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MODULE 8 - Learning Organization

Creating a World-Class Total Learning Organization

James A. F. Stoner

A friend of mine was a student 25 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city where students in her field frequently cross-registered for courses in two excel- lent universities. She recounts, with considerable relish, an observation one of her fellow students a teaching assistant -made. It went roughly as follows: "I've noted that in the courses at your school, the prof starts by telling us what isn't known in the field, and then builds the course around it. In my school, we would never teach anything unless we were absolutely sure it was true."

As I read the rich collection of chapters in the preceding pages, that university story kept recurring to me. A quarter century ago, my friend recognized that there was something very special about her school. Part of that specialness I think resembles what we now call the nature of learning organizations. The specialness that she and the authors of the chapters in this volume describe seems very precious and very important. The question we have now is how can we nurture it? And we ask that question even as we continue to grope with what "it" really is.

This chapter discusses three topics: (1) a potentially useful way of looking at managing for organizational learning, (2) what top managers can do to promote more effective learning, and (3) what the rest of us in those organizations can do.

The discussion of the first topic suggests that it may be useful to look at world-class learning organizations as the next step in the evolution of effective management systems. The second topic builds on this evolutionary perspective, suggesting three things top level managers can do to contribute to moving their organizations toward world-class learning. In the discussion of the third topic, three things other organizational members can do are suggested. For top managers and for the rest of us, the three items will relate to personal learning, control, and change.

At the end of the chapter a few afterthoughts deal with humility in the midst of paradigm change and the possibility of transforming the nature or organizational leadership. An addendum essay on learning from the quality revolution is also attached.

Samurai pathfinders

"My view is that managers face a learning challenge much like the leadership challenge discussed by Kouzas and Posner. Are managers forever condemned to undercut mindlessly their own future success by sticking with the ways they have viewed the world and managed in the past rather than to change themselves in any meaningful way?"

One warning about the actions suggested here for top managers and for others: rather than suggesting relatively minor incremental changes, core fundamental shifts are sought in thinking and acting that could make a lasting difference to the organization. These actions will also change the managers themselves and such actions that help us to change ourselves are among the boldest actions any of us can take.

The actions will require considerable courage. We will ask individuals to plunge whole-heartedly into nontraditional roles, new activities, and new ventures -setting examples for others to follow. Combining the stereotype of Samurai warriors as individuals fully and boldly committed to a course of action with Hal Leavitt's concept of corporate path finding finding the right questions to ask and finding the right directions in which to lead -ways will be suggested in which individuals can be "Samurai pathfinders."3Although the risk to the organization of each of these actions may be trivial, the risk to some individuals' self-images may be great.

Leading and contributing to the emerging learning revolution will require considerable unlearning of some previously useful skills and perspectives. The need for unlearning may be much more unsettling than the widely recognized needs for new learning. Being skillful at learning doesn't necessarily mean that one possesses the same level of acumen in replacing worn ideas with more appropriate ones.

Is this "deja vu allover again?"

The deja vu quotation is, of course, from Yogi Berra, baseball hall-of-famer, pundit, and innovative linguist of considerable repute. The question is, how- ever, very serious, and it is likely to be asked repeatedly: "Is our current interest in learning organizations still one more management fad or is it pointing toward something more enduring?"

Rather than being merely a fad, the pursuit of world-class organizational learning capabilities may well be one more step in an evolutionary process of increasing organizational competence and awareness. If that is so, achieving this world-class learning status may well be the most important goal, or strategic priority, of all organizations. Contributing to that goal may, likewise, be the single most important priority for all organizational members.

World-Class Learning as the Next Step in Organizational Effectiveness

Perhaps the most widely quoted short prognosis on the importance of becoming a learning organization comes from Arie de Geus of Shell Oil it now appears in various forms in textbooks, as well as in two chapters of this volume: "The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."

The popularity of the quotation suggests that it conveys something more than catchiness. It captures an opportunity and a warning the exhilarating opportunity for any organization to become and to continue to be a leader in its field, and the dark warning that failure to achieve revolutionary rates of learning will doom even the currently most successful organizations.

The chapters of this book suggest that becoming a truly effective ("world- class") learning organization requires a major management paradigm shift from the traditional Tayloristic command-and-control management systems that are still the most frequent form of managing in most industries around the world. The chapters also suggest close linkages between the organizational changes that are visible as the global quality revolution has unfolded and changes that are starting to become visible as a global learning revolution begins to become apparent. Becoming a world-class learning organization (wclo) may be a continuation and extension of a progressively better understood path toward increasing organizational effectiveness.

From traditional management to dynamic world-class learning organizations

Becoming a world-class learning organization represents both a paradigm shift from the command-and-control management paradigm and a continuation of a continually evolving quality management paradigm ("dynamic tqm").

From TM to pqm The triangle on its base is labeled TM for the "traditional management" paradigm. The triangle represents the well- established pyramidal shaped command-and-control management system consistent in large part with the writings of Henri Fayol, Frederick W. Taylor, Max Weber, and many others. We are all familiar with such organizations because we have worked in some form of them for virtually our entire working lives.

The next two shapes to the right, that looks like a looping arrow leading to an inverted Frisbee, represent the early stages of the evolving quality management paradigm. The "pqm" label on the inverted Frisbee suggests a static snapshot of the dynamic tqm management technology, as it exists at a given moment in time. We use the term pqm (partial quality management) in place of the widely used term TQM (Total Quality Management) for two reasons. One is to emphasize that virtually no organization has fully absorbed all the capabilities for excellence contained in the evolving dynamic tqm management technology no one is doing total quality management; they are, at best, doing partial quality management. The other is to avoid the controversy and confusion that have arisen about the "T phrase." TQM has so many widely varying definitions that use of the term has become a barrier to effective communication.

The shape of the Frisbee suggests an inverting and flattening of the traditional management pyramid. The inverting of the pyramid in the figure suggests. Two of the many tqm changes: rethinking the nature of the organization to put the customer (rather than top management) on top and rethinking the nature of managing so that managers are on the bottom of the organization, "supporting" the workers above who, in turn, serve the customers on top. The flattening of the pyramid represents the de-layering of the organization, reducing levels of managers in the chain of command and empowering individuals to take more initiative.

The looping arrow represents both the turning of the organization upside down to put customers on the top and the transformation of a great many other things within the organization. (Readers who are fans of the artist E. C. Escher might like to replace the looping black arrow, in their minds, with a thicker coiling cylinder containing Escher-type white fishes swimming to the right blending into black birds flying to the left. Such a version would represent transformation more graphically than the black arrow does.

  • Dynamic tqm Further to the right, the first dash-lined arrow suggests continuing evolution and the ameba shape represents the quality management paradigm as it continues to evolve. Together the dashed-line arrow and the ameba represent the continuing evolution of tqm "dynamic tqm." The ameba shape is used to suggest an organization that has reduced the boundaries that separate it from the Outside environment, re-integrating itself with customers, suppliers, other stakeholders, and the communities in which it operates.

  • From dynamic tqm to dynamic wclo Finally, the last dashed-line arrow heading off to the upper right represents the continued evolution of management technology toward a world-class learning organization.

Defining a world-class learning organization

In an article entitled "Building a learning organization," David Garvin has offered a definition of a learning organization, which is modified here to define a world-class learning organization! The modified definition is:

A world class learning organization is an organization that achieves revolutionary rates of learning and performance improvement by becoming exceptionally skilled at creating acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavi6r to reflect new knowledge and insights.

The world-class learning organization may turn out to be best interpreted as the natural continuation of the evolution of the dynamic tqm management technology or it may more usefully be interpreted as a new paradigm. Either way, it will certainly represent a major change from the traditional management paradigm as we have come to know that paradigm in the last 100 years.

The number one corporate and individual priority

If becoming a world-class learning organization is a viable goal, then it becomes r the most important strategic task facing virtually all organizations. The chapters in this volume support the view that progress is being made in learning how to become a more effective learning organization that it is starting to become possible to identify candidates for the world-class learning organization designation, and that it may be possible to start talking about defining the technology of world-class learning.8

The previous chapters also support the view that, for most organizations, becoming a world-class learning organization will involve, at the very least, a complete shift of the dominant management paradigms of the people managing those organizations. A shift in management paradigm is the most fundamental shift any manager or organization can experience it is far more impactful than changes in market-focus, turnover of top management, financial stringency, or even change in dominant production technologies. It is likely to involve heart-wrenching changes or heart-mending ones or both.

If becoming a world-class learning organization is the organization's first priority, it must also be the first priority of top management and of all organizational members. The change is so great, the methods to get there are so little understood, add the avenues currently apparent rely so heavily on exploration, inquiry, risk-taking, innovation, multiple initiatives, and acceptance of errors, that pursuit of revolutionary rates of learning will require the commitment and involvement of all organizational members, not just a few top-level leaders. Leadership will need to come from the top and also from everywhere in the organization.

Leading From the Top

Having observed a great many companies in action, I am unable to point to a single instance in which stunning results were achieved without the active and personal leadership of upper managers.

This quotation is from Joseph M. Juran, recognized as one of the two major American quality leaders of the 20th century. The stunning results he is referring to are order of magnitude improvements in defects, cycle-time, and cost combined with parallel increases in customer satisfaction, sales revenues, and profitability. Of all the lessons learned from the global quality revolution, probably the one most universally agreed upon is the importance of top-level leadership.

If there is to be a learning revolution yielding revolutionary rates of learning parallel to the rates of quality improvement that are coming from the quality revolution, similar types of top management leadership will almost certainly be necessary. (I will return to the word "almost" under the heading: "An Afterthought on Leadership").

To become quality leaders of the type Juran acknowledges, managers with a history of success in the traditional management paradigm had to make dramatic changes in the ways they viewed the world and how they managed. They had not only to learn many new things, they also had to unlearn some of the most critical perspectives and skills that had gotten them to "the top."

Three key areas of change for top-level managers that will be important for the learning revolution relate to top managers personal learning, their relation- ship to power and control, and their relationship to organizational change. Managers who will enable their organizations to achieve revolutionary rates of learning will need to achieve significant personal growth in each of these areas. In each case, the habits and perspectives that yielded success in traditional management systems are likely to be at least partially a barrier to providing leadership for world-class learning.

Becoming a student again: learning the lessons of the quality revolution

The traditional management paradigm has long assumed that at each successively higher level of the organizational hierarchy knowledge and wisdom in- creases. This stereotype clearly contains important elements of truth. When promotions are well handled, especially capable and wise individuals move toward the top. The top offers a breadth of vision and a confluence of information streams that allow upper managers to see and assess relationships and connections that individuals buried more deeply in the bowels of the organization may not perceive. And the greater years of experience represented in upper management may lead to more wisdom and better perspectives.

However, the exalted status of upper managers has always led to dangers that they will think they know more than they do and that people around them (with the possible exception of their spouses) will support them in such beliefs. In the transition between paradigms, when we come to believe that much of what we used to "know" is no longer true, the accumulated knowledge and wisdom may be more of a barrier to success than an advantage. Rather than utilizing their knowledge, skills, and wisdom to be teachers, supervisors, coaches, and mentors, top managers may need to adopt the mindset of being "students" once again. Bob Galvin, retired Chairman and CEO of Motorola, provided an excel- lent example how this could be done in the late 1970S and 1980s as Motorola was embarking on its quality journey.

To set the example, he began to admit openly "he did not know what he did not know," and began asking, "what do you think other people know that I don't know." Active questioning led Motorola executives to the concepts of humility and listening humility in the sense that they were willing to admit that. They did not know or have all the answers, listening in the sense that they were willing to hear how others did similar tasks in the search for the most efficient and effective way."

Managers who choose to become students once again, as Bob Galvin did, can combine their traditional leadership role with the nontraditional learning role by becoming co-inquirers with all other organizational members. Galvin became a key learning leader in an inquiry that started with the question "How can we become more competitive?" In many respects that question has not changed at Motorola, and the inquiry has continued to reveal a steady progression of powerful and sophisticated approaches to achieving organizational excellence.

In the article noted earlier, David Garvin has demonstrated how effectively lessons learned from the quality revolution can be applied to the pursuit of world-class learning by describing five building blocks of effective learning organizations. He describes the five building blocks as systematic problem solving, experimenting with new approaches (which is motivated more by opportunities and expanding horizons versus the current difficulties that stimulate problem-solving activities), "learning from their own experience and past history, learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization."12 He illustrates each building block with numerous examples from companies that are recognized quality leaders.

The addendum at the end of this chapter summarizing some of these lessons serves as a guide for top managers who are ready to become students once again and want to start with a continuing inquiry into the lessons learned from the quality revolution.

Two processes of change

As valuable as it may be to find and apply the lessons learned from the quality revolution to guide the learning revolution, there may be an even more useful way to take advantage of the experiences arising from the quality revolution. That would be to explore the similarities and differences between the continuing quality revolution and the emerging learning revolution -in essence, an inquiry into the two processes of change. From this perspective, managers would be continually looking at how learning organizations are evolving and comparing the phenomena they observe against the way quality driven organizations have evolved in the past and continue to evolve. In addition to conducting the inquiry at the level of organizational comparisons, it may also be useful to explore the value of looking at world-class learning as a technology of managing. In this perspective the inquiry would examine the ways in which the learning technology of the learning organization is evolving. 'The notion of pairing total quality and organizational learning is not new. Following on the path trod by masters such as Robert Pifsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Ronnie Lessem has introduced the concept of Total Quality Learning. According to Lessem, the Japanese have been successful in creating their own version of learning organizations by drawing on their cultural, spiritual, and philosophical traditions. He notes:

By contrast, we in the West, drawing upon our Judeo-Christian and Greek traditions need to create learning organizations in which self-knowledge, self-realization, and the progressive individuation of our institutions become our own hallmark. In such learning organizations, we shall ultimately find, quality will be born out of nothing less than a holographic form of integration between the different "learning fields" in which we work, between total learning and quality management.


Freeing people to rediscover themselves and quality in their work is not always a simple matter in organizations where the unspoken messages about power and control linger in the air, despite whatever rhetoric may be offered up by top management.

Rethinking control: empowering the board to monitor top management

Power and control are key issues for effective performance in the traditional management paradigm. Successful Managers have frequently been masters at building power, maintaining tight control, and playing organizational politics. The fear of losing traditional forms of power and of losing control have been two of the greatest barriers to achieving effective transitions from traditional management practices to quality-based ones. They are certain to represent continuing barriers in subsequent steps toward world-class learning organizations.

Empowering organizational members has been one of the keys to success in the quality revolution. It may not have come easily for top managers to "give up control" but many have done so. And in doing so they have often discovered new ways to look at control and some have come to believe they have far greater control in the tqm paradigm than they ever did in the traditional management one.

Top managers can contribute toward more effective organizational learning by continuing along this path of empowering organizational members below them in the traditional hierarchy, but Samurai pathfinding will require greater boldness. That boldness could take the form of empowering the board of directors to provide leadership in the learning revolution. One way to do so would be to re-negotiate the contract between the board and top management in a form that makes top management responsible for achieving organizational learning and the board responsible for monitoring top management's performance in doing so.

A tradition of lack of leadership by corporate boards Joseph Juran refers to top-level leadership as a critical element for achieving revolutionary rates of quality improvement. However, this does not actually refer to the very top of the organizational pyramid -the-board of directors. It refers to the level just below the board -the CEO and other top managers. Boards have virtually all been "no-shows" at the most important organizational event of the century -the adoption of the quality management technology necessary for corporate survival. Without Samurai pathfinders in this realm, boards of directors are almost certain to repeat that performance for the learning revolution.

Top-level managers have long been adept at selecting, co-opting, and con- trolling boards of directors to a point where boards virtually never dominate the top-level managers in a manner similar to the way ever}' other hierarchical level dominates the level below. Such domination would probably be undesirable, but the disempowerment of boards by top-level managers goes so far that most boards rarely influence top management strongly. The major exceptions tend to occur when prolonged management failure has become so damaging and visible that even the most obtuse boards are forced to act -out of public embarrassment and fear of legal liability. In the US, the recent case of Morrison & Knudsen Corporation's CEO William Agee and its board of directors is a prime example of top management's ability to manipulate boards.

Murray Weidenbaum has summarized three major criticisms of the performances of corporate boards of directors: (1) boards routinely provide "ceremonial rubber-stamping of the views of management," (2) "the board's deliberations are dominated by the CEO, who typically also serves as chairman," and (3) boards "are plagued with conflicts of interest."

Although the "root cause" of the ineffectiveness of most boards is surely the success of CEOs in controlling selection, reward, and retention of board members, a contributing factor -not emphasized by Weidenbaum is the lack of clear, limited, and achievable priorities for the board. As just one example there is wide disagreement about the basic constituency of boards of directors. Does the board owe its allegiance exclusively to the shareholders, as Weidenbaum and many others seem to believe? Or, is the board responsible to a much broader constituency of stakeholders (as both Lee Preston and Robert Golembiewski argue).

In a time of rapid global competitive changes, the very survival of even the most historically successful organizations is now a matter of critical concern for boards of directors and the top managers the boards theoretically "oversee." W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and many others have argued that the type of shift of the dominant management paradigm discussed earlier is a key driving force in this global quality revolution. Their intuition seems to be correct, and it offers a compelling argument for using this new understanding of learning organizations to create a framework to guide the survival for virtually all organizations. With organizational survival at stake, we can now suggest a set of standards against which corporate board performance can and should be judged. Ironically, it is the board's "subordinates" (top management) that hold the key to teaching the board what its core obligations are and for re-negotiating the board's contract to make it responsible for meeting those obligations. And ironically, doing so will require top management to give up the power over the board it has worked so hard to gain.

The board of directors' key obligations The three most important obligations' of boards of directors for at least the beginning of the 21st century should be:

1 to ensure that the organization adopts the world-class quality management technology required to achieve and sustain global competitiveness,

2 to ensure that the company's chief executive officer and chief operating Officer possess the management skills and styles to make that management technology work, and

3 to ensure that the organization begins and pursues the inquiry into the nature of world- class learning organizations and the skills and styles of managing appropriate for leading and sustaining them,

As progress on the third obligation is achieved, the fourth obligation should emerge naturally:

4 to ensure the adoption of the learning organization philosophy as a whole, of learning organization elements as they become understood, and of the top-level management skills and styles required to support effective organizational learning.

To set the groundwork for the fourth obligation, each of the first three obligations requires considerable learning by the board, but the board's performance in pursuing and achieving them can be assessed. For example, on obligation I, models of world-class organizational systems and processes, like the Baldrige A ward criteria, are becoming widely recognized as providing useful templates for excellence, and are being used to monitor improvement. A recent survey reported by Karen Bemowski and Brad Stratton describes ways in which improvement efforts in thousands of companies are being guided by close to a million copies of the Baldrige application that have been distributed to companies since the founding of the award.

On obligation 2, the skills, knowledge, and wisdom that support revolution- ary rates of quality improvement have been modeled by many managers in a wide variety of industries and countries. Besides Robert Galvin of Motorola, the blending of styles of .managing for quality and learning is evident in the work of Winston Chen and Ko Nishimura of Solectron in the electronics industry, Don Petersen of Ford in the automobile industry, and David Lawrence of Kaiser Permanente in health care. In Japan there are many examples of such leadership including Konosuke Matsushita of Matsushita Electric Company in electronics. European examples include Jan Carlzon of SAS in transportation services.

The chapters in this volume contain many ideas for guiding boards in developing criteria appropriate for monitoring the performance of top management on obligations 3 and 4. However, once again, the greatest payoff will very likely come from asking the questions rather than finding the answers. The board can play its greatest monitoring role by becoming co-inquirers with top management, rather than in becoming top-level cops.

Kicking the quick fix habit: learning to dance with , implementation and inquiry

When the CEO of Alcoa was asked at the Juran Impro Conference, in 1990, what was the hardest part of the quality transformation for himself and the other top managers in his company, he replied without hesitation that it was to stop doing j what they had done so successfully in the past -that is, that which had enabled them to reach the top of the organization. He and his colleagues had to learn to take the time to understand the organization's problems, to gather appropriate data, and to get to root causes, so that solutions would actually have a chance of yielding sustained improvement and not merely cure symptoms for a short time.

They had to abandon skills honed over decades that enabled them to size up complex problems quickly and then to take bold, decisive actions. They had to abandon that apparent boldness and decisiveness that got them to the top and for which they were handsomely paid.

The traditional management paradigm has long exalted exactly the type of leadership that the CEO of Alcoa, and many others, have concluded contributes more to the problems of declining competitiveness than it offers as part of a solution. Abandoning this traditional managerial style and reframing top managers contribution to emphasize building organizational transformation on organizational learning, rather than on quick fixes, will require much bolder, decisive leadership in a new realm -the realm of learning to do the dance between inquiry and implementation.

Dancing with inquiry and implementation The well-established management practice of "solving problems" with "programs" that are "implemented" has made it easy to forget that learning is a continuing dance with inquiry and implementation. Because of the natural tendency to develop programs to capture what has been learned, and the demand for programs both from buyers and sellers, it is likely that the search for the secrets of effective learning organizations will yield many total learning organization programs. As top managers find themselves implementing total learning organization programs, rather than engaging in a continuing process of inquiry, they will need to keep returning to the dance between inquiry and implementation.

Leading from Everywhere

Just as war is too important to leave to the generals, organizational learning is too important to leave to the top managers. Each of the three Samurai pathfinding steps that top leaders can initiate are also available, to some extent or in some form, to the rest of an organization's members. Other organizational members can and should also become students once again learning the lessons of the quality revolution, with appropriate adaptations, to achieve revolutionary rates of organizational learning. They should rethink control and support the empowering of the board to monitor top management's performance in pursuing these revolutionary rates of quality improvement, and of organizational learning. They should also kick the quick fix habit, and doing so will probably be easier for them than it will be for top managers.

Supporting and contributing to top management's Samurai goals will not be as bold for people below the top as leading the pursuit will be for those at the top. If that is the case, what would be comparable Samurai pathfinder goals for the rest of us? Three possibilities in the same areas of personal learning, control, and change are:

1 Creating responsibility for finding and capitalizing on opportunities developing the skill of appreciation,

2 Creating responsibility for leading upwards: "just starting," and

3 Creating responsibility for leading change: pioneering co-creation.

The term "creating responsibility for" is used in each of the three Samurai goals to provide a salient, and perhaps painful, reminder of just how big a change' in thought and action is being suggested. One of the major lessons the traditional management paradigm has taught over and over again, with enormous success, is that almost everyone in organizations is powerless. For many years, people have been expected not to know more than their bosses, not to teach their leaders, and not to take initiative on their own, and $0 bosses frequently encounter "resistance" when they change the rules and expect "subordinates" to be- come empowered when they tell them to be.

Creating responsibly for finding and capitalizing on opportunities developing the skill of appreciation

One of the striking changes in the shift from the traditional command-and- control paradigm to the modern quality management one has been a shift in tone. The problem-oriented, right/wrong and somewhat negative tone of traditional approaches, like management by exception, is being replaced. In its place a more opportunity-oriented, "nothing-is-right-or-wrong: there-are-just- results-to-be-learned-from," positive tone appears in the language and actions of dynamic tqm. This shift in tone is likely to be as useful and valuable in the pursuit of world-class learning as it has been in the pursuit of world-class quality. While the skills and attitudes of criticism are appropriate for the tone of traditional management practices, the skills and attitudes of appreciation are likely to be more appropriate for world-class learning. Many of the tools and much of the philosophy of Quality management are positive, optimistic, and opportunity finding in tone, and are thus well-suited for supporting organizational learning.

A particularly promising approach to integrate positive inquiry with organizational learning is known as "appreciative inquiry." As David L. Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva write: "The appreciative mode awakens the desire to create and discover new social possibilities that can enrich our existence and give it meaning. In this sense appreciative inquiry seeks an imaginative and fresh perception of organizations as 'ordinary magic,' as if seen for the first "time or perhaps for the last time."

Taking leadership in finding new, positively based methods of individual and organizational learning contains an element of boldness and offers a chance to make a difference in how organizations learn.

Creating responsibility for leading upwards: "just starting"

Leading upwards -"just starting" to make changes to improve quality and Organizational learning in the absence of top-level commitment and leadership - may require more boldness for other members of the organization than empowering the board will require for top management. Although leading upwards may not fit the stereotype of how traditional organizations are managed, the quality revolution would probably not yet have started if many individuals who are well below the top had not done just what Dr Deming recommended they "just started" ...long before top management got the idea. The proposal that people should start the learning revolution within the company, whether or not top management is ready, by leading top management to discover its obligations in this realm, is intended to parallel the suggestion about empowering boards of directors. Although it is similar to the suggestion to empower the board, it is probably more bold than that suggestion.

The opposite may at first seem to be true. When top managers have worked so long and hard to disempower boards of directors, intentionally empowering those same boards may seem like a wildly bold suggestion, or even an insane one. The argument that empowering the board may be less outrageous than leading the quality and learning revolutions from within the company stems from an understanding of time horizons. If CEOs actually choose to rewrite their con- tracts with their board in terms that commit them to deliver first-class performance as quality and learning leaders, the concept will be very innovative, but the implementation will be very safe for most CEOs. With the tenure of most CEOs running in the range of from three to six years, most Samurai-pathfinder CEOs will probably be retired by the time the, board has really learned to do its new job, and has learned how to do an effective job of judging the CEO's performance. It is the successor CEOs who will have to dance to the tune of this new piper who plays the tune of the learning organization.

Creating responsibility for leading change pioneering co-creation

It is very early in the learning revolution to guess how we will actually move toward becoming world-class learning organizations. What will be the steps in the inquiry-implementation dance? What music will we dance to? Pragmatically, the answers will most certainly emerge from discoveries made throughout organizations, rather than by top management fiat. Over time, we will learn how to become better learning organizations by improving our learning rather than by making the "right" initial decisions, developing the "right" sets of programs, and implementing them successfully.

One of the ways of exploring how to learn that can be pioneered by people not at the top of the organization can be called "cocreation" the shared exploration and creation of new organizational possibilities. The appreciative inquiry approach described in the addendum is one type of co-creation. Another has been described by George Land and Beth Jarman.19 Noting that: "The way every growing organism makes broader, deeper, and more inter-penetrating connections has been shown to be nature's most powerful method of moving beyond a breakpoint," they describe a set of seven principles that fits well with the, positive tone of appreciative inquiry. Their seven principles are:

· See the potentials and possibilities in everyone

· Offer mutual support

· Extend equality to all people

· Bring about the circumstances in which everyone can win

· Recognize that whatever you focus on expands

· Eliminate judgments

· Trust and love one another

Exploring approaches like these are far from traditional in our present organizations. The words and phrases have a "touchy-feely" tone that is potentially threatening in most organizations -very different from "the way we do things here." Exploring these and other nontraditional approaches to change and transformation requires much more courage than purchasing a well- packaged program for promoting organizational change that is built upon a collection of familiar tried-and-true techniques, and is phrased in a familiar and comfortable vocabulary.

An Afterthought on Leadership

Although at present there is little reason to doubt that top-level leadership will be as necessary for achieving world-class learning as it has been for achieving world-class quality, one caution may be in order. That caution relates to the changes in organizational processes that the quality revolution is creating and that the learning revolution will very likely extend. If we are in the midst of one or even two paradigm shifts, we simply do not know what leadership, organizational structure, and organizational power will look like when the quality and learning revolutions have run their courses. Although it is not yet clear, it is entirely possible that the natural evolution of self-organizing learning processes will significantly modify the dominance of the top over the rest of the organization. The internal organizational changes that are both contributing to and being stimulated by -the quality revolution may be assuming a life of their own. They may eventually lead to a quantum leap in the natural process of evolution toward world-class learning capabilities with or without top-level leadership and commitment. Like the leader of the Paris mob during the French Revolution, someday top management may need to run ahead to get in front of the mob as it moves in the direction it has already chosen or be left behind as the crowd moves forward on its own.

Learning from the Global Quality Revolution

The quality revolution has generated sufficient evidence of the causes of quality to enable some enlightened speculation about which managerial practices work and which do not. These "lessons learned" from the quality revolution may serve as useful guideposts for the heroic leaders who are "out front" in the emerging learning revolution. A few of these possible lessons are suggested below -in terms of positive actions to take and in terms of errors to avoid.

In the 1991 article cited earlier, Joseph Juran discussed how the early winners of the Baldrige Award for quality achieved their successes and drew eight lessons from them "and from the experiences of 20 or 30 other companies that have achieved similar results but did not receive the award."

The lessons were:

  • Stretch goals: Stretch goals needed to be set and achieved, such as order of magnitude reductions in defects and of cycle time.

  • Big Q; The concept of Big Q had to be adopted -with "product" meaning services as well as goods, "processes" meaning business processes as well as production processes, and "customer" meaning "all who are affected, internally and externally."

  • Process ownership: "Clear ownership of multi functional process must be assigned." Infrastructure for improvement: "An infrastructure for improvement must be created."

  • Dedicated work: "A lot of work is required."

  • Top management leadership: "Upper managers must personally lead the effort,"

  • New management system: "The Taylor system must be replaced."

  • Integrating quality and business planning: "Quality goals must be incorporated into the business plan."

Juran also noted that successful companies used competitive benchmarking effectively, "implemented improvement processes at a revolutionary pace," "provided extensive training," "used employee involvement to an unprecedented degree," publicly acknowledged contributions of individuals and teams, and made quality improvement a regular part of everyone's job.

In an article a year later, Blanton Godfrey (a close associate of Juran's), Don Berwick, and Jane Roessner summarized ten lessons from the emerging quality revolution in the health care field. Nine of the lessons they listed seem to apply equally well to achieving revolutionary rates of quality improvement in all industries}. These are summarized below. (The tenth is unique to health care: "The involvement of physicians is extremely important."

1 Committed leadership investment is the sine qua non of effective TQM: Almost all leading experts agree that effective quality management 'begins at the top' (or, at the very least, is 'owned by the top' soon after it begins.)

2 Several bottlenecks hamper TQM: Insufficient facilitation, insufficient board involvement, rapid turnover of staff and executives, mergers and restructuring, excessive word-crafting of statements of mission or guiding principles.

3 It's easier to begin than to keep going: A common trajectory is: the CEO gets interested, decides to commit resources, including financial, to the effort; appoints a manager in charge of quality and promptly becomes distracted by the myriad pressing issues of personnel, the annual business cycle, budget shortfalls, and the like.

4 Structure is critical if TQM is going to work: Elements common across successful organizations include quality councils; a quality director; a strategic quality planning process; trained facilitators; a process of nominating, selecting, and supporting quality projects; and an information and analysis system that contains customer satisfaction information, and internal quality and efficiency measurements.

5 Quality management is much more than quality improvement projects: Total quality management "involves a fundamental change in business strategy and management culture -one, and only one, element of which is quality improvement projects."

6 Training alone is not enough: "Training -like quality improvement projects, and like benchmarking -is a critical element of total quality management; but the part should not be mistaken for the whole."

7 Measurement drives TQM progress: "Often just the very act of measuring something causes blinding flashes of the obvious and almost instant improvements."

8 (Health care) projects save money: "Repeatedly, we hear of financial returns of 5: I or more for specific improvement projects." "We have seen improvement projects that removed anywhere from ten to eighty percent of the work in a process."

9 Customer focus is the real bottom line: "The bottom line in any quality focused organization is not financial- it is the customer."

A number of lessons learned from the quality revolution seem likely to be quite applicable to the emerging learning revolution. Each reader will see possibly applicable lessons in the lists above.

Just three that stick out for this observer are:

1 The value of competitive bench marking. In the quality revolution, the use of competitive bench marking has become an extremely valuable tool for breaking down resistance to improvement (defeating the deadly NIH -or, not invented here -syndrome), empowering individuals throughout organizations to set and achieve improvement goals far higher than managers could force upon them, and finding or inventing new ways for the organization to achieve those goals. Competitive bench marking may yield very similar results in the pursuit of revolutionary rates of organizational learning.

2 The value of explicit models of world-class organizational performance. For japan initially, and for the United States later, the development of the explicit models of organizational excellence that underlay the Deming Prize and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award have focused energies on key areas of improvement and fostered continuous learning about the nature of organizational excellence. The search for and testing of such models may be one of the exciting parts of the learning organization adventure.

3 The need for organizational transformation at a very deep level. The prevalent quick fix mentality of many American managers that has frequently been a barrier to quality improvement will very likely also be a major barrier to effective organizational learning. Deming's 14 points' message and Juran's call for replacement of the Taylor system of management focus attention on this need for transformation. The dramatic levels of organizational transformation being achieved by leading quality companies may re- duce the tendency to deny that profound change is achievable in a business society hooked on only short-term solutions to long-lasting problems.

Four errors not to repeat

The experiences of the global quality revolution also suggest at least four errors to be avoided in the pursuit of world-class learning and in attempts to apply the lessons learned from that effort. They are: (I) denying, (2) static labeling, (3) forgetting to dance with inquiry and implementation, and (4) waiting for the top to act. The essence of each block to creating learning organizations is suggested below:

Lesson I: Denying: "It Won't Work in my company (country, industry, function) because." Although the first clear payoffs from adopting early quality management practices were starting to emerge by the mid- to late 1950S and although two of the key leaders in the global quality revolution Were Americans, three to four decades were to pass before significant numbers of American companies recognized that a new management technology was available for adoption.

The process of denying the usefulness of the new management approaches followed a painfully familiar path. First the new management was labeled "Japanese management," therefore, many American managers (and academics) claimed the techniques could not be adopted by non-Japanese organizations.

When Japanese companies took their manufacturing techniques abroad and achieved revolutionary rates or quality improvement in plants outside Japan, the interpretation of managers in service firms was that the tqm technology was purely a manufacturing technology and that it would never work in service industries. When service companies achieved similar results, such as the achievements .of Federal Express that enabled it to win the Baldrige Award and Florida Power and Light's successes that led to the Deming Prize, many functional managers argued that the approaches could not be used in finance, marketing, human resources, and legal services. In due course, similar successes were achieved in each of these areas. Along the way, the usefulness of the quality management technology was also denied by many in the governmental, educational, and not for-profit sectors.

We can anticipate that many managers will believe that their industry, sector, organization, or function cannot achieve revolutionary rates of learning even after they have seen others do so. And, they will also turn out to be wrong -probably at little or no cost to themselves and enormous cost to their organizations.

The moral is that no matter how successful others may be as a result of a management approach, some people will say, "It won't work here!" And the lesson to be learned is: Expect that. if some organizations and functions can achieve revolutionary rates of learning, all can do so. Devoting resources to proving that revolutionary rates of learning can occur where they have not yet occurred will pay far higher dividends than efforts devoted to proving that "it can't be done here."

Lesson 2: Applying static labels: "Once you label me, you negate me" Seren Kierkegaard The adoption of systematic, company-wide, quality management in the United States has been severely hampered by a deep misunderstanding of what it means to manage for quality. Managers thought they "knew" that quality management referred only to a limited inspection function in the production department. They reasoned that it was not a major factor in company success. In the mid-1980s quality was a pause term to many. In 1986, the faculty of the first business school in the United States to throw out its required core management course and its upper level offerings and build its program around a dynamic interpretation of the new quality management technology intentionally avoided the label "quality management" because so many managers "knew what quality was and that it was not very important. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the word "quality" was "in," and, for many, the label TQM stuck. For some authors TQM, or some other label, meant a broad all-encompassing and dynamically evolving management system. Deming and Juran have always been clear about the pervasiveness and evolving nature of dynamic "tqm" (although TQM was a term that particularly galled Deming). Most leading quality champions have, long used an expansive versus a restricted interpretation.

By the early 1990s, quality management was again being interpreted by many who did not recognize the global nature of the quality revolution in a very restricted way and was "out" once again. It was frequently treated as merely the "quality circle" technique, or as team-based small-scale improvement projects statistical quality control, or as misapplied quality programs. Again, people tried to define the new TQM in terms of the old, command and control system. One of the more popular of these "narrow" interpretations of quality is the one used by Michael Hammer and James Champy in their enormously successful best seller Reengineering the Corporation. They interpreted TQM (and all other "manifestations of the contemporary quality movement") as a "program" restricted to small-scale incremental improvement of existing processes with the aim of doing better what is already being done." They rediscovered and successfully "repackaged" a technique that many quality experts considered one of the well-established quality management techniques. Large-scale business process improvement became "corporate reengineering" and the profits rolled in}

The moral is that people will define the new approaches in terms of their past understandings of old approaches. "Square pegs will be forced into round holes." And the lesson to be learned is: expect that the inquiry into the nature of world-class learning organizations will lead to a number of static and narrow' definitions of what a world-class learning organization really is. Some of these definitions will lead us to waste energies, at least for a while.

Lesson 3: Forgetting to dance: "TQM and TLO are programs to be implemented." The well-established management practice of "solving problems" with "programs" that are "implemented" has made it easy to confuse dynamic tqm with a static "thing" and not to see it as a continuing process of inquiry. The same danger will face the learning organization inquiry.

When TQM has been seen by managers as a program to be implemented, it has often been treated as a set of procedures, rules, and activities, rather than as an evolving process focused on learning what the customer wants or will want (and what other stakeholders want or need). Learning successively better ways to exceed those wants can also be forgotten: implementation can replace inquiry.

In an insightful, but unfortunately titled article 'The ten reasons why TQM doesn't work", Oren Harari describes a series of errors that are frequently made when the quality management inquiry is incorrectly translated into a TQM program, and when TQM is defined very narrowly in such a program. (A more descriptive, and much less catchy title might have been, "Ten errors frequently made in translating quality management approaches into TQM programs.").

The 10 errors Harari discusses are:

  1. focusing people's attention on internal processes rather than on external results

  2. focusing on minimum standards;

  3. developing a cumbersome quality bureaucracy;

  4. delegating quality to "quality czars" and "experts" rather than to "real" people;

  5. not demanding radical organizational reform;

  6. not demanding changes in management compensation;

  7. not demanding entirely new relationships with outside partners;

  8. appealing to faddism, egotism, and quick-fixism;

  9. draining entrepreneurship and innovation from corporate culture;

  10. having no place for love.

Even in summary form, virtually all of these points speak clearly of the dangers of converting an inherently company-wide, dynamic transformation process into static and narrowly focused programs. Harari's comments on the last two points make it clear that they also deal directly with this issue. In discussing the draining of entrepreneurship and innovation, Harari notes that "obsessing internally until one achieves zero-defects, 'do-it-right-the first-time' routine is a dangerous luxury that often slows down new breakthrough development in products and services. It is the latter that are the cornerstone of business success." In discussing love, he observes: "when all is said and done, TQM attempts to make quality happen via an analytically detached, sterile mechanical path. What is missing, frankly, is emotion and soul." When the excitement and thrill of inquiry is replaced by the routine of implementation, the quality and learning journeys lose their juices and electricity.

Even in summary form, virtually all of these points speak clearly of the dangers of converting an inherently company-wide, dynamic transformational process into static and narrowly focused programs. Harari's comments on the last two points make it clear that they also deal directly with this issue. In discussing the draining of entrepreneurship and innovation, Harari notes that "obsessing internally until one achieves zero-defects, 'do-it-right-the first-time' routine is a dangerous luxury that often slows down new breakthrough development in products and services. It is the latter that are the cornerstone of business success." In discussing love, he observes: "when all is said and done, TQM attempts to make quality happen via an analytically detached, sterile mechanical path. What is missing, frankly, is emotion and soul." When the excitement and thrill of inquiry is replaced by the routine of implementation, the quality and learning journeys lose their juices and electricity.

Even in summary form, virtually all of these points speak clearly of the dangers of converting an inherently company-wide, dynamic transformation process into static and narrowly focused programs. Harari's comments on the last two points make it clear that they also deal directly with this issue. In discussing the draining of entrepreneurship and innovation, Harari notes that "obsessing internally until one achieves zero-defects, 'do-it-right-the first-time' routine is a dangerous luxury that often slows down new breakthrough development in products and services. It is the latter that are the cornerstone of business success." In discussing love, he observes: "When all is said and done, TQM attempts to make quality happen via an analytically detached, sterile mechanical path. What is missing, frankly, is emotion and soul." When the excitement and thrill of inquiry is replaced by the routine of implementation, the quality and learning journeys lose their juices and electricity.

Because of the natural tendency to develop programs to capture and test what has been learned, and because of the demand for programs both from buyers and sellers, it is likely that the search for the secrets of effective learning organizations will lead to the creation of many TLO programs and position titles. And their frequency of errors like these listed by Harari suggest that the translation of a dynamic learning process into a set of programs fraught with considerable risk.

The moral is that if any management philosophy can be turned into a simple technique or precise program it will be done. And the lesson to be learned is: expect efforts to understand the nature of effective learning organizations to lead to learning organization programs that stress implementation at the sacrifice of inquiry. As we find ourselves "implementing a TLO program," rather than engaging in a continuing inquiry, we will need to keep returning to the dance of balance between inquiry and implementation.

Lesson 4: Waiting for the top: "We can 't get started until top management leads the way." Waiting for top management to take the lead in learning about and then adopting quality management approaches has been a major barrier to rapid improvement in many companies. "Quality begins at the top" means that committed leadership by the top is needed to achieve revolutionary rates of quality improvement. It does not mean the CEO was always the first quality champion and that every corporate quality revolution was initiated, de novo, by the CEO.

When organization members have failed to take the initiative in championing and experimenting with new quality ideas and approaches, they have deprived top management of one of their major sources of learning about quality -the successes achieved in their own companies by independent initiatives. As wonderful as it might be if top managers were uniformly more intelligent, insightful, wise, and better informed than all other organizational members, it is very unlikely that many companies fit that description and even fewer violate the tqm slogan that "none of us alone is smarter than all of us together."

The moral is that people who wait for top management to lead the way may think they are playing it safe by not acting boldly to do what they know is right out of their own accord. But how safe is it to be in a company that is being surpassed by its competitors who are truly learning? That is not job security. The lesson to be learned is that: Organizational members will frequently look to top management for clear and unequivocal commitment to becoming a world-class learning organization. When such commitment is not visible they should start or continue on their own -leading top management to lead.

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