The animal welfare environment is a fast-changing one, where we are faced with an ever-complex range of problems and opportunities. Our opponents are better resourced in so many ways. Our ‘competitors’ are always trying to steal advantage from us. This makes it vital that we continue to make the most of our scarce resources, and our most valuable asset – our staff. Continuous improvement (or ‘learning’) and Kaizen are ways of achieving this, without a damaging ‘revolution’.
A ‘Learning Organization’ is an organization that learns and encourages learning among its people. It promotes exchange of information between employees hence creating a more knowledgeable workforce. This produces a very flexible organization where people will accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared vision.
"A Learning Organisation is one in which people at all levels, individuals and collectively, are continually increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about." Senge
Key aspects of a ‘Learning Organisation’ are that it established procedures to:
The importance of learning was first put forward by the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 - 479 BC). He believed that everyone should benefit from learning:
"Without learning, the wise become foolish; by learning, the foolish become wise."
"Learn as if you could never have enough of learning, as if you might miss something."
Reason for the growing emphasis on organizational learning is because of the increased pace of change. Classically, work has been thought of as being conservative and difficult to change. Now, there is such a fast-changing environment that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.
As various management writers put it:
"Organisations must develop a capacity for fast-paced innovation... learn to love change" Peters
"As the competitive environment becomes more complex and variegate, the need for greater genetic variety - a broader range of managerial beliefs, and a greater repertoire of managerial actions - grows apace" Hamel and Prahaled
"Top companies seem to organise around people - honoring these needs - feeling of control, something to believe in, challenge, lifelong learning, recognition" Waterman
With the pace of change ever quickening, the need to develop mechanisms for continuous learning and innovation is greater than ever.
If the changeover to a ‘Learning Organisation’ happened overnight, the environment around the workers would be complex and dynamic. This would cause fear, uncertainty and confusion, which would hamper learning and openness to change. So it can only be introduced into an organization that is prepared to reach a balance between change and stability, i.e. a balance between the old and the new. Thus, part of the senior management’s job involves innovation, but more is process review and some is maintenance. For middle managers, jobs consist largely of process review and maintenance, and for workers, mainly maintenance, with some process review. The core stability is maintained through a steady review and introduction process, supported by staff and management development.
Evaluation is necessary for an organization to learn from its mistakes and also to appreciate its successes. Discussion and contribution in a team framework is vital, followed by assessment and planning. Each team member should be encouraged to assess his/her own performance. This requires continuous feedback and assessment, which is commonly depicted using the ‘Learning Cycle’ model below:
Animal welfare organizations can be very poor at evaluation, instead dashing from advocacy campaign to advocacy campaign. This may give the feeling of constant activity, but it completely misses the important chance to learn and improve upon experiences.
Your M&E is an important part of your organizational learning and continuous improvement. If your organization encourages learning this will create more knowledgeable staff and a flexible organization where people will accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared vision.
An organization that learns and wants its people to learn, should try to follow certain concepts in learning techniques and mold itself to accommodate for a number of specific attributes. These include:
A ‘Learning Organisation’ is not simply about 'more training'. While training does help develop certain types of skill, a ‘Learning Organisation’ involves the development of higher levels of knowledge and skill. This includes four levels of learning:
Some of the key characteristics of a ‘Learning Organisation’ are given below
An organizational climate that nurtures learning.
Management processes that encourage interaction across boundaries. These are infrastructure, development and management processes, for example:
Another very similar concept to a ‘Learning Organisation’ is Kaizen. This is a key Japanese management philosophy that means ‘improvement’. Kaizen strategy calls for never-ending efforts for improvement involving everyone in the organization - managers and workers alike.
In practice, Kaizen can be implemented in organizations by improving every aspect of the work process in a step-by-step approach, while gradually developing employee skills through training education and increased involvement. The principles in Kaizen implementation are:
Support throughout the entire structure is necessary to become successful at developing a strong Kaizen approach. Management as well as workers need to believe in the Kaizen idea and strive toward obtaining the small goals in order to reach overall success. Therefore, all members of an organization need to be trained in a manner to support this. Resources, measurements, rewards and incentives all need to be aligned to and working with the Kaizen structure of ideas.
The Kaizen Mindset includes the following: