Learning is a keystone in the Baldrige Criteria. Organizational and personal learning is one of 11 Baldrige core values, and learning is one of four factors used to evaluate every process. According to the Criteria, “learning refers to:
- refining your approach through cycles of evaluation and improvement
- encouraging breakthrough change to your approach through innovation
- sharing refinements and innovations with other relevant work units and processes in your organization”
Plan-Do-Check-Act is a learning cycle. Organizations in which PDCA is a natural part of how they do things are learning organizations. “Organizations that have acquired the learning habit are endlessly seeking new methods or new products, forever testing and then reflecting, consciously or unconsciously pushing round that wheel,” wrote Charles Handy in Learning Organizations (Sarita Chawla and John Renesch, 1995).
Creating a learning organization means creating a climate in which learning is encouraged, assisted, applauded, and rewarded. It also means engaging employees in the learning process. Peter Senge, one of the gurus of systems thinking and learning organizations, wrote in his seminal book, The Fifth Discipline, “People learn most rapidly when they have a genuine sense of responsibility for their actions. Helplessness, the belief that we cannot influence the circumstances under which we live, undermines the incentive to learn, as does the belief that someone somewhere else dictates our actions.”
In high-performing organizations, employees feel responsible for their actions. They are engaged. They care about the quality of their work. They are eager to learn and, as a result, organizational learning flourishes. Learning is embedded in the way the organization operates. Continuous improvement is part of every process, innovation is common, and breakthrough approaches set the organization apart.
You become a learning organization by making everyone responsible for learning, giving them the tools and responsibility to learn and to apply their knowledge, setting aggressive goals that demand continuous and breakthrough improvement, communicating improvements throughout the organization, and recognizing and rewarding success. Learning fuels improvement, and continuous improvement drives growth and long-term sustainability.