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Learning – The Growth Imperative

By Darshan Bhat 26th September 2022

What perspective could be offered that would be of great value to the entrepreneur in an early or growing stage of an organization?

The authors being entrepreneurs and entrepreneur educators, they deeply relate to this context and offer three interrelated ideas that will shape the future and how growth takes place.

While drawing a growth trajectory of an organization, three things must be kept uppermost in mind. These are
1. Learning — for the entrepreneur
2. Learning for the entrepreneurial firm
3. Organization design and learning networks

The greatest leverage of growth in an enterprise is the learning of its entrepreneurial leader. A good leader is always a learner.

Hidden behind what an entrepreneur sees as a challenge is a learning opportunity. Taking responsibility for one’s own learning is the foundation of being a leader. Linking learning to the roles that an entrepreneur plays is a good way to consciously seek the learning that is required. The roles change depending on the stage and type of the organization.

In the early stages of an enterprise, the entrepreneur may be required to play multiple roles- strategy, sales, finance etc. all put together. Getting customers, pricing, cash flow management, raising resources constantly, enrolling people – all happen simultaneously. Typically the people who join (and choose to remain) at an early stage are comfortable with the ambiguity, rapid changes and role uncertainty.

It is this ability to ‘do’ and rapidly learn from what is working (and what is not), change and refine the business model that becomes crucial. Learning to manage oneself and others are the first requirement.

The Core Role of CEO

The growth stage of an enterprise requires a role shift on the part of the entrepreneur. Many roles being played by the entrepreneur at an early stage would have already been delegated to other managers to reach this stage. Learning to let go- what, how and when —determines how effectively this happens.

The core roles of the entrepreneurial CEO at this stage would be :
1. Developing and aligning the leadership team
2. Developing a shared vision and strategy
3. Raising and allocating resources
4. Ensuring execution focus through management processes- goals, plans, reviews. Holding leadership team accountable

Learning to Learn- A Core Competency

Self- awareness is at the core of learning. Being aware of how one learns is crucial for learning consciously.

Different people take in information and process information differently.

Some take in information through reading, some through listening, some through interacting with people and some through doing things. However, taking in information is not the same as learning something.

Learning requires reflection. It requires time to be spent in the processing of information. Some process information by thinking, by writing, others by feeling In our experience of enabling leaders to learn, we have discovered that asking the right questions is the key to connecting the dots and unlocking insights that lie within them. A good measure of learning is to assess if one’s beliefs have changed — and resulted in a change in behavior, an ability to do things that one could not do earlier.

Learning that develops these leadership competencies are crucial for the growth of the entrepreneur and the enterprise. There may be other roles that the entrepreneur plays in addition to these core roles, each of which would require relevant competencies to be developed.

Learning for the Entrepreneurial Firm

The primary sustainable source of growth of any enterprise is its ability to be a learning organization. The rapid pace of change in the business environment necessitates a culture of learning to be present in the organization.

Values. beliefs and norms of doing, together form the culture of any organization. An alignment on values takes place when then is a match between what the individual values and organizations collective lived values and beliefs.

Authenticity, integrity, respect are universal core values that require to be lived in any workplace. Learning is a core human value. An organization may have other core values- like customer focus, innovation, collaboration – that are its fundamental principles. The leaders influence values through living them – consistently.

Like in the case of individuals, it is the collective beliefs of an organization that determines how work takes place. These beliefs are conditioned by the experience, social groups, what people are hearing about the future and perceptions about the leaders. Collective learning requires the underlying beliefs to be surfaced and determine what beliefs are needed for growing in the future.

A Shared Vision

It also requires building an ability in people to see the larger patterns of change and understand interdependence. This is the foundation of building a shared vision which provides hope and aligns people. Work is the context in which learning takes place.

How learning happens in work groups determines people experiencing growth and work effectiveness. Facilitated group learning using questions have been found to be a very powerful mechanism for learning to take place.

Group learning requires Leadership, coaching, learning frameworks and processes. The use of competency frameworks can be a useful guide to determine the learning needs required for different roles.

The competencies for working, getting work done from others and for directing an enterprise are distinctly different from each other. Mostly people who do a particular work well are “promoted” to get work done from others. People who are good at “doing” work may not necessarily have the strengths or interest in getting work done from others.

Identifying and developing these competencies are crucial for the growth of an enterprise.

In our experience of enabling leaders to learn, we have discovered that asking the right questions is the key to connecting the dots and unlocking insights that lie within them. A good measure of learning is to assess if one’s beliefs have changed – and resulted in a change in behavior, an ability to do things which one could not do earlier.

Organization Design and Learning

Organization design and how work happens is deeply connected. The rapid growth of information technology and increasing customer choice are seriously challenging the traditional models of organizations. Hierarchies and other mechanistic forms of organizing work are inadequate to meet the requirements of rapid change and flexibility.

Organic forms of organization design where work is performed in teams are becoming increasingly relevant. Teams that are responsible for the end result of customer satisfaction and not just tasks. The very boundaries of what constitutes an organization are blurring. Many value-adding activities may be performed by the supply chain – of people and entities outside the organization.

Larger organizations find it difficult to adapt to effectively change their ways of working and re-design the organizations. This results in

1. People working within them to feeling disconnected and seeking more interesting work

2.Gaps in customer satisfaction

Organizations as networks constitute a new frontier of how work will happen in the future. Where a common purpose will bring people together. People will seek and work in many organizations simultaneously where they feel connected to the work purpose and offer them opportunities to learn and grow. Talent which was previously not accessible to SME firms can now be accessed in a shared manner.

The interplay of these three ideas – of learning for the entrepreneur, learning organization and organization design – as learning networks will shape the future.

About the Author Darshan Bhat

Founder Director of Creatnet, an Entreprenuer, Organizational Coach and Educator. Being a co-founder of Creatnet Education, Darshan has been keenly involved in education for over 20 years and has influenced, designed and led learning programs for professionals and leaders in the space of business and education. His research and practice of group learning is a pioneering contribution to the domain of learning and leadership. As the founder, Darshan is the architect of Creatnet’s practice of building conscious learning communities and the company’s strategic initiatives.

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