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Knowledge Management And Leadership In Learning Organizations: An Integrated Perspective.

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Knowledge management and leadership in learning organizations: an integrated perspective.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." Alvin Toffler

To establish the importance of intimate relationship between leadership practices and knowledge management in the learning organisation, a learning organisation concept should be first identified and discussed, with the emphases on the specific features of contemporary organisation and the essential role of leaders when developing their organisations.

Furthermore, the processes of organisational learning and new knowledge creation should be described, elaborating further on the kinds of processes that leaders and managers should be involved in and responsible for. (Viitala, 2004)

Moreover, the specific managerial tasks in achieving competitive advantage should be presented, accentuating the critical importance of developing organisational competencies and intellectual capital.

Lastly, discussions should be taking place with regard to concepts such as organisational memory and knowledge management, as well as the role of information technology within these frameworks. (Viitala, 2004)

During the last decade, discussion on the determinants of successful organisations has concentrated on their ability to renew, learn and innovate. (Viitala, 2004) The notion of the "learning organization" has become one of the new buzzwords in the management, psychological and human resource development literature. (Garavan, 1997)

The concept of the learning organisation itself has gone through many combinations and permutations in terms of theoretical development and attempts at practical application. (Stewart, 2001) The fervent interest in the learning organisation and the underlying cause for recent emphasis on organisational learning (Blair, 1993) and knowledge management (Choo, 2001) stems from what Senge calls the age of globalisation, where one source of competitive advantage is the ability and rate at which an organisation can learn and react more quickly than its competitors. (Stewart, 2001)

The approach taken by organisational learning theorists is that those organisations that learn can manage the change process more effectively than can those who do not (Stewart, 1999) The basic rationale for such organizations is that in situations of rapid change only those that are flexible, adaptive and productive will excel. (Smith, 2001) Therefore, in order to keep a leading edge over its counterparts, the learning organisation has to keep abreast with the happenings in its internal and external environment. (Blair, 1993)

Classically, work has been thought of as being conservative and difficult to transform. (Blair, 1993) Learning was something divorced from work and innovation was seen as the necessary but disruptive way to change. (Blair, 1993) The industrial age contributed to management beliefs that do not perceive learning as productive, so that activities such as reading journals or sharing work-based stories in the cafeteria were not considered "real" work. (Prewitt, 2003) Furthermore, generic strategies that were used for the development of a competitive advantage were cost leadership (doing things cheaper), market differentiation (doing things better) and niche orientation, concentrating on tangible assets, such as property, production facilities, raw materials and physical technologies. (Dimitriades, 2005)

Subsequently, the globalization of business activity, the intensely competitive nature of global business and the greater demands being placed on businesses by customers (Pemberton, & Stonehouse, 2000) gradually led to an erosion of traditional sources of competitive advantage, demanding the adoption of complementary and/or supplementary strategic approaches. Change is now measured in terms of months not years as it was in the past (Blair, 1993) and tangible assets are easily accessible, imitable and substitutable. (Dimitriades, 2005)

Environmental complexity coupled with ever accelerating dynamism resulted in enhanced uncertainty, the inability to predict external change due to insufficient information about environmental factors. (Dimitriades, 2005) As a result, modern organisations shift their focus to intangible assets, such as consumer trust, talent of people and leadership skill, as well as accumulated learning and experience. (Pemberton & Stonehouse, 2000)

Such organisations are capable of generating sustainable competitive advantage and superior performance on the basis of its knowledge assets. (Pemberton & Stonehouse, 2000) While these knowledge-based assets exist in many forms, organizational learning is an integral feature of any learning organization that effectively utilizes its knowledge resources to generate superior performance. (Dimitriades, 2005)

According to Senge (1990), learning organizations are 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 to see the whole together. (Smith, 2001)

Learning organization represents a shift to organizational development, collective learning and growth (Garavan, 1997) and is an advanced state of organizational development. (Johnson, 2002) This concept embraces many of the vital qualities for today's organisations, i.e. teamwork, empowerment, participation, flexibility and responsiveness. (Stewart, 1999) According to Pemberton and Stonehouse (2000), successful learning organizations create an organizational environment that combines organizational learning with knowledge management.

The corporation which is able to quickly learn and then innovate their work will be able to change their work practices to perform better in the constantly changing environment. (Blair, 1993) The structure, culture and processes in such organisation facilitate organisational learning of all its members while continuously transforming itself.

Organisational learning is said to be about increasing an organisational problem-solving capacity and about changing behaviour in ways leading to improved performance at the individual, team and organisational levels. (Stewart, 1999) Learning organisations learn about learning, they not only endeavour to learn about their own business, but attempt to understand the processes by which individual and organisational learning take place. In this way, they can improve and accelerate the process of building and applying new knowledge.



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