Why aren’t we all working for a learning organisation? ask John Seddon and Brendan O’Donovan, authors of this same-titled 2010 AMED Network paper ( PDF ). This article is well worth the read for anyone interested in learning organizations, an often-described but seldom-observed phenomenon in my experience. The Deming quotes show that this is not new conceptual territory:
“Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers – a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through the university.
On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.” (Deming in Senge 2006)
Deming understood that systemic factors account for more organizational problems, and therefore more potential for change, than any individual’s performance. The role of managers should be to manage the system, not the individual functions. The authors target the real culprit: command & control management. This is why the learning organization has never taken hold in business.
I have only perused Deming slightly and I read Senge’s work 15 years ago, while completing my Master’s thesis. It’s time to revisit these important works, as also suggested to me by Bertrand Duperrin. I like that this article clearly articulates the work to be done in organizational design and new management theory, based on the research of Senge, Deming, Argyris and many others. It is an excellent synthesis of the work that has been done in the field as well as a call for the work to be done in our organizations.
The basic precepts of command and control have remained unquestioned whilst the underlying paradigm has outlived its usefulness. The problem is not a general problem of culture, but more specifically is one of management thinking. In order to change this mindset, managers must learn to study their organisation as a system, and to understand the true nature of the problems facing them.