Our Thoughts

Organizational learning and change

Posted by David Manyanza on Apr 19 2012

According to the Tanzania Development Vision 2025 (TDV2025), Tanzania will be characterized by five key attributes come 2025. They are: high quality of livelihood; peace, stability and unity; good governance; a well-educated and learning society; and a competitive economy capable of producing sustainable growth and shared benefits. With respect to a well-educated and learning society the vision envisages, “a nation whose people are ingrained with a developmental mindset and competitive spirit. These attributes are driven by education and knowledge and are critical in enabling the nation effectively utilize knowledge in mobilizing domestic resources for the provision of people‚Äôs basic needs …”

While education is provided in schools and colleges in the form of information, learning implies a continuing process of inquiry, answers and further inquiry that goes on in the course of our lives. Through this process knowledge which never existed before is created. Unlike information which is available knowledge that can be retrieved from somewhere, knowledge is required information that is not currently available as such has to be created or generated. Learning implies people having the capacity to learn by continuously questioning what they do with the view to doing the best things and in the best way possible in order to get the best results possible. In so doing they unearth previously in-available knowledge.

One important segment of society is made up of organizations. They are mandated to carry out specific functions that ensure provision of essential services in the social economic development process. Organizations can provide the best services possible by themselves becoming learning organizations. Organizations are made up of individuals who should learn through doing and generate knowledge. Peter Senge defined a learning organization as, “an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future”. As such, a learning organization must be capable of creating, acquiring and disseminating knowledge, and modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge or insights. Learning proceeds through generation of data which are transformed into knowledge. But more importantly an organization, through its employees must change as a result of learning. Learning is critical in effecting organizational change. How does an organization learn?

An organization must be guided by clearly articulated vision and strategy to achieve the vision both of which must be well understood and shared throughout the organization at all levels. It takes effective leadership to both develop and ensure ownership and internalization of both organizational vision and strategy. With clear objectives set out in the strategy, data to be gathered for the purpose of measuring and assessing the extent of achieving planned objectives can be identified and data gathering procedures instituted. It is important that data collection is done systematically supported by an institutionalized system. The results of the evaluation must be communicated to everyone in the organization using appropriate information packaging and dissemination channels and discussed to ensure internalization.

Although organizational learning is the principal mover of change, its realization and to the extent it can spur change in an organization is contingent upon good leadership. Good leadership is required in order for individuals and teams in an organization to develop a learning culture. With the currently ubiquitous inadequate use of data in the management of most organizations in Tanzania it is still far from making organizations learning institutions. Clearly, it is still far from making Tanzania a learning society. If it is considered that organizations are currently the best examples of availability of learning opportunities, it can be said that more and urgent efforts need to be made to enhance organizational learning in order to move towards achieving this particular aspect of our national vision of building a learning society.

With the recent development of introducing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) sections in public organizations, a system is starting to emerge that will contribute towards establishing learning organizations. However, it is important that M&E is not implemented in isolation rather it should be done coherently with a whole range of other management processes. These include visioning, objectives and strategy development. It is also critical that leadership is particularly strengthened as this is central in facilitating creation of a learning environment in an organization.

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