Monday, 30 November 2015

LEGO, not just a toy.

LEGO, not just a toy.

Organisational learning can be awe inspiring. A dynamic process involving many steps, not yielding immediate results but can ultimately result in success or failure for an organisation. Take LEGO, a well-known and loved brand in many of our homes. In 2003 this company, which only 3 years earlier had been crowned toy of the century by the British Toy Retailers Association was on the brink of bankruptcy.

From the beginning the founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen demonstrated his commitment to high quality with a core product line, strong organisational culture and his drive for innovation all underlined by a mission to create unique play experiences for children. This strategy served the company well for many years but in the 90’s childrens ‘playing’ began to change with advances in technology.

To counter this LEGO embraced a strategy of innovation, ploughing through idea after idea. World class designers were engaged to create new products and break the mould on design. LEGO began to operate in its own bubble. Disconnected from consumers outside, and inside designers operated independently with little accountability for cost and external designers were far removed from the LEGO culture. No feedback loops were in place to learn what was working and what was not.

A true learning organisation reacts to failure by learning from mistakes. LEGO knew it had to turn things around and this required analysis of what went wrong. The CEO Knudstorp rather than immediately create a new growth strategy analysed all parts of the innovation process. It was this positive approach to failure that allowed LEGO to return to its core values and high quality product we know today. Cutting its workforce, redefining its product line and engaging with customers both online and in person, even involving customers in product development allowed LEGO to begin to redirect its future.

The Lego story holds a valuable lesson for all of us, passion is the driver and reflective practice guides the building of foundations to support a strategy for success. There can be no better metaphor for the rebuilding of LEGO than the brick itself, described as ‘a universal building block for catalysing creativity’ (Brick by Brick:2003). Find the passion, reflection, back to basics and rebuild your foundations one brick at a time facilitating organisational learning from mistakes made.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Learning Organisation

Industrialisation brought order, increased efficiency and better value on investment for the commercial sector. We produced goods quicker and in a structured routine.  Everyone knew their role and it just worked. In this technological age we find ourselves we have to reinvent the wheel or at least look at it from a different perspective. We have become so good at getting things done, we have made the world such a competitive environment that in order for organisations to succeed they have to compete in a different way, hence the learning organisation is born.

Some might consider developing a learning organisation or allocating any funds or time to it as a waste of money, idealistic, utopian even in objective but maybe there is no choice if you are to compete in this world of technology and data that we work in?

In the coming weeks I want to examine all the areas surrounding a learning organisation. Before we do that we better include a little bit of theory to get us started;

Peter Senge, a Senior Lecturer at MIT popularised the concept of the Learning Organisation and in his book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ he identified 5 different areas to examine: Systems thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning.

Peter Senge defined organisational learning as: (Senge, 1990:3)

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.
Senge said that while all people have the capacity to learn, often the structure that surrounds them can prevent this.

Without delving too much into the theory at this point it is important to point out that in a learning organisation the system as a whole has to be working together, employees need to feel confident in what they are doing, they need to have time to consider why they think the way they do about things and all work together as a team. Sounds ideal but it can be achieved.

While working at Johnson and Johnson in their World Headquarters despite being in an administrative role I found that I quite easily felt part of something bigger than just myself. We were informed regularly of what the company was doing, we were connected with other areas of business, we know what work was being done around the world in Corporate social responsibility, we knew what impact we were having in peoples’ lives. We all played a part in that.

How leadership view their employees is critical. If they are seen as merely agents to get a job done then true learning cannot happen but if you view them as contributors to the organisation and its future than collaborative learning can take place and build something new, something often intangible but can be created into something sustainable for future growth.  

In future posts I will look at some practical applications of the learning organisation.