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Organizational learning Essay

The purpose of this assignment is to critically evaluate the Learning and Development function of my employer, the Office of the Prime Minister (the OPM), Jamaica and to suggest ways in which they could be improved.Definitions and conceptualizations  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines learning as “the acquiring of knowledge or skill.” Kim (1993) differentiates two meanings of learning: (1) the acquisition of skill or know-how, which implies the physical ability to produce some action, and (2) the acquisition of know-why, which implies the ability to articulate a conceptual understanding of an experience.

Researchers have identified three levels of learning: (1) individual (2) team and (3) organizational learning. Lahteenmaki (2001) indicates that there is no clear understanding in what way does organizational learning differ from individual learning. Alternately Probst and Buchel propose that learning by individuals is a prerequisite of organizational learning. There are no rigorous theories of organizational learning but there are several interesting conceptualizations. They are organizational learning by: adaptation, assumption sharing, developing knowledge of action-outcome relationships and institutionalized experience.

Adaptation

Cyert and March (1963) suggest that organizations exhibit adaptive behaviour which they term organizational learning. This adaptation occurs at the aggregate level of the organization and focuses on three phases of the

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decision making process: adaptation in respect of goals, attention rules and search rules. Cyert and march advocated a model which viewed organizational learning as a series of interactions between adaptation at the individual or sub-group level and at the organizational level. They identified performance stress (gap between goals and performance) and disjunctive stress (conflict between subgroup and individuals) as the major influences on learning.

Assumption sharing

Argyris and Schon (1978) label the continual and concerted sharing of individual assumptions, of individual images of self and others, of one’s activities in the context of collective interaction as organizational learning. Their viewpoint on the subject area was that of a “theory of action”, a derivative of the sociological theories of knowledge and the action frame of reference (Berger and Luckmann, 1966; Parsons and Shils, 1951). Argyris and Schon also distinguish between single-loop learning and double-loop learning.

Developing Knowledge of Action-outcome The process within the organization by which knowledge about action-outcome relationships and the effects of the environment on these relationships is developed, referred to as organizational learning. Unlike individual learning which involves relatively permanent changes in an individual’s behaviour, organizational learning involves the development of a knowledge base which would make a change possible. (Duncan and Weiss, 1978, p.84).

Institutionalized experience As early as 1936, U.S. Air Force Production workshops had discovered that the direct labour hours required to complete any production task decreased substantially as the total number of times the job was performed increased. For a given activity, the hours per unit were found to decrease by a constant percentage each time total repetitions of the activity doubled (Ascher, 1956; Wright, 1953). This frame of reference is institutionalized experience.

Scholars have proposed a variety of definitions of organizational learning. However there exist few well accepted sets of concepts which describe how organizations learn. According to Argyris (1977), organizational learning is a process of detecting and correcting error. Probst and Buchel (1997,167) go further, defining organizational learning as” the ability of the institution as a whole to discover errors and correct them, and to change the organization’s knowledge base and values so as to generate new problem-solving skills and new capacity for action”.

Some of the themes that have characterized research on organizational learning is (1) organizational learning is an organizational process rather than an individual process, (2) organizational learning is closely linked with experience that the organization possesses, (3) the outcome of organizational learning is organizationally shared, consensually validated, and integrated system of action-outcome heuristics, (4) learning involves fundamental changes in the theories in use within which decision-making proceeds, (5) learning occurs at several levels in the organization, for example, individual, department, etc. and (6) organizational learning is institutionalized in the form of learning systems which include informal and formal mechanisms of management information sharing, planning, and control.

Overview of the OPM

The mandate of the OPM is to support the Prime Minister in meeting his constitutional responsibilities to provide quality leadership, strategic direction and control for an efficient, effective and economical government. In order to effectively discharge this mandate the OPM is committed to the continuous acquisition and development of skills and competencies to maintain a world class knowledge-based organisation.

Within this context the ministry adopted a Performance Management and Appraisal System, which includes a Learning and Development Policy, which includes the strategic objectives of ensuring the availability of qualified staff for the OPM to meet its programme priorities and requirements and to improve organizational performance as well as enabling the ministry to attract, retain, motivate and develop its staff and the growth of their career. Main principles of OPM Learning and Development Policy The policy applies to all OPM staff members. Under this policy, the following principles govern learning and development at the OPM: 1. Learning and development are a shared responsibility of the Organization, its managers and its staff members.

2. Learning and development priorities shall be based on organizational needs derived from programme priorities and on the assessment of individual needs, 3. Career growth and development goals in relation to current job requirements; 4. Learning and development should be relevant to current or future work and consistent with the Organization’s values, goals and operational priorities. Framework to Evaluate Policy in respect of Organizational Learning

The Performance Management Appraisal System (PMAS) is a comprehensive of performance management and evaluation scheme designed to facilitate organizational learning by integrating individual learning modules into the ministry’s strategic planning framework. PMAS provides an objective basis for the appraisal SMART targets agreed based on discussions between the jobholder and their manager/supervisor.

The underlying foundation of the appraisal system is an appreciation by each and every employee that their contribution and potential is understood and channeled into “doing the right things” and not only “doing things right”. PMAS is intended to be viewed as a win-win system. The employees skills, talents and interest will be honed and guided for maximum performance and the organization will benefit from the combined performance of all staff.

PMAS enshrines six fundamental principles and values, namely: effective communication; objectivity; transparency; fairness; equitable treatment; and mutual respect and trust. PMAS achieves success by ensuring that: (1) all work programmes (division/unit and individual) are geared to achieving the goals of the organization; (2) common understanding of job requirements; (3) individual performance reviewed against mutually agreed performance standards; (4) feedback on performance is provided regularly; (5) training and development needs are identified and addressed; (6) improved communication between managers/supervisors and other staff to foster a more open and participative environment; (7) good performance is recognized and improvement encouraged; and (8) poor performance is appropriately managed and addressed.

PMAS is an adaptive cycle that starts with the setting of goals and subsequently if necessary manages poor performance and conflicts. It is also a cyclical iterative process; consequently the products/outcomes of earlier steps/stages are refined and incorporated into subsequent stages of the system. As represented in figure 1, key government priorities and objectives identified external to the ministry are distilled and incorporated into the ministry’s strategic planning process. The ministry’s strategic plan is rolled over on a three-year basis and is operationalized annually. From year-on-year operational plans, departmental/divisional plans are expanded and further broken down into individual employee work plans against which individual performance is measured.

A key component of the PMAS is the importance it places on personal development plans for each staff member which articulates any training or other development intervention to be recommended over the next year. This development plan represents an agreed listing of priority learning and development needs; a timeline as to when these needs will be met; and importantly any foreseeable constraints.

To reinforce organizational learning the PMAS is incentivized to promote positive learning and rational action in furtherance of set organizational objectives. Alternately, poor performance is penalized providing a disincentive to negative learning approaches and irrational behavior. From the above it can be seen that PMAS does accord with the six themes of organizational learning, mentioned above, as theorized by Argyris et al.

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