In the step of the process that is the subject of this chapter, you will assess your organization's history of training and its impact on the culture and the people who operate within the conventions of that culture. Forget technology for the moment and think about your environment and your employees ' experiences within it. Organizational culture has as much to do with a company's success as does its products, research and development efforts, technical competencies, and even its market share.
By culture , we're talking about how the majority of employees perform their tasks and their attitude toward that process. It's about how things get done within the overall structure of the company. Corporate culture isn't what the employees do but rather the manner or style with which they do it. You'll recognize culture not by what's written in your value statement but by what employees say about your processes and approach to business. When employees say, "This is how we do things around here," they mean "This is our culture."
In a learning organization, values must be aligned with business strategies. The best strategic planning in the world will not lead to performance enhancement if your organization's business goals and corporate culture are not properly aligned.
Organizational assessment is critical to this change process. We cannot stress enough how important assessment is. It is always better to get too much data rather than not enough. You must develop a thorough understanding of the attitudes toward training, the structure and infrastructure that support training, perceptions of the current courses offered , and any other data that will give you a clear picture of the organization's training needs and goals.
You need to determine what kind of culture you have and how that culture will support or struggle against your efforts. The strength of your culture is the first indication you'll get of how difficult the transformation will be. A strong corporate culture that doesn't value learning will be much harder to change than a weak one that doesn't value learning, because weak cultures are easier to change. Of course, a weak corporate culture that does value learning has its own inherent problems for an e-learning initiative.
The data you collect during this process will shed light on the gaps in knowledge and behavior, the obstacles that stand in the way of change, and the people who will present the most obstacles to your quest to make your organization better.
Talking to executives is only the first step. While you are meeting with them during Step 1, you need to begin gathering research to define the current state of the organization. This is Step 2. That cultural assessment will give you the information you need to build and support a plan to turn your company into a strategic-learning organization.
The assessment cannot be confined to the walls of your own business. As you gather internal data, look outside to see what customers think of your efforts and how the competition is doing things differently. This perspective will give you valuable insight into shortcomings that you cannot possibly see when you are immersed in the existing corporate culture.
Every time we assess a company, we talk to outsiders to get their opinions , and the data often contradicts management's opinion of itself. For example, when The Performance Engineering Group was hired by a building-materials company to determine why it consistently placed third among its competition, management saw the company as the best in the business and assumed that the problem lay with their sales and marketing efforts. However, a survey of their own customers and the competition's showed that they saw no significant differences among the top three providers. This verified that the corporate culture was out of touch with the industry ”and it also showed management that any minor improvements they made to their products or services had the potential to differentiate them from their competitors .
Lessons like this one illustrate how difficult it is to get an accurate read on a culture when you operate from within it. And, it's why an aggressive , well-rounded cultural assessment is critical to give you an honest view of your existing environment and needs.