How can leadership training help organizations learn?

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of learning? Likely, yellow school buses or school lunches or a playground for recess or even school picture day come to mind. But, learning is not limited to a classroom. Much less a setting where there is a teacher at the front of the room and student behind a desk. At a very rudimentary level, learning changes people and groups of people. And, “learning and change cannot be imposed on people” (Schein, 2010, p. 383).

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Organizational Learning 101

(Phornprapha, 2015) & (Kohlbacher, 2013)

The learning process needs to be a part of the organizational culture where both leaders (executive teams, for example) and followers (team members) understand the value and necessity. Managerial commitment to learning must be a priority; and, organizational learning should not be limited to situations of formal learning. Instead, learning fits on a continuum.

“The more turbulent, ambiguous, and out of control the world becomes, the more the learning process will have to be shared by all the members of the social unit doing the learning” (Schein, 2010, p. 383).

The goal of organizational learning is not to memorize information. The goal is to understand and leverage knowledge to transform an organization through innovation. Whether learning happens through training programs, professional interactions, or workplace activities, organizational culture must endorse and promote this process in strategy and practice.

leadership training and development is about the Culture

(Tran & Shah , 2013) & (Schein, 2010)

Recognizing that an organization should leverage learning to fuel innovation is just a first stepping stone. A leader must know what characterizes a learning environment and how to embody the essence of innovation.

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The process of learning requires engaged organizational members (leaders and followers) to collaborate. Collaboration with the team requires a willingness and open-minded approach to organizational efforts. A learning culture is proactive, committed, future-thinking, communicative, diverse, and thinking.

Organizations must “abandon simple linear causal logic in favor of complex mental models will become more critical to learning” (Schein, 2010, p. 371).

A vital element of a learning culture is the reliance on the learning process as opposed to a focus on finding answers to specific questions. A learning culture relies on the assumptions that

  • Learning is good.
  • Human nature is good.
  • People are capable of learning.

A learning culture emphasizes the need to think and analyze.

leadership development and Learning Require Thinking

When it comes to learning, design thinking, creative thinking, and systems thinking fuel innovation.

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1. Design Thinking

(The Design of Business, 2009), (Design-Driven Innovation, 2009), (Welo, Olsen & Gudem, 2012) & (Schein, 2010)

By definition, design thinking is a “productive mix of analytical thinking and intuitive thinking” (Martin & Euchner, 2012, p. 10). This type of thinking recognizes a dynamic interplay between data and creativity. This approach of design thinking “take[s] advantage of every bit of past data… then add[s] some artistry to that in order to imagine a future that is productively different from the past” (Martin & Euchner, 2012, p. 11). By encouraging followers to think, a leader is suggesting that individuals find meanings by listening, interpreting, and addressing situations.

  • As a listener, a team member seeks to develop relationships.
  • As an interpreter, a team member seeks insights (consider the work of scientists, technologists, or architects).
  • When addressing others, a team member uses discoveries to provide powerful perspectives.

Thinking is never a completed task. And so continuous improvement is critical to the thinking demanded within learning cultures to spur innovation.

“Continuous improvement initiatives lead to innovation speed improvements when there is a corporate culture in line with the process approach” (Kohlbacher, 2013, p. 72).

In agreement with this thought, continuous improvement demonstrates the idea that perfection is not achieved. However, the pursuit of perfection is critical to performing and innovating. Consider actions to stimulate a learning culture:

  • Using perceptive skills
  • Motivating others
  • Demonstrating emotional strength
  • Encouraging cognitive redefinition
  • Involving the team in situations

2. Critical Thinking

(Dwyer, Boswell & Elliott, 2015) & (Whatley & Dyck, 2000)

Critical thinking is important for leaders to leverage within their organizations as well. By definition…

  • Critical thinking abilities require an individual “to identify and examine the ideas and beliefs underlying existing knowledge structures” (Whatley & Dyck, 2000, p. 25).
  • Another definition of critical thinking is “the ability to establish clear and logical connections between beginning premises, relevant facts, and warranted conclusions” (Kunsch, Schnarr & Van Tyle, 2014, p. 404).
  • “Critical thinking is how one navigates change and seizes the opportunity to thrive in times of extreme hardship or in situations of disruptive technology application” (Peeler, 2016, p. 31).

The American Management Association identifies critical thinking along with problem-solving as “being crucial to workforce preparedness and business success” (Dwyer, Boswell & Elliott, 2015, p. 261). In 2008, 67% of the council for Industry and High Education agreed that these skills are the most important for employees. A study from 2011 showed that human resource leaders look for critical thinking as the most critical skillset for candidates as well.

3. Systems Thinking

(Whatley & Dyck, 2000)

Taking this concept a step further, leaders can urge members of a learning culture to use systems thinking by noticing certain patterns. Systems thinking demands a complex understanding of variables but also a complex understanding of the relationship between the variables. Individuals must challenge their assumptions and mental models by taking a challenge, noting the variables involved, and analyzing the situation.

Design Thinking, Critical Thinking and Systems Thinking all play a role in organizational learning — which ultimately impacts the organization.

Learning Impacts Innovation leadership

Product Productivity & Product Success

(Dul & Ceylan, 2014)

Learning impacts innovation in several ways, but two ways, in particular, include product productivity or product success.

  • Productivity deals with an organization’s ability to create new products for the market.
  • Product success deals with the sales generated from new products.

Both of these principles serve useful in measuring innovation in a firm. Team members of varying roles within an organization (specifically in less structured environments where the whole team touches a product or service) may influence innovation and development, which further highlights the need for a culture of learning for the entire time.

“When considering new product success, a creativity-supporting work environment may not only increase the number of ideas, but also the quality of the ideas, ” (Dul & Ceylan, 2014, p. 1256).

A culture that supports learning to achieve strategic objectives through innovation benefits from the creativity involved in new product development settings.

Geographic Considerations

(Kumar, 2014)

Globalism is a key trend in contemporary business interactions, and it is important to recognize differences in various geographical or societal groups. One method of distinguishing between various cultural perspectives is by geography or territory. When it comes to geographic considerations, a specific culture has a perspective on both speed and form and how these two principles interact with the innovation process. “Speed refers to the… level of inventiveness… [whereas] form pertains to the ways in which innovations of developed” (Kumar , 2014 p. 3).

  • Considering speed, some countries and societal groups race to lead the pace of innovation and encourage quick developments; consider the United States, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, for instance. Often these countries have strong influences of “entrepreneurship, technology, and culture; [and, further] uncertainty avoidance and individualism have a positive relationship with innovation” (Kumar, 2014, p. 3).
  • Considering form, clusters of resources generally characterize countries that promote the characteristic of product innovation — Japan, China, India. These clusters commonly include both local and national resources, which aid in the organization’s competitive advantage. Interestingly, these clusters are formed by entities that “exhibit cognitive and cultural similarities resulting from shared mental models and business concepts” (Kumar , 2014 p. 5).

When working in various cultural situations, understanding relevant views of innovation is vital.

Innovation to Thrive

(Phornprapha, 2015) & (Peeler, 2016)

Businesses need innovation to not only survive challenges but to thrive in challenges. To promote innovation in an organization, leaders must emphasize learning as a strategic imperative. By doing so, leaders can facilitate the transformation needed within the organization to thrive long term.

“The main duty of the leader is not just to give instructions but also to educate employees through practical intelligence at work” (Phornprapha, 2015, p. 799).

Three ways for leaders to promote learning in the organization include…

  1. Conveying the vision of leadership.
  2. Providing learning opportunities.
  3. Promoting a culture that values learning and thinking.
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How does your organization learn?

Would you and your team benefit from partnering with an Innovation Practitioner? Let us know! We love facilitating learning within organizations. Learn more about our services.

Skidmore Consulting 2020 ©

References

Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean. (2009). Research Technology Management, 52(6), 67.

Dul, J., & Ceylan, C. (2014). The Impact of a Creativity-supporting Work Environment on a Firm’s Product Innovation Performance. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 31(6), 1254–1267. doi:10.1111/jpim.12149

Dwyer, C. P., Boswell, A., & Elliott, M. A. (2015). An Evaluation of Critical Thinking Competencies in Business Settings. Journal Of Education For Business90(5), 260–269.

Kohlbacher, M. (2013). The Impact of Dynamic Capabilities through Continuous Improvement on Innovation: the Role of Business Process Orientation. Knowledge & Process Management, 20(2), 71–76. doi:10.1002/kpm.1405

Kumar, V. (2014). Understanding Cultural Differences in Innovation: A Conceptual Framework and Future Research Directions. Journal Of International Marketing, 22(3), 1–29.

Kunsch, D. W., Schnarr, K., & van Tyle, R. (2014). The Use of Argument Mapping to Enhance Critical Thinking Skills in Business Education. Journal Of Education For Business89(8), 403–410.

Peeler, J. L. (2016). The Importance of Critical Thinking: A Cost Management and Budget Slant. Armed Forces Comptroller61(2), 30.

Phornprapha, S. (2015). People Passion Programme: Implementing an Innovative Workplace Learning Culture through Professional Development — The Case of KPMG Thailand. International Review Of Education, 61(6), 795–814.

Schein, E. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage. (2009). Research Technology Management, 52(6), 68.

Tran, R., & Shah, S. (2013). Designing for Learning: One Foundation’s Efforts to Institutionalize Organizational Learning. Foundation Review, 5(3), 28–34. doi:10.9707/1944–5660.1168

WELO, T., OLSEN, T. O., & GUDEM, M. (2012). ENHANCING PRODUCT INNOVATION THROUGH A CUSTOMER-CENTERED, LEAN FRAMEWORK. International Journal Of Innovation & Technology Management, 9(6), -1. doi:10.1142/S0219877012500411

Whatley, A., & Dyck, L. (2000). A Postmodern Framework for Developing Critical Thinking Skills The International Monetary Fund as a Live Case. Journal Of Teaching In International Business11(4), 23.