Thursday, July 17, 2008

Imperative of Learning - Neglect of learning by Organizations

The Competitive Imperative of Learning.
By: Edmondson, Amy C., Harvard Business Review,
Jul-Aug 2008, Vol. 86, Issue 7/8

My research identifies a different approach to execution -- what I call execution-as-learning -- that promotes success over the long haul.

People don't have enough time to learn.

An exclusive focus on execution-as-efficiency leads companies to delay, discourage, or understaff investments in areas where learning is critical. It's a given that switching to a new approach can lower performance in the short run. The fastest hunt-and-peck typist must endure a short-term hit to performance while learning to touch-type, just as the tennis player suffers initially when shifting to a new, better serve. These are the costs of learning, which has its payoff in future performance. Managers who overemphasize results can subtly discourage technologies, skills, or practices that make new approaches viable.

When a major telecommunications firm launched the technologically new digital subscriber line (DSL) internet service in the late 1990s, it set ambitious production targets that failed to take the need for learning into account. The staff did not have sufficient time to work out how to implement new software and hardware that had to operate with customers' not always up-to-date personal computer equipment: The result was a customer service nightmare.

Amy C. Edmondson ( is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School in Boston. Her most recent previous HBR contribution was the March 2008 article "Is Yours a Learning Organization?" coauthored with David A. Garvin and Francesca Gino.

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