The Learning Organisation.
Task 1: New management ideas
The Learning Organisation
An organisation that learns and encourages learning among its employees and throughout its organisation. It promotes exchange of information between employees on all levels, thus creating a more knowledgeable workforce. This creates a very flexible organisation where people will accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared objective.
The Learning Organisation is a concept that is becoming increasingly popular among modern companies large and small alike. What is achieved by this philosophy depends on ones interpretation of the concept and commitment to it.
The importance of learning was first discussed by a Chinese philosopher named Confucius (551 – 479 BC). He believed everyone should benefit from learning.
The reason for the recent emphasis on company learning is because of the difficulties in running a business successfully in such a volatile market in relation to competition and consumer interest together with the increased pace of change. Companies who are able to adapt and change quickly and then innovate their work will be able to change their work practices and perform better in a constantly changing environment. Change is now measured in terms of months not years as it was in the past. Business re-engineering used to concentrate on eliminating waste and not working smarter and learning.
An organisation that wants to implement a Learning Organisation philosophy needs an overall strategy with distinct goals. Once established, you then have to identify which tools will be needed to put the idea into practice.
Everyone has his or her own interpretation on a ‘Learning Organisation’. Most have the same basic fundamentals and foundations, which aim for the same goal, to continuously learn and promote learning throughout. However, there are three generic strategies, which can be clearly identified that highlight possible routes to developing and achieving the status of a ‘Learning Organisation’. The specific tools used to implement any of these are dependent on the strategy adopted, but the initiatives are present throughout. These initiatives are described using Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines of Learning Organisations (Senge, 1990). The three strategies are Accidental – where a company is unaware they are implementing the Learning Organisation philosophy. Subversive – where a company has discovered the Learning Organisation, exploits the ideas and techniques but doesn’t openly endorse the philosophies. Declared – where a company openly endorses the Learning Organisation as company ethos. The Learning Organisation is totally adopted.
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When an organisation adopts the learning organisation concept, the whole structure of the working process will change. The depth of change will depend on how much of the learning organisation concept is adopted or implemented. Managers who operate within a learning organisation may have to change their pattern of work, the values and attitudes of their approach to work and most importantly the way they deal with employees and the way they communicate with them as a whole.
With learning organisations, the whole company adopts a vision or a particular approach to the working/learning process. This will affect the managers’ role indefinitely, but it will affect certain aspects of a mangers role more than others. Working processes may not alter much, but aspects such as employee career development, communication models, information sharing and job sharing will. The managers’ working patterns will also have to change too. This is because a learning organisation learns and encourages learning throughout therefore communication barriers that may be present between managers and subordinates will have to be disregarded in order to function as a learning organisation. Communication also needs to be enhanced between the subordinates and their equals to be able to learn and encourage learning amongst themselves. This is where the manager has to play a vital role in overseeing the communication process and that it is carried out to the best of it’s potential. The key to learning is established on sound communication between both parties.
Because employees are encouraged to learn and encourage learning themselves, career development plays a key role in the workplace. Employees will be constantly learning and become more knowledgeable which will create the need for more challenging and responsible roles. The manager has to provide the employee with sufficient jobs and responsibilities in order to meet the employees’ needs to progress within the department/company.
The manger will have to adopt a more ‘employee-centred’ attitude to their responsibility as a manager and to their role as a whole to be able to function appropriately as a learning organisation.
Task 2: Applying Management Theory
Alec Smith’s management approach is clearly associated to the school of classical management thought than any other. It is sometimes referred to as ‘scientific management’ as well. These particular theories of management were primarily concerned with the structure of organisations and the structure of work, alternatively, apathetic to human motivation or organisation culture (G A Cole 1996).
In particular, Alec’s management approach relates to the earlier theorists work of Frederick W Taylor and Henri Fayol, whose theories originated from their own experience as practising managers. Another classical management theorist who Alec’s behaviour is associated with is Max Weber and his idea of bureaucracy in an organisational form. Weber identified three types of authority, traditional, charismatic and rational-legal authority. The most significant in relation to Alec’s management approach is ‘traditional authority – where acceptance of those in authority arises from tradition and custom’ (Cole 1996). This is present in the case study in paragraph 2, line 3 where it explains ‘Alec knew what it was like to “come up through the ranks”. He had started as a kitchen porter when times were really hard.’ Also, paragraph 8, sentence, ‘This is the way I had to work….’ This highlights Alec’s values of traditional authority where you have to work for your respect and authority.
Fayol devised 14 principles of management, which he claimed, could be applied to management within any organisation. Alec exhibits several of the principles, which can be applied to his management approach in terms of commanding the workforce. The principles in question according to Management, Concepts and Applications, (L C Megginson et al, 1992) are;
- No.2 – Authority and Responsibility. Authority is the right to give orders and obtain obedience.
- No.3 – Discipline. Obedience to organisational rules is necessary. The best way to have good superiors and clear and fair rules is to apply sanctions and penalties judiciously.
- No.4 – Unity of Command. There should be one and only one superior for each individual employee.
- No.9 – Scalar Chain. Organisations should have a chain of authority and communication that should run from top to bottom and should be followed by managers and subordinates.
In paragraph 2, sentence, ‘Alec was very assertive…. a challenge to his authority.’ It emphasises Alec’s assertiveness and ignorance to suggestions from subordinates. This in particular relates to the above principles, No. 2 and 9 and their significance to obedience and top to bottom communication.
Scientific Management has certain negative aspects in relation to employee development. The employee’s role is concentrated to inflexible procedures and methods, which they have to adhere to with no say in the matter. Planning and control of workplace activities were exclusively in the hands of the management (Cole 1996). The case study highlights this in paragraph 8, line 1- 3, where Alec is obstinate in changing the work schedule when Tony is proposing the subject to him. Alec makes it very clear that the subject is not open to negotiation.
The management approach that Alec has adopted has created positive and negative effects, but the majority have been negative which could lead to more serious consequences. In paragraph 2, sentence, ‘Alec was very assertive…. whenever the opportunity arose.’ Unawares, this makes Alec an un-approachable manager and staff may feel intimidated by his attitude or be anxious in approaching him. This then creates a communication barrier between Alec and his subordinates so information sharing will be minimal.
A positive effect of Alec’s management approach is the fact that his managerial work process are successful, highlighted in paragraph 2, line 6, ‘Although the motel stayed in budget and all the reports were on time.’ This is a success by any standard, but again the consequences of reaching the success are more important and will take effect in the long term. The sentence goes on to explain that the employees are stressed and there is a constant tension in the air.
Alec’s reluctance to “ take advice” (paragraph 2, line 7) from subordinates can also create negative side effects. His reluctance can make staff feel alienated and useless. The results of this will de-motivate staff and lower morale amongst the workforce.
Alec’s approach to strict procedures and methods of work in regard to the work schedule is resulting in negative effects on the employees career development as explained in paragraph 4, line 3. It explains that the new staff are feeling isolated from the rest of the work force and the managers and felt they were “badly done to” generally. This approach will result in a high employee turnover, which proves not to be cost-effective or healthy for the organisation as a whole.
A direct result of Alec’s approach to management is highlighted in paragraph 5, line 2, “Is that all you have to do, tell jokes all day?” The case study then proceeds to explain Tony’s reaction of him thinking that Alec was a “cold fish”. This form of subtle oppression de-motivates staff and lessens morale.
One of Mintzberg’s roles is that of the ‘Interpersonal’ role. This is mainly concerned on the different relationships a manager has and how these are maintained. Tony exhibits this role in paragraph 1, sentence “He knew the staff…. the success of the business”. The case study explains Tony knew how important good relations are to the effective running of the motel. In particular, this approach closely relates to that of the ‘Leadership’ role where the needs of the employees and organisation are bought together to work successfully. This extract is also associated with the sub-role of the ‘Disseminator’ under the ‘Informational’ roles (L C Megginson et al, 1992). He exhibits this by applying information sharing and gathering through the use of relationships.
The ‘Informational’ roles of a manager are very important as these are a key aspect to a manager’s role. A good manager is an informed manager. The monitor role is when managers observe the flow of information. ‘By maintaining a network of interpersonal contacts, managers act as the nerve centres of their organisational units’ (L C Megginson et al, 1992) Tony performs the monitor role in paragraph 4, line 1 – 5, he shows he is aware of certain situations arising in the company. This is a result of the monitor role.
In paragraph 7, Tony exhibits several types of roles, one ‘Interpersonal’ and two ‘Decisional’ roles. In this extract he carries out the ‘figurehead’ role by approaching Alec and suggesting a new work schedule for the employees. He is acting on behalf of his employees by showing his concern for them. He exhibits the entrepreneurial role and negotiator role in this extract too. The entrepreneurial role is highlighted when he says, “We are losing to many people this way”. He is responding to a negative change in the organisation and trying to resolve it by using his initiative.
The negotiator role is present in the fact that he is trying to negotiate the new work schedules with Alec. Tony knows he will have to negotiate because Alec will oppose any comments made by Tony. Tony exhibits his negotiating skills for the purpose of ‘attaining outcomes which are advantageous to the organisation’ ( Paula Young, Introduction to Management Lecture Notes, 2002).