The 90's are a pivotal time for American Manufacturers. Competitive
pressures and recessionary fears have heightened our sensitivity to
the need for change. The question is what do we do first? Shorten
the product design time to bring new products to the market ahead of
our competitors, or install new systems and philosophies to cause
continued improvement and gain control. These are all good things to
do, and we should be doing them. The problem here is that our
competitors are doing the same. They are staying right on our heels
every step of the way. The real competitive advantage in today's
world market is what sets us and our competitors apart, and that is
our organization. It can not be copied, it can not be imitated. Our
ability to learn faster than our competitors may be the only
sustainable competitive advantage we have.
From the very beginning of organization structure and design, we
have broken apart functions to fragment the world. This apparently
makes complex processes more manageable, but we pay a hidden,
enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our
actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to the larger
whole and the purpose of our endeavors. When we then try to "see the
big picture" we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds to list
and organize all the pieces. This is similar to trying to reassemble
the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection. After
struggling for a time we give up trying to see the whole altogether.
When we give up the illusion that the world is created of separate,
unrelated forces we can then build "Learning Organizations,"
organizations 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
This paper will illustrate one approach to the sustained competitive
advantage, "The Learning Organization." Through practical examples
the author will delve into key topics such as Strategic vs. Tactical
Thinking, Organizational Values and Cross-functional Relationships
to help explain the problems and provide the audience with a step by
step guide to understanding the solutions.
Building a Learning Organization means overcoming many political,
economic, and cultural problems. Each problem while many faceted,
must be attacked as inter-dependent aspects of one dynamic field if
success is to be achieved. Our organizations are made up of
thousands and thousands of social interactions. These interactions
can be categorized in two main areas, one is constructive, the
second is destructive. Whichever way the pendulum swings, so goes
To better understand the dynamics involved, let us spend a little
time defining a typical American manufacturing organization. The
typical organization works in a vertical silo. (See Figure 1.)
Information flows vertically in each of the silos. Not willing to
share methods, successes, failures, or information with parallel
silos. These silos are functions within the same organization.
Internal competitive pressures are forcing us to duplicate many of
our efforts. Maybe not as efficiently, maybe more. The typical
managers perception is that if we tell or share, it may impact our
performance reviews or promotability. Are these people working for
the same company?
Competitive pressures are excellent company motivators, but internal
competitive pressures will tear us apart. Internal pressures that
force us to launch defensive and offensive attacks within our own
organization cause chaos, loss of direction and leadership at all
levels of our organization. The process of learning is virtually
impossible in this type of environment.
To be Continued
For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02
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