Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Why Don’t Companies Learn?

I read business articles and I am encouraged by their content as they show a shift in how tocreate a healthy company, good for the business and equally good for the people. The articles are like baby steps that we clap for to reinforce. Yea. Good article on “making” work have meaning and purpose. Clap, clap, clap. Yea. Business models for additive manufacturing. Mass customization! New twenty years ago. But, clap, clap, clap.  And how about making a business case for curiosity? What? What about all those business creativity and innovation classes? Still, yea. Clap, clap, clap.

What on earth goes on that learning does not occur or accumulate? What is the deeply engraved model that makes CEO’s and companies dumb?  What literally retards them?Is it the military model of command and control? Is it the cumulative wounds of previous unacknowledged failure (denial)? Are companies and CEO’s so anxious that they turn to action (any action) to quell the fear of not knowing what to do?

I was an EVP of OD and Learning for a global food retailing company and saw some major progress. I brought together a global group of about fifty people to create a learning” virus”. Our mantra became that each person  become “a proud learner and a humble teacher”.  Shockingly the phrase took hold with people who were in the meeting and those who were not. A meeting would be stopped and someone would ask, “What would we do if we were “proud learners and humble teachers”?

We (I had a great team) created self-managed learning groups of Store Managers with a template that worked. Members created their own team results report and one for their own professional development. They supported one another and held one another accountable.

We created global learning focused on day to day issues of food retailing, bringing together people  in video conference to talk about lighting in the meat department, end displays, and how to let go a likeable, but non-functioning associate. Gritty stuff

I have many examples of learning that galvanized a whole company. We had a good run of about 12 years before the over-riding antiquated culture of “business” gradually oozed back after a leadership change. The humble teachers and proud learners gradually, and not so gradually, left the company.

What seems to allow the old organism to renew its grasp as well as to re-establish a sick culture?

—fear that creates a frozen response—same response to all issues

—too many outside influences that take over the primary culture ie. Consultant teams that live inside and become a ghost management team

—Obsessive focus on cost

—Loss of the sense of a “whole” company in it together

—Fear of fear that shows up in lack of truth telling that could heal and energize

—Check lists of minutia instead of overall purpose allowing any behavior that works

—Searching for too big a solution all at once that entails betting the farm so it never happens

—Dis-integration at every level, horizontal and vertical

What is the root cause of these attributes? You tell me.It circles around the trust of democratic small (“d”)  and the fear that creates overly tight leadership (autocratic at best, dictatorship at worst). We need to turn the light on this lurking business model that has a hold on a larger transformation.


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