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Organizational Learning and Quality Judgment: Change as a Way of Life

Arrival of the learning organization marks the progress of management thought and practice from a resource orientation to a human potential orientation.

For an organization to flourish, it must be service driven. To be truly service driven, it must understand the purposes and visions; values and beliefs; goals and objectives; and points of view of all persons affected by it: its customers, its suppliers, its communities, and its members. An organization not attuned to these cannot create its own future. It cannot effectively cope with change.

In our fast paced, rapidly changing world, change is the only constant. Massive political, economic, ethical/cultural, and technological change has become the norm. Moreover, for some time, it has not been enough for executives to concentrate on the most effective and efficient management and use of resources--whether time, material, or human. The matters of most importance to an organization now cannot be measured, they must be understood.

Purposeful, insightful leadership, not management, is the primary responsibility of the executive. Executives cannot control whether there will be change. Everything in and around an organization is changing--the environment in which it operates; the resources it develops, maintains, and uses; and even its understanding of its own history. But, while change is constant, two aspects of change are not. With leadership and Quality Judgment, the vulnerability of an organization to change and the rate of change affecting it may both be reduced.

Quality Judgment, as a practice and policy, integrates the disciplines of thinking, planning, acting, and learning--creating a comprehensive set of theories and practices. It is a competence for seeing wholes: for seeing relationships rather than resources, patterns rather than isolated events. It requires a clear definition of success; a sound statement of the reasoned beliefs on which it is based; a sense of personal responsibility; and an openness to reevaluation. Through Quality Judgment, the purposes and visions; values and beliefs; goals and objectives; and points of view of all stakeholders are involved and the organization's vulnerability to change reduced.

A law of ecological survival suggests that learning must equal or exceed the rate of change in the environment. We believe that organizational survival requires that the human ability to learn be developed, maintained, and employed to reduce an organization's vulnerability to change and control the rate of change affecting it. So, organizational learning must maximize the human potential to learn to create its own future. The ability of an organization to develop insight into its environment, its resources, and its history--and apply that insight through principles to make its judgments more sound--is the only way to control change and flourish.

The learning organization is a community of people who skillfully, consciously and responsibly cooperate with others as they act in their dynamic roles as producers, consumers, and community members. For such an organization, Quality Judgment is the essence of learning.

Personal Mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening personal vision; of seeing reality clearly; of sustaining and generating "creative tension"; of focusing one's energies on one's personal vision; and of developing empathy, patience, integrity, and courage. Personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to learn continually how our actions affect our world.

Managing Mental Models is the discipline of unearthing our internal pictures of the world and the way it works, bringing them to the surface, and holding them up to rigorous scrutiny. This discipline requires the skills and knowledge to carry on "learningful" conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.

Building Shared Vision is the leadership capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create. Shared vision is vital to a learning organization because it provides the energy and focus for learning. Shared vision may be the only way that human beings will come to take a long term view, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Team Learning is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly want. It builds on the discipline of developing shared vision. It builds on personal mastery, for talented teams are composed of talented individuals.

Kenneth W. Johnson

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