Organization Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities is one of the factors that affect organizations in their bid to perform effectively. Essentially, there are several learning disabilities. At a personal level, I have encountered some of these disabilities in the course of my duty. As such, this paper will identify, define, and discuss three of the seven learning disabilities I have encountered in the U.S. Navy. Additionally, it will discuss how these learning disabilities are present in my organization's actions and systems. Further, the paper will highlight the actions that I would take to fix the disability issues and how the three disabilities have had an impact on my organization's ability to learn. The three learning disabilities that I have noticed in my organization are "I am my position," "the fixation on events," and "the delusion of learning from experience" (Senge, 2013).
I am my Position
This disability relates to the U.S. Navy due to the fact we are trained to be loyal to our jobs, so much that after twenty years of service it has become part of my own identity. I am retiring from the Navy weeks from now and have found that I have started to feel some anxiety over the fact that I will no longer be a Sailor. I will become civilian. The Navy has been all I have known for so long. I know I will have separation, anxiety, and suffer an identity crisis. The description given in the textbook The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization is "When people in organizations focus on just their part they fail to see the bigger picture of the organization. When asked what they do for a living most people list the task they perform not the purpose of the enterprise. Most people see their responsibilities as limited to the boundaries of their position" (Senge, 2013).
In the Navy, our jobs are called rates. You live, work, and socialize primarily with the people in your rate. Therefore, you develop an identity as an airman, seaman, or fireman and your rate. This is how the Navy is structured. You will most likely end up working outside of your rate for a period during your first four years in the Navy, but your job defines you. In the Navy, people take great pride in what they do to the extent that sometimes they would forget that they are part of a great machine, that is, the worlds' greatest Navy.
The Fixation on Events
This disability relates to the U.S. Navy due to the fact that our government can get very fixated on short-term events which merit military reaction. This causes our leaders to have to react and explain their actions. Sometimes the result of an action or decision is not felt until years later. An example of this, which comes to mind would be our early departure from Iraq after the removal of the government. The description given in the textbook The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization for this discipline is "Life can be seen as a series of events, for every event we are conditioned to think there is just one cause. Organizations can be consumed by their focus on events. Our media focuses on short-term events because if it's outside of two days, it's no longer relevant. The events you focus on create explanations, these explanations can distract from the long-term effects. The biggest threat to an organization in modern times is the lack of focus on the long-term process. Sustaining generative learning is not possible in an organization if the people are focused on short-term events" (Senge, 2013).
The Delusion of Learning from Experience
I related this disability to the U.S. Navy because according to the text book, "direct experience is the most powerful learning technique. By taking action and observing consequences than taking corrective action to change those consequences, we benefit from direct experience" (Senge, 2013).
In the Navy, an example of this disability would be when we increased our workforce and decreased our time in port by cutting a ship's maintenance period from a year to a deployment readiness schedule, to fight a war on two fronts. Therefore, after a six-to-nine-month deployment at sea when the ship returned to port- instead of going into the yards for maintenance, it would maintain its readiness, qualifications and be ready to redeploy. This would then be until its rotation time into the yards with a decreased crew. The new change disregarded the previous schedule, which was based on past lessons learned about wear and tear on equipment and morale of personnel. We all have a "Learning Horizon" (Senge, 2013), a place where we assess our effectiveness. When the consequences of actions are beyond our learning horizon, we become unable to learn from the direct experience. We did not realize the consequences of this deployment cycle change until a decade later when manning cuts and lack of funding for maintenance parts and equipment diminished, leading to an increase in accidents and deaths in the Navy because of policy. "We learn best from our experience. However, never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. The most important decisions in a company or an organization have a system-wide impact" (Senge, 2013). The ultimate lesson here is by putting the right people in leadership positions, which helps to shape the organization's climate and strategy for the years to come. In this area, there is no room for error.
What I would do as a Leader to Fix the Problem
In the Navy-because we answer to the President as the Commander and Chief and have to follow a chain of command- we only have direct control of things at our level. This creates an attitude of following Navy Regulations, and when there is an accident and life is lost, the regulations are re-written to ensure that it does not happen again. New ideas on how to do things better are encouraged and shared, but with the listed disciplines, all play their part in the hindrance of the learning process in this organization. Learning does happen but change is slow, and there is always a lot of red tapes and analyzing that has to be done for the changes to take place. Changes that happen in a month in the civilian world would take years in the Navy. As a leader to combat these disabilities, we use measures like on-the-job training, personal qualification standard (PQS), and qualification Boards, set and administered by the subject matter experts. All of these tools are very effective, but there is a lot that is out of our direct control.
In summation, by taking action and observing consequences then taking corrective action to change those consequences we benefit from the direct experience. When the consequences of the actions are far off, the consequences are not as such impactful to the organization. However, by focusing on short-term events, sustaining learning in an organization would not be possible. When people in an organization focus just on their part, they fail to see the bigger picture of the organization and team concepts and learning are harder to achieve. Therefore, as a leader, I would personally focus on measures such on-the-job training, Personal Qualification Standards among others to advocate for change in the Navy.