Accelerating the development of learning organizations

by Jun 14, 2019Leadership, Managing People & Organizations, Strategy

We live in a world of increasing and accelerating volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This is happening across a number of different domains. Many of our traditional, modern ways of thinking, understanding and doing are poor matches for what’s needed to be effective now and to lay foundation for a sustainable future. Not only must we learn new skills and be able to apply them well and appropriately in different situations. We also have an imperative to learn how to learn as an ongoing capacity and capability that can enable us to diagnose, create and adapt repeatedly.

Closing this learning gap and its related performance is as critical for our organizations as it is for us as individuals. Old ways of leading (command-and-control), managing (coercive, judgmental/blaming, fear-based) and thinking (reactive, risk and change averse) about the way to organize work (emphasizing only efficiency, viewing people as instrumental means to financial ends, conceptualizing business as primarily profit maximizing) have proven to be inefficient, unable to adapt and maintain competitive advantage, and contributed to degradation of the environment and community.

The leadership of the CEO and the culture she/he fosters is an important factor in making strategic decisions, engaging the workforce, and producing successful, potentially sustainable enterprises. For example, four market conditions have been identified (characterized as simple, complicated, complex and chaotic), each requiring its own tactics, timing and expectations.

The “learning organization” has been described as one continually expanding its ability to create its future. More than simply adaptive learning that enables an organization to survive, the learning organization also delivers generative learning that allows an organization to create. Organizations that focus simply on execution (even if it’s excellent execution) cannot guarantee enduring success in the knowledge economy. To elaborate, a learning organization is “skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” Through this process, companies enhance the way they do business to stay ahead of the competition. Organizational competencies related to the learning organization are collective, team-based, and externally oriented. Three building blocks for learning organizations include:

  1. A supportive learning environment (including psychological safety and time for reflection);
  2. Concrete learning practices (such as knowledge sharing and experimentation); and
  3. Leadership that reinforces learning (by modeling and endorsing active questioning, thoughtful listening and dialogue).

One researcher suggests that a different mindset is required, one of execution-as-learning rather than execution-as-efficiency. This point of view emphasizes success over the long haul, rather than maximizing short-term profits. Leaders set the direction and priorities and champion their organization as a learning zone with a willingness to sacrifice short-term efficiency to gain insight and respond to new problems and situations.

As a discipline, human performance improvement (HPI) is governed by a set of underlying principles that focuses on results, takes a systems view and systematic approach to assessing need, adds value, establishes partnerships, and is neutral in its choice of solutions. Performance gap analysis often reveals more than one issue to address. From a systemic perspective, it is likely that there will be more than one solution and an interactive effect across solutions. This suggests that there are probably opportunities to select and combine solutions (in a blended, coordinated fashion) to have more powerful, beneficial consequences. What’s needed is the leadership with the vision and courage to endorse, authorize, and model taking such a journey, along with the organizational expertise to make it a successful one.


Credits and Links

The full article first appeared as Lazar, J.B., & Robu, D. (2015). Accelerating the development of learning organizations: Shifting paradigms from current practice to human performance improvement. Theoretical and Applied Economics, 22(1), 241-256.
Available at

Cite as:

Lazar, J., Robu, D. (2019) Accelerating the development of learning organizations Being Better Matters 14 June. Available at (accessed: date of your access)

Authors profile:

John B. Lazar

John has been a performance consultant and coach since 1983, including 23 years as an executive coach to executives and senior managers through his company John B. Lazar & Associates. He works with individual leaders and their teams, altering their perspectives, skill sets, and performance to produce socially and emotionally intelligent leadership and management, breakthrough execution and business results.
John has been a member of ISPI since 1981 and now serves on its board of directors


Co-Authors: Daniela Robu