Knowledge management and leadership in learning organizations: an integrated perspective. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. ” Alvin Toffee To establish the importance of intimate relationship between leadership practices and knowledge management in the learning organization, a learning organization concept should be first identified and discussed, with the emphases on the specific features of contemporary organization and the essential role of leaders when developing their organizations.
Furthermore, the processes of organizational learning and new knowledge creation should be described, elaborating further on the kinds of processes that leaders and managers should be involved in and responsible for. (Vital, 2004) Moreover, the specific managerial tasks in achieving competitive advantage should be presented, accentuating the critical importance of developing organizational competencies and intellectual capital.
Lastly, discussions should be taking place with regard to concepts such as organizational memory and knowledge management, as well as the role of information technology within these frameworks. (Vital, 2004) During the last decade, discussion on the determinants of successful organizations has concentrated on their ability to renew, learn and innovate. (Vital, 2004) The notion of the “learning organization” has become one of the new buzzwords in the management, psychological and human resource development literature. Caravan, 1997) The concept of the learning organization itself has gone through many combinations and permutations in terms of theoretical development and attempts at practical application. (Stewart, 2001) The fervent interest in the earning organization and the underlying cause for recent emphasis on organizational learning (Blair, 1993) and knowledge management (Coho, 2001) stems from what Sense calls the age of globalization, where one source of competitive advantage is the ability and rate at which an organization can learn and react more quickly than its competitors. Stewart, 2001) The approach taken by organizational learning theorists is that those organizations that learn can manage the change process more effectively than can those who do not (Stewart, 1999) The basic rationale for such organizations s that in situations of rapid change only those that are flexible, adaptive and productive will excel. (Smith, 2001) Therefore, in order to keep a leading edge over its counterparts, the learning organization has to keep abreast with the happenings in its internal and external environment. Blair, 1993) Classically, work has been thought of as being conservative and difficult to transform. (Blair, 1993) Learning was something divorced from work and innovation was seen as the necessary but disruptive way to change. (Blair, 1993) The industrial age contributed to management beliefs that do not perceive earning as productive, so that activities such as reading journals or sharing work-based stories in the cafeteria were not considered “real” work. Preterit, 2003) Furthermore, generic strategies that were used for the development of a competitive advantage were cost leadership (doing things cheaper), market differentiation (doing things better) and niche orientation, concentrating on tangible assets, such as property, production facilities, raw materials and physical technologies. Dimidiates, 2005) Subsequently, the globalization of business activity, the intensely competitive tauter of global business and the greater demands being placed on businesses by customers (Phenomenon, & Storehouse, 2000) gradually led to an erosion of traditional sources of competitive advantage, demanding the adoption of complementary and/or supplementary strategic approaches. Change is now measured in terms of months not years as it was in the past (Blair, 1993) and tangible assets are easily accessible, imitable and substitutable. Dimidiates, 2005) Environmental complexity coupled with ever accelerating dynamism resulted in enhanced uncertainty, the inability to predict external change due to insufficient information about environmental factors. (Dimidiates, 2005) As a result, modern organizations shift their focus to intangible assets, such as consumer trust, talent of people and leadership skill, as well as accumulated learning and experience. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Such organizations are capable of generating sustainable competitive advantage and superior performance on the basis of its knowledge assets. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) While these knowledge-based assets exist in many forms, organizational learning is an integral feature of any learning organization that effectively utilizes its knowledge resources to generate superior performance. (Dimidiates, 2005) According to Sense (1990), learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. Smith, 2001 ) Learning organization represents a shift to organizational development, collective learning and growth (Caravan, 1997) and is an advanced state of organizational development. Monsoons, 2002) This concept embraces many of the vital qualities for today’s organizations, i. E. Teamwork, empowerment, participation, flexibility and responsiveness. (Stewart, 1 999) According to Phenomenon and Storehouse (2000), successful learning organizations create an organizational environment that combines organizational learning with knowledge management.
The corporation which is able to quickly learn and then innovate their work will be able to change their work practices to perform better in the constantly changing environment. (Blair, 1993) The structure, culture and processes in such organization facilitate organizational learning of all its members while continuously transforming itself. Organizational learning is said to be about increasing an organizational problem- solving capacity and about changing behavior in ways leading to improved performance at the individual, team and organizational levels. Stewart, 1999) Learning organizations learn about learning, they not only endeavourer to learn about their own business, but attempt to understand the processes by which individual and organizational learning take place. In this way, they can improve and accelerate the process of building and applying new knowledge. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Moreover, senior management in many organizations have also come to believe that the way in which an organization learns is a key index to its effectiveness and potential to innovate and grow. Caravan, 1997) Questions remain, though, as to how senior managers and chief executive officers should apply specific leadership actions and behaviors in order to foster organizational learning. (Johnson, 2002) While elements of learning organization’s principles and practices can be implemented on an individual or localized level, a learning organization does to emerge from grass-roots commitment by the rank-and-file but becomes established through the vision of senior leaders who have formal authority to make policy, allocate resources, and set strategic direction. Preterit, 2003) According to Blair (1993), it is vital that the changing process be driven from the very top levels of the organization: the managers must lead the changes with a positive attitude and have a clear vision of what is to be achieved. Vast research has focused on various features of a learning organization, with particular emphasis on the importance of leaders in contemporary organizations.
Vital, 2004) Though the concept of leadership is nearly as ambiguous as that of the learning organization, Sense defines leader as a person who is genuinely committed to deep change in themselves and in their organizations, while Bennie states that the leaders are people who do the right things, while managers are people who do things right (Johnson, 2002) According to Smith (2001), problem with many traditional style organizations, and especially the ones that are failing unable to adjust to the rapidly changing environment, is that they tend to be overmanned and underlie.
The traditional IEEE of leadership is based on assumptions of people’s powerlessness, their lack of personal vision and inability to master the forces of change, deficits which can be remedied only by a few great leaders, special people who set the direction, make key decisions and energize the troops as deriving from a deeply individualistic and non-systemic worldview. Smith, 2001 ) Against this traditional view, the learning organization needs a new view of leadership that centers on leaders as designers, stewards and teachers, who are responsible for building organizations were people continually expand their abilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models. (Smith, 2001) According to Vital (2004), roles of leaders in a learning organization have been specified as being coaches, teachers, leaders of learning and developers.
The concepts of coaches and teachers have a strong metaphorical meaning, and refer explicitly to the special relationship between a leader and subordinates. Other concepts used refer to the contents of doing in an organization. (Vital, 2004) Learning organization theorists and researchers have consistently reported the importance of leadership vision and commitment to organizational learning systems, even though the value of a learning organization to organizational performance is still unknown. Preterit, 2003) Introducing these new concepts stresses the changed or enlarged roles of leaders in learning organizations. (Vital, 2004) It is crucial that the management all agree to the strategy and believe in it so that they exude a sense of security and self-assurance. (Blair, 1993) Leaders are committed to and responsible for the vision, their task is to be stewards for the organizational vision while managing it for the benefit of others. Leaders learn to see their vision as part of something larger.
One of the first responsibilities of a leader is to define reality. (Smith, 2001) A need to diversify products, services, or a customer base could call for new innovations. Or, as is the goal of many organizations in these turbulent times, adapt more quickly and fluidly to constant change. (Preterit, 2003) The organization’s policies, strategies and Systems’ are key area of design, where the first task entails designing the governing ideas 0 the purpose, vision and core values by which people should live. Smith, 2001) Building a shared Sino is crucial early on as it fosters a long-term orientation and an imperative for learning. (Blair, 1993; Smith, 2001) Any organization that wants to implement a learning organization philosophy requires an overall strategy with clear, well defined goals. (Blair, 1993) Once these have been established, the tools needed to facilitate the strategy must be identified. (Blair, 1993) Other disciplines also need to be attended to, but just how they are to be approached is dependent upon the situation faced. Smith, 2001 ) Management must provide commitment for long-term learning in the form of resources (money, personnel and time). Blair, 1993) An abundance of evidence is pointing to the importance of developing a learning culture before implementing learning organization initiatives. (Preterit, 2003) The leader shifts a locus of control from managers to workers, empowering latter to become responsible for their actions, encouraging, enthusing and coordinating the members to learn and develop their skills. Blair, 1993) According to Johnson (2002), leader must model continuous learning. Leader’s behavior must be congruent with learning organization principles as a key barrier to creating an environment where the free flow of information s encouraged and supported is the mindset of managers and leaders who have a narrow definition of productive work and have not yet made the mental transition to understanding the strategic value of knowledge creation as well as its critical dependence on human factors. Preterit, 2003) A learning culture is one where learning is valued and rewarded and elements that impede learning are not tolerated. Achieving this takes a greater shift in thinking and acting than many leaders realize at first, in part because the impediments to learning at work are so ingrained in our assumptions about what ark is and is not. (Preterit, 2003) According to Blair (1993), leader should encourage team work, where, unlike traditional learning, equal participation is allowed at all levels so that members can learn from each other simultaneously.
Individuals act according to the true mental model that they subconsciously hold, not according to the theories which they claim to believe. If team members can constructively challenge each others’ ideas and assumptions, they can begin to perceive their mental models, and to change these to create a shared mental model for the team. As virtually all important sections occur in groups, teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units. (Blair, 1993) A learning culture has been described as one where there is care in the workplace. Preterit, 2003) A high degree of care among organizational members generates trust, and an active exploration of new ideas and knowledge, while reducing defensive mechanisms that can interfere with learning and workplace fear that can contribute to knowledge-hoarding behavior. (Preterit, 2003) To learn from ones mistakes, one must be able to accept failure, analyses the reasons for the failure and take action. Disappointment and mistakes are part of he changing process and essential to learning.
A true learning leader will treat mistakes as case studies for discussion, thus learning, and ensuring the same mistake does not happen again. (Blair, 1993) Therefore, leader’s main tasks are encouraging knowledge sharing, supporting learning through mistakes and creating continuous team learning. (Vital, 2004) Leaders have to create and manage creative tension ј especially around the gap between vision and reality. Mastery of such tension allows for a fundamental shift. It enables the leader to see the truth in changing situations. Smith, 2001) While leaders may draw inspiration and spiritual reserves from their sense of stewardship, much of the leverage leaders can actually exert lies in helping people achieve more accurate, more insightful and more empowering views of reality. (Smith, 2001) Leaders should foster the systems thinking concept (Blair, 1993) which allows the members to see The big picture’ and to appreciate the structural forces that condition behavior. (Smith, 2001) “Leader as teacher” is not about “teaching” people how to achieve their vision.
It is about fostering learning, for everyone. Such leaders help people throughout he organization develop systemic understandings. (Smith, 2001) System thinking concept also allows the leader to change the managerial view so that it includes the ambitions of the individual workers, not just the business goals. (Blair, 1993) By attending to purpose, leaders can cultivate an understanding of what the organization (and its members) is seeking to become. (Smith, 2001) It is the leader’s responsibility to help restructure the individual views of team members.
For example, they need to help the teams understand that competition is a form of learning, not a hostile act. (Blair, 1993) Organizations striving to be a learning organization certainly work with employees to generate and leverage new knowledge but implementing a learning organization strategy at the team level should happen after leaders have shifted their own habits, assumptions, and ways of working so they are prepared to support learning organization culture. Preterit, 2003) Thus far, the tasks of leaders in learning organizations has been identified as threefold: putting organizational learning on the agenda as a central issue, building the structural foundations needed to turn individual learning into organizational learning, and creating cultural and psychological conditions that make the learning effective. Vital, 2004) In other words, leaders are responsible for creating and maintaining suitable organizational context, namely organizational culture, structure, and infrastructure, the means by which an organization continuously increases the effectiveness and the efficiency of both individual and organizational learning and knowledge management processes and systems. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Within this context, learning is treated as a cognitive process, with the origination “learning about learning” and developing conditions which foster individual and organizational learning with emphasis placed on its knowledge assets and the supporting knowledge management systems. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) According to Phenomenon and Storehouse (2000), by learning about learning, contemporary organization creates an organizational context that both nurtures new knowledge and exploits its existing knowledge assets.
In effect, learning about learning results in a paradigm shift for the organization. When the appropriate organizational climate and culture that stimulates learning eve been established, there are processes that leaders and managers should be constantly involved in and responsible for, such as processes of organizational learning and new knowledge creation. Vital, 2004) Learning is a cognitive process of acquiring skills, creating knowledge, attitudes or values, by which a relatively lasting change in potential behavior, formulation of new mental model or revision of previous mental construct occurs as a result of experience or practice. Learning takes place in a variety of environments, at different speeds (Coho, 2001 , Caravan, 1997) and levels, utilizes many approaches (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) and is assumed to generally have positive outcomes. Caravan, 1997) In any organizational environment, learning can be both organizational and individual, the former relying heavily on the latter. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) There can be no organizational learning without individual learning, but that individual learning is a necessary but insufficient condition for organizational learning. (Caravan, 1997) Equally, however, individual learning is dependent on the learning arrangements that exist within the organization, organization’s capacity to learn collectively Caravan, 1997), either accelerating or slowing the learning processes. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Appropriate organizational context is crucial as the development of new knowledge depends on access to, and availability of, information, with the knowledge creation depending on “learning” through reasoning and inference. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Being more basic form of organizational learning, adaptive (single-loop) learning occurs within a set of recognized and unrecognized constraints, which reflect the organization’s assumptions about its environment and itself, focusing on issues ND opportunities that are within the traditional scope of its activities.
Generative (double-loop) learning, on the other hand, takes place when the organization is prepared to question its long-held assumptions by developing new perception of the world based on an understanding of the systems and relationships that link key issues and events, and is more likely to lead to competitive advantage. (Caravan, 1997) According to Caravan (1997), organizational learning includes information acquisition, information dissemination and shared implementation, with the latter two distinguishing organizational learning from personal one.
Information may be acquired from direct experience, the experience of others or organizational memory. (Caravan, 1997) Learning from experience is either internally focused (exploitation) or externally focused (exploration), and must be balanced to lead to generative learning. Organizational learning is conceptualized to be concerned with the development of new knowledge or insights that have the potential to influence behavior and facilitate behavioral change potentially leading to improved performance.
Caravan (1997) identifies three ways in which learning can influence employee behavior: the direct application of knowledge to solve problems, using knowledge to influence organizational members’ perspectives on problems, and affective use which increases satisfaction or decreases dissonance with a change that already has been made. Hitherto, it has been established that productivity and competitiveness are, by and large, a function of knowledge generation and information processing and the primary concern of organizational learning is generation of new knowledge.
Effective dissemination increases information value where each piece of information can be seen in its broader context by all organizational players who might use or be affected by it. (Caravan, 1997) Knowledge carried by an individual only realizes its commercial potential when it is replicated by an organization and becomes organizational knowledge. (Smith, 2001 ) Here we have a very significant pressure for the fostering of Learning organizations’. This sort of know-how cannot be simply transmitted.
It has to be engaged with, talking about and embedded in organizational structures and strategies. It has to become people’s own. (Smith, 2001) Knowledge, being a shared collection of principles, facts, skills, and rules, can be embodied into an organization’s knowledge assets which consist of its core competences, technology, value-adding activities, processes, systems, procedures, technology, structures, products and services. (Phenomenon & According to Smith (2001), knowledge that is visible tends to be explicit, teachable, independent, detachable, it also easy for competitors to imitate.
Knowledge that is intangible, tacit, less teachable, less observable, is more complex but more difficult to detach from the person who created it or he context in which it is embedded. (Smith, 2001) Invariably, both forms of knowledge begin as individual knowledge but, to substantially improve performance, are transformed into organizational knowledge, an often-difficult feat in the case of implicit knowledge. In accordance with the knowledge-based view of the organization, competitive success is governed by the capability of organizations to develop new knowledge- based assets that create core competencies. Dimidiates, 2005) Embodied knowledge can be regarded as constituting an organization’s knowledge assets through which competitive edge is achieved. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Indeed, to maintain their position in rapidly changing globalizes environment, organizations need to invest not just in new machinery to make production more efficient, but in the flow of know-how that will sustain their business. (Smith, 2001 ) One of the most important roles of organizational learning and knowledge management is to ensure that individual learning leads to organizational knowledge. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Converting knowledge into core competences and competitive advantage essentially depends on sharing and coordinating knowledge within the origination and with collaborating businesses. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) While these knowledge-based assets exist in many forms, organizational learning is an integral feature of any learning organization that effectively utilizes its knowledge resources to generate superior performance. (Dimidiates, 2005, Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Companies need to be good at knowledge generation, appropriation and exploitation. Smith, 2001) Indeed, successful learning organizations create knowledge management. (Dimidiates, 2005) To deal with mounting uncertainty companies turned to the use of integrated ND coordinated approaches leading to the development of distinctive organizational competencies, or core competencies. (Dimidiates, 2005) The learning organization is evolutionary by nature. As individuals and organizations share knowledge, it is questioned, modified, improved and amplified to produce a new higher knowledge base for the next cycle of growth. Phenomenon & Caravan had suggested that it is necessary for individuals to embed their discoveries, challenges and results of their enquiries into the organization’s memory which encodes the theory-in-use. There is a clear implication here that he organizational climate is receptive to such changes. (Caravan, 1997) Developments in communications and information technology have transformed the ability of organizations to acquire, store, manipulate, share and disseminate knowledge, resulting in new management styles and shifting cultural and structural management paradigms. Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Technology platforms may assist, but no technology will stimulate the flow of knowledge without attention to the cultural and organizational contexts in which people are encouraged to develop and share their knowledge. Creating knowledge communities presents a challenge to business, the results of which will determine corporate success in the new economy. (Clarke, 2001) The development of knowledge-based core competences is a necessary feature of the learning organization.
The resulting adaptability and increased organizational responsiveness ensure that competitors find it difficult to identify, understand and emulate such competences. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Knowledge management is centered on the formalization, storage, sharing and distribution and coordination of existing knowledge assets throughout the origination, building and exploiting core competencies that yield superior performance. (Phenomenon & Storehouse, 2000) Knowledge management so far involved technical, business, and learning perspectives. Clarke, 2001) As discussed by Clarke (2001), knowledge management may provide as profound a learning breakthrough in how to run business organizations more effectively as was achieved in the total quality management movement. Conceived and implemented carefully in alignment with organizational objectives and core competencies, knowledge management retains the promise to become one of he most significant management movements of the present century, enabling the release of the knowledge resources of enterprises competing in the knowledge economy. Clarke, 2001) In summary, to be successful in the new economy, companies are required to innovate and adopt D hence learn D far more quickly and effectively than their counterparts. Effective learning means shifting not only what gets learned but also how learning takes place and evolves in organizational contexts.