Learning organization without management's support? LO30510

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 08/27/03

Replying to LO30497 --

Dear Organlearners,

Malcolm Burson <mburson@gwi.net> wrote:

>Let me suggest, following particularly Tony DiBella's recent
>work (see "The Systems Thinker" 14/6, August, 2003), that all
>organizations learn, and, as he says, "the notion of the learning
>organization is as redundant as that of hot steam or a breathing
>mammal. Organizations don't have to be developed so they can
>learn; they already do." He goes on to suggest (which squares
>with my experience) that "learning occurs through the natural
>social interaction of people being and working together."

Greetings dear Malcolm,

Of course all organisations learn if at least one individual in them
learn. But even when all individuals in an organisation learn, it does not
make that organisation a Sengian Learning Organisation -- LO (two words,
one concept).

Perhaps the metaphor of a body consisting of organs will illustrate what a
LO is. Every learning individual is like one of the organs. Although each
of these organs has certain functions, they do not work independently.
Each organ depends on the correct functioning of al the other organs in
the body. The LO is like the body itself which can do many things which
none of the organs can do. Most of this doing is the result of thinking.
This thinking signifies the metanoia of a LO.

>CEO's and middle managers are probably irrelevant in this
>context: if people are eager to learn, they cannot be stamped
>out, merely forced underground. And as I see it, "change"
>operates the same way. CEOs neither control nor are required
>to endorse change, except at the most formal level.

I agree with you, but only up to some point -- the conditional "if". The
problem is that managers can override this "if" by subdueing and
eventually detroying the eagerness of their subordinates to learn. I see
it happen whenever i visit an organisation. I think that this is what Alan
had in mind, but he has to speak for himself.

>Frankly, I refuse to bow down to the negativity expressed in
>phrases like Alan's "paranoid senior managers" and "obsequious
>sycophants." This sort of labeling and demonizing serves no
>useful purpose.

It is a fact that some senior managers are as Alan described them. They
cause extreme tensions in the organisation. In business organisations it
results in lower profits, higher turnover of workers and abscence due to
sickness. I am presently facilitating one in which this is its main

English is not my mother tongue and i had to look up what "obsequious
sycophants" means. In my mother tongue Afrikaans
   obsequious = "slaafse" = slavish
   sycophant = "kruiper" = crawler
In other words, "obsequious sycophants" = slavish crawler. In Afrikaans
we say it even stronger even in good conversations:- "gatkruiper". Here
"gat" = arse.

We may find in many an organisation one or more "gatkruipers". The red
light begins to flicker when the CEO or a senior manager begins to
surround himself with them. A most important case was here in apartheid
South Africa when the prime minister in those days began to do it about
the middle seventies. Apartheid was not good for black people, but since
then it began to develop into a horrible policy. A more recent case is in
Zimbabwe. These "gatkruipers" have become so much that they now are
actually pulling Zimbabwe with all its walks of life into the sewage

I receive daily by email a news report on Zimbabwe. They refer to these
"obsequious sycophants" in a softer way as cronies="mee-lopers" (together
walkers). It is stunning and horrible what they now do. It brought me much
deeper under the impression that when the "gatkruipers" have reached a
certain proportion in any organisation, that organisation is beyond the
point of no return in its demise. I wonder how much this played a role in
Enron and WorldCom?

>And, if Deming was right, that 90% of apparent "performance"
>problems are not attributable to individual behavior, but to system
>conditions, then there are good systemic reasons why CEO or
>middle manager behavior is not supportive of learning. They are,
>after all, the products of the system they inhabit, and frequently
>less influential than we tend to believe..

In a Sengian LO this will not happen since the CEO and middle managers
will learn as eagerly as all the other members. Thus they will learn what
to change and since all the other members will have learned it too, their
influence be as powerful as: "say it and we will do it as if already

>Perhaps if we stop attributing stupidity or malevolence to those
>with whom we disagree, and imagine that from their point of
>view, their actions are rational and appropriate, we can find
>leverage to create a system in which their learning serves others.

This is very true with the emphasis on "those with whom we disagree". In a
LO its members will disagree with respect to each other, will know why
they disagree and will know how to find a common ground.

>What do others think?

You and i do not think the same and i think it will be the same with
fellow learners, each having his/her own viewpoint. Why? Management is a
complex activity and because of this we often see only parts of it.

What is worse, when we communicate in writing like on this list, we have
to write selectively even should we understand the full complexity of
management. Because of this I want to urge fellow learners strongly not to
think that when someone has not written something, that person was not
able to write it. Abscence of information does not indicate ignorance of
such information.

I have to stop, but want to convey something based on my own experiences.
The most difficult part for me of transforming an organisation into a LO
is to get the support of management. Think of a car. We want management to
get from neutral into the first gear. But what happened in all my
experiences is that management got into the reverse gear. In the last
couple of organisations which i helped, i had to use all my wits to get
their management teams back from reverse gear into neutral. These
organisations are now in transformation. Surprisingly, their management
teams have shifted themselves into first gear, but the rest of these
organisations are already in second gear.

Perhaps there is a law of management which says:- "The inertia of an
organisation is centred in its management". There is definitely a similar
law in phsyics which says:- "The inertia of a body is situated in its
centre of gravity".

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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