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In 1993, Peter Senge popularized the concept of a “learning organization” in his bestselling book, The Fifth Discipline. He described learning organizations as ones “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” 

That vision of a learning organization aligns perfectly with the idea of quality culture. After all, it’s about people creating the results they truly desire (quality), constantly expanding that capacity (continuous improvement), and nurturing a sense of collective aspiration (culture of quality). 

The Fifth Discipline in Practice 

One common criticism of Peter Senge’s book, though, was that it described the so-called “fifth discipline” (that is, “team learning”) in terms that were too abstract. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, organizational learning expert David A. Garvin asked: “But does [Senge’s “Fifth Discipline”] provide a framework for action? Hardly. He goes on to ask What concrete changes in behavior are required? What policies and programs must be in place? How do you get from here to there? 

There is good news here for quality managers, though, – namely, that QMS professionals have done an outstanding job of filling the void that some observers noticed in Peter Senge’s book. How do you build a learning organization? Define the results you truly desire (Create a clear definition of what quality means for your organization). Constantly expand your capacity to achieve those results (Establish a methodology for continuous improvement and follow it). Nurture a sense of collective aspiration centered around those goals (Cultivate a culture of quality built around shared values in your organization). 

QMS methodologies provide a clear roadmap for fulfilling that vision of a learning organization. In this respect, quality management truly has a special place in the context of corporate culture and high-performance organizations.  

Training as an Investment  

People are your company’s most valuable asset. High-performing organizations demonstrate their commitment to their people by making ongoing investments in their success. Not only do effective training programs enhance the value of the company’s employees, – they also reinforce broader efforts to establish quality as a keystone of organizational culture. 

Organizations that consistently invest in their people, and which align those investments with their overall commitment to quality, will reap the rewards in the form of a healthy quality culture and all of the good things that arise from that. Those investments can exist in the form of structured training programs (classes, e-learning resources, and formal mentoring programs for example); or they can be integrated into an organization’s day to day work through continuous improvement, consistent feedback mechanisms, and so on. 

The 2015 update to the ISO 9001 standard introduced a number of changes, including new emphasis on leadership commitment. It follows that an organization’s investment in its people should align with that commitment to quality. In this respect, training serves a dual purpose; on one hand it contributes directly to the organization’s overall goals by ensuring that employees are empowered to do their jobs well, and on the other, it indirectly supports the company’s commitment to its people as a strategic asset. 

Continuous Improvement is Continuous Learning 

Learning is an essential element of any continuous improvement program. A good CAPA process, for example, is about collecting information, analyzing it, understanding what went wrong, and coming up with ways to correct that problem and prevent it from happening again in the future. Learning organizations are very adept at gathering and analyzing information, establishing hypotheses and testing them, and drawing conclusions based on the results. 

Just as importantly, they are good at institutionalizing that knowledge. Information is shared routinely and enthusiastically. Ideally, it is captured and catalogued in a digital format so that is accessible to anyone in the organization at any time, and it survives in perpetuity. Learning organizations care about knowledge because they understand just how valuable it is. 

Companies with a strong culture of quality are prime examples of what a learning organization looks like. If you aspire to create that kind of culture in your organization, we’d love to talk. Intellect offers technology that supports you and your team in your quest for continuous improvement. Contact us today to learn more. 

Romeo Elias

Written by Romeo Elias

Romeo Elias is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Intellect, an award winning leader in the SaaS enterprise software industry with a focus on enterprise Quality Management Software and Business Process Management (BPM). Romeo is a visionary executive, thought leader and advocate for business friendly software that requires No Programming and empowers everyone to innovate. Romeo has overseen Intellect's growth from its founding in 2000 to a high growth software company with hundreds of happy customers. Romeo is a patented inventor, entrepreneur advisor, and board member of Intellect. Prior to Intellect, Romeo worked in the consumer electronics space, overseeing the engineering design and development of handheld electronics, and previously was the founder of a web development firm. He received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego and MS in Manufacturing Engineering from UCLA.