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Janet Choy

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									         Creating a Hospitality Learning
Organization: Key Issues in Developing a
  Learning Culture in the Hotel-working

Janet Choy Yat Shun

BSc (Hons) International Hotel and Tourism Management

HTMi Switzerland

Competition is increasing and the worldwide economic downturn has influenced

many organizations. It is hard to become successful or even survive in the

business’s ‘battlefield’. “What becomes critical is the extent to which a company’s

knowledge base matches changing competitive conditions through learning”

(Pettigrew and Whipp 1991:305 cited by Mabey et al. 1998). Therefore, in this

current turbulent business environment, an organization needs to adopt

“competitive, global perspectives, transformational change, and futuristic

strategic planning” (Szostek 2001). Nevertheless, the changing context of human

resource management and culture diversity is common factors within

organizations (ibid). In order to achieve its goal, people in an organization should

be willing to learn and be creative through obtaining more knowledge, skills, and

insights into their industry. The significance of learning is, “…a continuous

process that not only enhances existing capabilities but also leads to the

development of the skills, knowledge and attitudes that prepare people for

enlarged or high-level responsibilities in the future” (Armstrong 2006:560). An

organization should formalize organizational learning and to create a learning

organization with effective system. The core of learning organization is based on

Peter Senge’s five disciplines (1994), which are personal mastery, mental models,

shared vision, team learning, and system learning. Rowden (2001) explains it as

“a model of strategic change in which everyone is engaged in identifying and

solving problems so that the organization is continuously changing,

experimenting and improving, thus increasing its capacity to grow and achieve

its purpose” (ibid: 117). Hence, the organization can continue to grow and create

further developments through employees continually learning and improvement.
Concept of Organizational Learning
“A healthy organizational learning system lends confidence to attempt new

things because newness is just another learning opportunity” (Rogers 2005:1).

Organizational learning is defined as a key process, which improving and

correcting the actions by gaining new knowledge and skills from the

organizations’ members. Harrison (2000 cited by Armstrong 2006) stated

organizational learning is not just combining all the learning of individuals or

groups into the organization. Moreover, organizational behaviour can be

influenced by observation during the learning process. Organizational learning is

a powerful tool for the organizations to increase their performance and level of

quality (Rogers 2005).

Relation between Individual and Organizational Learning
Individual learning is a part of organizational learning. Basically, individuals are

the members in the organization. “People learn all the time, and through doing so

acquire knowledge, skills and insight” (Armstrong 2006:554). People in

organizations have basic knowledge and skills from their previous educations or

work experiences. They have a potential to have the further improvement by

continually learning and correction from their mistakes. More importantly,

people should learn how to learn more effectively within the organization.

However, if they learn without any mutual purpose towards the organization’s

goal, it becomes meaningless learning. Therefore, organization should create a

positive learning environment in its members. At the same time, they should

share knowledge and increase efficiency to achieve the organization’s goals. The

essential parts forming the organizational learning are improvement of

knowledge and creation.
Furthermore, organizational learning is “a highly composite process involving

increase of knowledge and improved knowledge in individuals as well as better

utilization of fragmented knowledge through communication and interaction

processes running in the formal and informal networks within the organization”

(Gonzalez 2004:7). In order to manage the organizational learning, it is

necessary to invest and develop intellectual capital of its members with the

updated knowledge and skills. The organization should evaluate and measure

some of the key issues such as the learning methods, outcomes, and the

interaction within the organizational learning. Nevertheless, Gonzalez (2004)

commented that organizational learning does not pay attention to the individual

learning; even the learning theorists and instructional technologists do not sense

it. Most of the organizations are not improving or failed, because they do not

recognized the leverage of individuals learning which can influence the whole

organization. “This peculiar disregard of the individual learning aspect is a

weakness of current organizational learning” (ibid). Prange (1999) argued that

individuals learn but it is not the organization that does the learning process. In

fact, can an organization learn? It is a contradiction in that “learning refers to the

processes of thinking and remembering that take place within an individual’s

brain” (ibid).

Concept of a Learning Organization
“Learning is an essential ingredient if organizations are to survive; that learning

at operational, policy and strategic levels needs to be conscious, continuous and

integrated; management is responsible for creating an emotional climate in

which all staff can learn continuously” (Garvin, 1993:543 cited by Armstrong,

The learning organization is one where there is a system, structure, and process

to continually increase employee’s capacity of learning that is involved at all

system levels. It is necessary to balance individual with organizational needs. “It

invites those with shared vision to network, enhancing the human potential in a

collaborative environment” (Szostek, 2001). In order to encourage individuals

learning in the organization, the first step is to create a culture of learning that

“facilitates the learning of all of its members and continuously transforms itself”

(Pedler et al, 1991:312 cited by Mabey et al., 1998). Employees should have

creative and critical thinking. Moreover, it is important to have a spirit of

flexibility and experimentation. Organizations should allow for mistakes to be

made so they can learn from them. This helps to build up a culture of friendly

belief and the importance of problem solving instead of blaming. For instance,

“being a Virgin company’s about thinking differently and finding new ways of

doing things” (Virgin Media, 2009). Virgin Company has created a positive

organizational learning attitude and workplace climate for its employees. The

Virgin founder Richard Branson has a favourite quote “Screw it, let’s do it”

(Branson, 2006), which he allows his employees to make mistakes. Employees

should learn from the mistakes and failures by try and try again, until they can

achieve to the company’s goal (ibid). Moreover, he encourages people to adapt

the new things that they have learned in everyday, so they can be more creativity

and productivity. However, Mabey (1998) observed there is no right or success

formula for each organization and they have to discover its own pathways.

Therefore, organizations should have to seek their own purpose and the steps to

become a learning organization.
Senge (1990) argued with regard to organizations “we learn best from our

experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our

most important decisions” (Senge, 1990:23). Organizations cannot receive any

valued outcomes until they have experienced to implement a learning


Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline
According to Senge (2004) and Leach (2007), the core of the learning

organization consists of the five key disciplines that are, personal mastery,

mental models, shared vision, team learning and system thinking. Senge (2004)

commented on the emphasis of how thinking and interaction influence people in

organizations to feel disoriented, “it means shifting their point of orientation

from outward to inward” (Senge, 2004:48). Jacobs (2008) stated that to begin

integrating these disciplines; the learning organization must create various

conditions, for instance, a safe and open environment, an orientation that is

positive and forward-thinking, an organizational structure that encourages

self-direction and self-evaluation, an atmosphere that encourages inquiry,

curiosity, and reflection, not conformity. Senge (1990) commented that system

thinking is the conceptual cornerstone of the fifth discipline. “It is the discipline

that integrates the others, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and

practice” (ibid: 12). This is illustrated in appendix 1. In order to develop system

thinking, management need to understand the concept and implement it.

Organizations also need to provide the right workplace atmosphere and

environment. Moreover, members have the ability to manage changes effectively

from seeing the whole picture of the organization. System thinking benefits the

However, the disadvantage is difficult to predict the whole pattern of changes for

the organization and its members. Personal mastery is the personal vision, which

“the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of

focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively’”

(Senge, 1990:7). Organizations can benefit from encouraging people to do their

best in the direction of personal mastery. However, success is not guaranteed

which “organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual

learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no

organizational learning occurs” (ibid: 139). Therefore, organizations must guide

individuals to enrich their knowledge and have continuous improvement to

guide their personal vision and competence. Besides, it is important for

employees to redefine their jobs and be proactive in the right conditions. Mental

Models are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and

images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action”

(Senge 1990: 8). However, people are not automatically aware of their mental

models and the impacts they have on their behaviour. Arango (1998)

commented that many mental models are included learning organizations, and

are built around the people served, the role of organization, and the nature of the

activities performed by the organization. These may have a conflict or reflection

between the images of the employees and the real environment, because

somehow the images cannot be applied to the real world. The basic thought of

shared vision in the organization is what they hope to become. The practice of

shared vision involves “the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’

that foster genuine commitment and enrolment rather than compliance” (Senge

1990:9). In order to build a shared vision, it is important to focus on the way of

“In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying

to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt” (ibid). Organizations need to clarify

their vision and image of their future, but remain open minded to benefit from

the growth that occurs as the vision becomes for members. According to Senge

(1990), organizations do not learn unless the individuals learn together as a

team. Team learning is about group interaction, which is based on a personal

mastery of a shared vision. People, or the groups, must be able to think and

mutually learn in the same direction. Senge (1990) suggested that the success

not only benefits the organizations, it also helps people to grow and develop

more rapidly. However, it will reduce the productivity of the members maintain

in the same team. The reason is the members have felt comfort in their current

position. It will lead to increases the conflicts and boredom within the team.

Therefore, the organization should break the teams in certain periods. Its

members can meet and work with the other people, so it helps to them to come

up the new ideas and become more effective in work.

Transform organizational learning to a learning organization in
hospitality industry
“Organizational learning is a learning process and learning organization is an

organizational structure based on learning” (Malhotra 1996). In order to become

a successful learning organization, Yogesh (1996) stated that the key issue is the

organization need to be willing to learn from the experiences in both successes

and failure, and raise the ability of an organization and understanding through

analysis, experimentation and observation.
To implementing a learning organization into the hospitality industry, Cors

(2003) commented that there are some essential features must be included

within a learning organization such as a culture of learning, continuous learning

at the system level, people-centred, and a spirit of flexibility. For instance,

Ritz-Carlton hotel encourages its employees to learn with their extraordinary

commitment (Gallo 2008). They teach their managers and supervisors to become

the teachers. Each department supervisors will have thirty minutes meeting with

its staffs in learning by utilizing discussion every day. They will learn the latest

technology and methods to improve the quality of their performance and service

(ibid). They also discuss about the current market needs and the competitive

advantage. Besides learning from their ‘teachers’, the employees need to learn

from their colleagues by sharing “wow stories” (ibid). “These are true stories of

employee heroics that go above and beyond conventional customer service

expectations” (ibid). By telling the successful experiences in the reality, the

employees obtain the value of recognition of their equivalence and strengthen

their customer service skill. This approach can improve the satisfaction for both

customer and employee (ibid). Moreover, they have created a positive workplace

climate that “Ritz-Carlton managers don't focus on what employees have done

wrong but instead seek to help them improve on a given task” (ibid). This is a

powerful tool to build a higher level of employees’ self-motivation and continual


Benefits of being a Learning Organization in the hospitality
“Organizational learning outcomes contribute to the development of a firm’s

resource based capability” (Armstrong, 2006:540).
To understand organizational learning transforms to a learning organization that

helps the people in organizations become more effective and innovative.

According to Pace (2002) and Gephart & Marsick e al (1996), the authors stated

the most effective way to promote organizational learning is an assessment tool.

“Recent investigations are developing ways to measure the impact of

organizational learning on outcomes such as financial performance, waste

production, continuous improvement, customer focus, and employee behaviors,

satisfaction, and performance” (Cors, 2003:12). Accordingly, it helps to increase

productivity and efficiency. Being a learning organization in hospitality industry,

it offers “the holistic advantage of promoting competitive advantage and

employee happiness at once” (Gephart, Marsick et al, 1996), which raise the

competitiveness in the market. Organizations will enable to be adaptable and

flexibility of managing changes. Moreover, they have the ability of agility with a

faster movement in the highly competitive market. Employees can increase

motivations by continuous learning. (Kaufman & Taras 2000).

Limitations of a Learning Organization in the hospitality
However, there are some disadvantages and limitations of being learning

organization in the hospitality environment. Firstly, Hayek (1973 cited by

Gonzalez 2004) has been strongly emphasized “the regrettable incompleteness

and fragmentation of human knowledge” (ibid). Human knowledge has a

limitation that people have different demands of learning and cannot learn

everything. Moreover, it has limitations for the organizations, which are difficult

to set a clear direction, and gives definition of learning organization for the

“Honouring full participation while maintaining reasonable expectations for

people’s behaviour and for realistic use of organizational resources” (Cors,

2003:19). Even organizations have imagined a picture of the future, but they will

not perceive the result by doing it. Therefore, this is an experiment for

organizations to explore and develop a learning organization. Grieves (2008)

commented organizations have a difficulties to assess its achievements which

there are no authentic tools or assessment instruments for the organizations to

use and measure for that.

Conclusion and Recommendations
In order to be successful and effective organizations, its members are necessary

to be able to learn and continually learning. A good working condition and

learning climate are important for the employees. Most importantly, people

should share their knowledge, gain skills, and improve from their errors.

Therefore, they can learn and help each other toward to achieve the

organization’s goal. Learning organization can benefits organizations become

more productivity, adaptability, and innovative. Besides, organizations develop a

learning organization is a long-term strategy which can increase competitive

advantages by increasing the ultimate human capital. Nevertheless, there are

some limitations that influence to sustainable success of any learning

organization. The factors are the limitations of human knowledge and

organization. People have limited capacity of knowledge. Moreover, some people

prefer to work with their own style and they consider themselves are talented or

skilled enough. Therefore, they are not willing to learn and adapt the new things.

It is a challenge for organizations to create a learning organization involves all its

Furthermore, organizations cannot provide any concrete definition to explain to

its members. It also lack of tools or methods to measure the achievement and

performance in a learning organization.

If any organizations in the hospitality industry want to become a learning

organization, I recommend the organizations can provides some guidelines in the

handbook that give the clear and sufficient guidance for its member. The

organizations also should encourage them to learn and build their learning

habits through some activities such as team discussion, case study, or

brainstorming. It helps its members to be more creative and critical thinking,

which also improve their self-motivation and develop teamwork.
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Appendix 1: Fifth discipline

Source: Senge, P. 1990. Learning organization.

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