal culture of Whitney’s Gold Brewery. After reviewing your business plan and notes from our conversation, as well as interviewing several staff members, I have the following initial comments and recommendations.

Whitney’s Gold Brewery has achieved tremendous financial success and its personnel seem to be, by and large, satisfied and committed to their work. Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 3.05.35 PMHowever, as you contemplate the next phase of growth, including opening a second location and expanding your product line, it is vital that you endeavor to create a truly “learning organization.” This is an academic term made famous by a management theorist named Peter Senge, who studied systems theory to determine how complex organizations function effectively. Senge believed that to have such an organization, management must create an internal culture characterized by holistic collaboration, active participation and sharing in decision-making. For this process to be effective, all workers must be committed to learning and self reflection (“personal mastery”); a common vision and understanding of their respective roles in achieving it (“concertive control”); and team learning (Eisenberg, E., Goodall, H., Trethewey, A., 2014, p. 109).

I recommend the following three activities designed to help your company become a learning organization:

Broadening Our View – You have a great and highly competent staff in many ways, but their collective perspectives and insight are limited to their work functions. In other Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 7.20.34 PMwords, they may make the city’s best beer but your workers have a limited view of the broader business and social environment in which Whitney’s Gold operates. Another systems theorist, Karl Weick, called this an “enacted environment” and described it as potentially dangerous to an organization, since this scenario would leave you vulnerable to unseen or misunderstood developments. To combat the effects, I recommend getting a subscription to the local business journal for employees and adding a standing agenda item to weekly staff meetings where you discuss broader economic trends in the region (Eisenberg et al., 2014, p. 111).

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 3.12.08 PMSay “No” to Silos – Weick also examined why teams fail when facing adversity. (He wrote a very interesting case study about the Mann Gulch Fire Disaster in Montana in 1949, which you may find interesting.) One reason is a lack of personal connection among team members, something another theorist called “nondisclosive intimacy” (Weick, K. E., 1993). To overcome this problem requires thinking beyond explicit job functions and inspiring senses of mutual respect, trust, looser control over decision-making and strategic communications. I suggest creating cross-disciplinary teams within the brewery to address operational challenges. This would build teamwork and rapport by exposing workers in different areas to each other, showcasing respective talents and interests, and giving them a common challenge to attack together.

Personal Mastery – Another academic term coined by Senge, this means that each employee is committed to learning and self-reflection (Eisenberg et al., 2014, p. 109). I recommend that with my assistance, the company facilitates each employee reading “The Artist’s Way; A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron. This is an excellent resource for unleashing creative thought and expression.

My research on your behalf verifies that these three activities reflect the most current thinking about how to cultivate innovation within successful companies. Many experts recommend assertive and intentional efforts to communicate and achieve common vision, establish personal roles and accountabilities, and encouraging risk taking and Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 3.14.21 PMnontraditional ideas and actions (Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A., 2014, p. 14). As the leader of the company, you will play a key role in establishing credibility and instilling the confidence and support of your staff in this initiative. Following is great quote that I found from a recent journal article on the subject:

A good leader can do much to challenge and inspire creative work in progress. People are highly attuned to organization management’s engagement with and attitude toward an innovation project. Employees doing creative work are more motivated by managerial behaviour, even by seemingly little things like a sincere word of public recognition, than by financial rewards. Managers must decrease employees’ fear of failure that seems to rise with the scale of business. Any business that experiments vigorously will experience failure – which, when it happens, must be analyzed and dealt with to improve creative problem solving, team learning, and organizational performance (Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A., 2014, p. 62).

John, I am confident that this scope of work will help transform Whitney’s Gold into a learning organization that is poised to overcome challenges and seize opportunities ahead. Look forward to discussing next steps.

QUESTION: What are the reasons that an organization might deliberately choose NOT to become a “learning organization?”  Is this approach sustainable? What are the potential negative effects of becoming a learning organization? 

References:

Eisenberg, E.M., Goodall, H.L., Jr., & Trethewey, A. (2014). Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint (7th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. (ISBN: 978-1-4576-0192-7).

Pitra, Z., & Zauskova, A. (2014) Communication in Knowledge Transfer Management, Communication Today, 5(2), 50-65.

Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The mann gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly,38(4), 628. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/203920836?accountid=38688

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