Most managers in the contemporary business world are enamored of organizational processes, and it is easy to understand why. Today, many organizations are hierarchical and functional, and they suffer from poor coordination, limited communication, and isolated departments. Furthermore, work is often compartmentalized and fragmented, making it hard for managers to lead a firm successfully. Due to such problems in understanding business processes, employees learn about organizational tasks. However, some factors enable or prevent organizational learning of business processes. In a broader sense, organizational processes are collections of actions and tasks that modify inputs to outputs. It is crucial to review the differences between professional and organizational development activities, various mechanisms of organizational learning, and individual and company environment issues to comprehend what hinders learning in firms.
Professional and Organizational Development Activities
Development activities for employees and organizations take multiple forms, including feedback and assessment, and training courses. There are two development activities: organizational development (ODA) and professional development (PDA). ODA refers to an activity focused on employee volunteering in specific initiatives planned by a whole organization, such as workshops, seminars, courses, and learning activities. Such programs are created and tailored to assist workers in learning or applying new information or skills relevant to a particular individual firm. ODA is classified as an example of prosocial organizational behavior (PSOB). PSOB indicates that an action is designed to help an organization, individual or group promote the welfare of the same organization, individual, or group. ODA implies that when people pursue organization-wide objectives as a collective group, they have high chance of discovering new ways of interprofessional collaboration (Blau et al., 2008). As a result, ODA creates harmony between an employee’s personal goals and the company’s goals, leading to improved productivity and effectiveness.
On the other hand, PDA refers to a development activity that emphasizes the same workers come forward to partake in career-based programs like workshops and continuing education. PDA is created to enable individual learning and promote the application of new information or skills relevant to a particular profession. PDA can represent discretionary or extra-role behavior not required by a person’s employer and created to improve overall job performance, leading to increased responsibilities and duties. It enables workers to keep up with new technologies, processes, and systems. In addition, PDA allows employees to learn about the latest developments in their field and enhance their current skills. Ultimately, most workers who participate in PDA pursue new challenges in their professions (Blau et al., 2008). ODA specifically benefits an organization where workers currently sell their labor. In contrast, PDA is more beneficial to an individual as it improves skills applied in different companies.
Mechanisms of Organizational Learning
The learning and development of employees in an organization take different forms. Both Blau et al. (2008) and Clifford and Thorpe (2007) offer distinct classifications of organizational learning. Clifford and Thorpe (2007) categorize mechanisms of learning into various classes: individual learning, on-the-job learning, facilitated learning, and group learning. According to Clifford and Thorpe (2007), facilitated learning refers to traditional and popular methods like qualification programs, creative interventions, outdoor learning, and training courses. Such methods are facilitated by a trainer or teacher who ensures that a particular group achieves pre-determined learning outcomes or objectives. On-the-job learning refers to any learning that happens in the workplace (Clifford & Thorpe, 2007). It can occur during secondment, shadowing, projects, apprenticeships, temporary promotion, and delegation.
Group learning is unique because it lacks a teacher or training and brings together people with similar interests to share ideas and learn from each other. Individual learning involves un-facilitated and facilitated activities, including executive coaching, reflective practice, mentoring, e-learning, self-study, and distance learning (Clifford & Thorpe, 2007). Often, individual learning requires self-motivation to fulfill learning outcomes. In contrast, Blau et al. (2008) explain five categories of organizational learning: workshops, learning programs, in-service programs, seminars, as well as other programs. Organizational learning helps employees to acquire information or skills that are relevant to a specific firm. In addition, learning in companies may involve informal experiences such as special assignments, voluntary task forces, projects, and committees (Blau et al., 2008). However, such learning does not benefit a company alone but also positively influences the employee and supervisor.
Individual-Level Hindrances to Organizational Learning
Different literature offers unique views about what determines learning in organizations. According to Ng et al. (2006), self-direction is a factor that can affect learning about business processes. Lack of self-direction in the modern workforce hinders learning among employees. However, self-directed employees have a high chance of increasing their skills. Many people believe that people are solely responsible for their careers; therefore, being self-directed allows them to acquire knowledge and work experience across organizations and jobs. Learning is the relative long-term increase in skills not caused by natural maturity, and it benefits a person’s career. Self-directed people can take the initiative to improve their skills and are naturally motivated (Ng et al., 2006). Without self-direction, learning in organizations cannot happen since individuals lack the motivation to increase their skills and knowledge continually.
Lack of suitable mentoring hampers learning in most organizations as more employees struggle to adjust in the workplace. Mentoring involves managers offering informal support and assistance to mentees or relatively new subordinates to succeed in an enterprise. According to Orpen (1997), when there are ineffective mentoring practices in an organization, new employees do not learn about specific business processes in a company. Most organizations have informal mentoring, which benefits some new employees, but it is not practical. Informal mentoring fosters a good relationship between senior managers and mentees and allows the smooth transition of new workers to their roles. Mentees under informal mentoring are satisfied with their jobs and are likely to move up the organizational chart quickly. However, informal mentoring succeeds among a few workers, leaving most newcomers with no direction or onboarding (Orpen, 1997). Implementing formal mentoring can help familiarize new employees with a company’s business processes.
Organizational learning can fail when workers do not value the training itself. Orpen (1997) and Ng et al. (2006) identify the lack of self-direction and effective mentoring as barriers to learning in an organization. In contrast, Yadav and Agarwal (2016) argue that the lack of value in learning and direct leadership hinder organizational learning. Passive managers cannot achieve objectives with organizational learning. Therefore, leaders must be direct and present in all learning aspects to motivate and give employees confidence. Furthermore, employees tend to resist changes when they do not see the value of what they learn (Yadav & Agarwal, 2016). For example, some individuals may learn new skills that they do not need to use immediately, which results in a feeling of having learned nothing.
Organizational Environment Issues
Several factors in the organizational environment may affect learning in firms. Alderfer and Smith (1982) explore the impact of intergroup relations among different companies. Enterprises can have two classes of groups: organizational and identity. Organizational groups consist of members who share everyday work experiences, company positions, and views. Group relations are affected by forces such as power differences and affective patterns that influence organizational learning. Power differences manifest in the resources that various groups can obtain and utilize. Such distinctions of power hinder learning in an organization as people have access to different resource types. Affective patterns refer to the degree of positive feelings in a group (Alderfer & Smith, 1982). If employees do not feel happy, they are likely to resist organizational learning.
Social identity theory (SIT) affects various organizations because it may cause intergroup conflicts. Similar to the views of Alderfer and Smith (1982), Ashforth and Mael (1989) argue that a person defines herself or himself partly by salient memberships of groups. The identification concept can be applied to organizational socialization as it allows new employees to reify a firm and feel committed and loyal, facilitating the internalization of the company’s beliefs and values. However, intergroup conflict can emerge in ideographic organizations as people struggle to build social identity (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Chatterjee et al. (2018) offer a different view on organizational environment factors that affect learning. Organizational culture affects how companies learn and influence employee behavior (Chatterjee et al., 2018). For instance, stable companies have a rigid culture that limits sharing of knowledge, reducing a firm’s competitive advantage.
It is essential to explore professional and organizational development activities, organizational learning mechanisms, and individual and company environment issues to understand hindrances to organizational learning. Activities for development in companies include organizational and professional development tasks. Such activities utilize mechanisms like individual learning, group learning, on-the-job learning, and facilitated learning. However, organizational learning is affected by individual-level issues such as lack of self-direction and adequate mentoring. Employees lacking mentoring and self-direction often see no value in increasing their skills and knowledge. Organizational environment factors that hinder learning are power differences and affective patterns in intergroup associations, resulting in intergroup conflict as people struggle to identify themselves. Organizational learning promotes the increase of competency and mastery of relevant professional organizational skills.
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