OL-ECB Week: Jeff Sheldon on the Characteristics of the Learning Organization

I’m Jeff Sheldon, newly minted Ph.D. from the School of Social Science, Policy, and Evaluation at Claremont Graduate University and many of the positions to which I’ve applied have the words “strategic learning” and “evaluation” in the job title for good reason; evaluation is part and parcel of strategic learning and it is the learning organization that uses evaluation strategically to become more efficient, effective or accountable.  Given some confusion about how organizations learn, today I offer the 16 widely agreed upon characteristics of the learning organization that can be used as a checklist to determine whether your organization is a learning organization.  These characteristics are subject to interpretation, but by contextualizing they’ll be relevant to your organization.

  1. Your organization provides continuous learning opportunities;
  1. Your organization uses coordinated efforts and learning to reach its shared goals;
  1. Your organization links individual performance with organizational performance;
  1. Your organization fosters inquiry and dialogue;
  1. Your organization makes it safe for people to openly share and take risks;
  1. Your organization embraces creative tension as a source of energy and renewal, and has a continuous awareness of and interaction with its environment;
  1. Your organization has shared insights or vision;
  1. Your organization has an active commitment to continuous improvement and to the diffusion of best practices throughout the organization;
  1. In your organization learning is based on experience;
  1. In your organization there is a willingness to change mental models;
  1. In your organization there is individual and group motivation;
  1. In your organization learning is done in teams;
  1. In your organization learning is nurtured by new information;
  1. In your organization there is an ability to understand, analyze, and use the dynamic system within which it functions;
  1. In your organization information flows horizontally in networks bringing together expertise as well as external links; and
  1. In your organization there is an ever-increasing learning capacity to reach a state of continuous transformation.

Where does evaluative inquiry fit with these characteristics of the learning organization?  First, it is integrated into an organization’s processes and performed primarily by its own members.  Second, evaluative inquiry and the resultant learning are ongoing rather than episodic because it is embedded in the organization’s naturally occurring processes.  Last, the organization is a community of inquirers who regularly use their own inquiry skills for understanding and improving organizational processes and systems.

Taken together these characteristics foster the development of a learning culture in organizations, one that supports the systematic acquisition, transfer, and ongoing use of knowledge and information for adaptation and improvement to enrich and enhance the organization as a whole.

Rad Resource: LinkedIn members can access the full document (with references): https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/jeff-sheldon-learning-organization-part-i-jeff-sheldon-ph-d-?trk=mp-reader-card



The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our OL-ECB TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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