Tomorrow, I am going to be speaking for a class of second year graduate students at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. My topic is “The Learning Organization” and I’ll be sharing my experiences as a consultant helping a non-profit take a systems approach and become a learning organization. My audience of social workers is not interested in clinical work but instead is interested in administrative work in the non-profit area, public management, human resources management, social and economic development, and global and transnational practice. In addition to the presentation I’ll be making, I am going to recommend a book that will be helpful to this audience and the larger one as well.
The Organization of the Future 2: Visions, Strategies, and Insights on Managing in a New Era is a collection of 26 informational essays written by great thought leaders, produced by the Leader to Leader Institute, and published by Jossey-Bass in 2009. (Note: The institute changed is name to the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.) According to the cover, “The book describes how tomorrow’s organizations can chart the path toward growth and prosperity in rapidly changing times and includes amazing examples of how organizations from different sectors have created cultures that are empowering their employees and transforming their industries and communities.”
Editors are two well-known leaders: Frances Hesselbein and Marshall Goldsmith. Hesselbein is the founding president and CEO of the institute named after her and is well-known known for her service as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA for which she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Goldsmith is one of the top executive coaches in the world and was recognized by the American Management Association as one of 50 great thinkers who have influenced the field of management.
The Leader to Leader Institute was established in 1990, and was then called the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Non-Profit Management. The more encompassing name furthers the image and the book “furthers its mission—to strengthen the leadership of the social sector—by providing social sector leaders with essential leadership wisdom, inspiration, and resources to lead for innovation and to build vibrant social sector organizations.”
There are five sections in the book: Part One – Strategy and Vision: Setting the Direction of the Organization of the Future. Part Two – Organizational Culture: Values, Emotions, Hope, Ethics, Spirit, and Behavior. Part Three – Designing the Organization of the Future. Part Four – Working Together. Part Five – Leadership.
When I looked up ‘learning organization’ in the Index, I was referred to pages of an article in Part One “Managing the Whole Mandate for the Twenty-First Century: Ditching the Quick-Fix Approach to Management” by Paul Borawski and Maryann Brennan. Borawski, executive director and chief strategic officer of the American Society for Quality, and Brennan, principal for Brennan Worldwide, write that “Organizations that rely on quick fixes don’t necessarily learn from their endeavors.” They go on to state that, “To avoid making the same mistake, you need to share knowledge about what worked and what didn’t throughout your organization so that other functional areas with similar problems can apply the solution.”
Developing a systems approach can foster a learning organization in large as well as small companies. To make it happen and change to a systems approach to management, the authors of the article describe a process of three stages:
—Decide you believe in a systems approach.
—Help your organization build broad support to view the organization as a system by preparing for an investment of time to learn, experiment, and learn more, and making a commitment to a journey toward performance excellence that will take years.
—Craft a plan on how your organization is going to move from its current state toward a systems approach.
Tomorrow, I am going to recommend the article I referenced and the over 300 pages of other articles in the book to my audience because although a little dated, I believe the thought experts can help the reader learn how to lead with intelligence in order to effectively manage the organization of the future.