What exactly is a LO? LO25934

From: Peggy Stuart (pstuart@c2t2.ca)
Date: 01/19/01

Hi all:
During my journey to understand what exactly is a LO, I realize now that I
could have separated my quest into three questions:

1. What is the difference between a LO and OL?
2. What does the literature say about LOs?
3. What sets a LO apart from any other organization i.e. what is unique
about a LO?

I would like to quickly share with you an overview on what I have learned
so far and would greatly appreciate your thoughts on any of the points I
am trying to make.

1. What is the difference between a LO and OL?

This has stumped me a number of times. I think I can safely say that you
can find OL embedded in any successful, sustainable organization. But does
that make that organization a LO?

One of the books I like that helped me was "Organizational Learning - From
World-Class Theories to Global Best Practices" (Schwandt and Marquardt.
2000). The authors say that organizational learning is a process that may
or may not result in a LO. They see the difference between the two as OL
is a processes where a LO is a product. A LO is a representation of a
desired end. OL is a representation of the "dynamic human process required
to increase the cognitive capacity of the total organization." Schwandt
and Marquardt believe that OL is the possible bridge to becoming a LO.

2. What does literature say about LOs?

As a business professional, most of the literature that I have read
quickly goes over my head into a body of knowledge I know little about -
so far. :-) In addition, there seems to be a number of well-recognized and
credible authors that have different perspectives on the same thing. So
wading the through the literature can be a little frustrating at times.

One of the books I found that helped sort things out was "According to How
Organizations Learn" (DiBella and Nevis. 1998). The authors of this book
state that describing an LO is dependant on the mind-set of the person
doing the describing. They say that if you ask the question "what is a
learning organization", you will probably get any number of replies based
on differing perspectives about organization and learning. DiBella and
Nevis say there are three principle perspectives about learning

a. Normative - This perspective holds that organizational learning takes
place only under a unique set of conditions.
b. Developmental - The developmental perspective is that LOs represent a
late stage of OD.
c. Capability - This perspective presumes that learning is innate in all
organizations and that there is no one best way for all organizations to

3. What sets a LO apart from any other organization i.e. what is unique
about a LO?

I haven't found any information specifically on this - yet. I have found a
number of sources listing characteristics of a LO, but which still doesn't
gives me the information I need to distinguish a LO from a TQM, High
Performance Organization (HPO) or any other successful, sustainable
organizations. I think all the LO characteristics I have read so far are
based on coincidence only. Any organization can adapt quickly to change,
be risk-friendly or flat and/or decentralized. Or have OL, empowered
employees, collaborative processes and cultures that have such freely
operating values as learning, openness and trust.

What seems to me to be the answer lies between what goes into an
organization (product, mission, vision and values, strategies, people and
structure and whatever else I am not thinking of right now) and what comes
out i.e. the sometimes measurable outcomes of their activities
(product/service, ability to adapt to change, innovation, competitive
advantage, profits, etc.).

Within that area you have two things. The climate and culture. Some would
say they are the same. I think they are different, though interconnected.
The article "A Framework for Linking Culture and Improvement Initiatives
in Organizations" (Detert, Schroeder and Mauriel. Oct. 2000) says culture
is "...a system of shared values defining what is important, and norms,
defining appropriate attitudes and behaviors." I believe climate has more
to do with the environment, which although influenced by the culture, can
also influenced by the work place layout and ergonomics, stress, workload,
etc. (By the way, I am no organizational behaviorist - that is my next
grad degree!)

So where is that nugget that is unique to a LO? (Or even is there one?
Does such a thing as a LO exist? If you have taken the capability
perspective, then you would probably believe that organizations can not
"become" a LO because learning is on ongoing process.) This is where I
believe lies the problem with trying to accurately define a LO.

Well, I think (and I have read this somewhere, I just can't remember where
to find it again - DARN!) it is in the organizational culture. Now where
you can find that nugget in the culture - I have no idea! Detert,
Schroeder and Mauriel's article lists eight general dimensions of
organizational culture used most commonly in extant research, which gives
me some structure for my search. It says that LOs " ...will have their own
ideal-type cultures derived from some or all of the general dimensions."
And that specifically, LOs would need, "cultures that value collaboration,
shared decision influence and fact-based decision making"

And herein lies the end of my learning journey -- so far. :-)

I hope this helps people out on similar journeys and look forward to
reading your thoughts, critiques, etc.

Have a great day,



Peggy Stuart <pstuart@c2t2.ca>

[Host's Note: When books are mentions here on the list, I usually try to add a link to that book at Amazon... In assoc w/Amazon.com...

Organizational Learning From World Class Theories to Global Best Practices by David R. Schwandt, Michael J. Marquardt (Preface), Betty S. Beene http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1574442597/learningorg

How Organizations Learn : An Integrated Strategy for Building Learning Capability (Jossey-Bass Business and Management Series) by Anthony J. Dibella, Edwin C. Nevis (Contributor) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0787911070/learningorg


Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.