A Learning Organisation and its Impact on Processes, Structure, Culture and Politics

Author: Msengana, Nqaba Lunga
Supervisor: Professor Pieter Steyn
Date: September 2008

The research has been conducted at Vodacom. Vodacom is a Pan-African cellular communications company providing a world class GSM service to more than 21.5 million customers in South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, and Mozambique. The company started in 1993 and has grown phenomenally since then. The company has been a leader in launching many products and services in the telecommunications industry. A visionary company like Vodacom puts learning as one of its espoused values in its vision and mission. In some areas of the business though, there has been a gap between the espoused and enacted values; especially when it comes to organisational learning. It is therefore important for Vodacom to reduce this gap.  The dissertation investigated on the adverse impact on processes, culture, structure and politics from inadequate learning in the organisation.

For this research, the method used for data collection is the participant observation approach because the issues relate to a cultural context. Participant observation is useful for gaining an understanding of the social and cultural contexts in which study participants live; the relationships among and between people, contexts, ideas, norms, and events; and people’s behaviours and activities – what they do, how frequently, and with whom. The data has been laid out in case study format. There are three case studies from which the data has been extracted and analysed from the departments within Vodacom. It is in these settings that the behaviours are observed and questioned as to whether these are adequate for a learning environment.

The limitation of the research is that these inadequate behaviours could not be studied throughout the entire organisation. The results obtained are from small departments within Vodacom. The sample of population is made up of hundred people. This is a pool of people ranging from engineering specialists, line managers, project managers and head of departments. In studying the adverse impact of inadequate learning at these smaller groups within Vodacom; the evidence reveals that:

  • 50% of the problems relate to processes
  • 25% relate to culture
  • 15.625% relate to structure
  • 9.375% relate to politics

Processes are the activities and functions that are performed to produce goods and services. This can include factors such as, leadership, meetings, decision making and communicating. The term structure as used in this dissertation does not only mean the ‘reporting structure’ as shown in an organisational chart. Rather, it is a systemic structure concerned with interrelationships that influence behaviour over time. Structure here relates to systems thinking.

When this data is further analysed according to the impact on the balanced scorecard perspectives; the learning and growth perspective has been the most impacted, with a figure of 90.625%. The business processes perspective has a figure of 9.375%. The following behaviours were the most common causes of problem all the three case studies presented as data in the Appendix A:

  • Blame shifting
  • Lack of communication
  • No systems thinking
  • Lack of internal reflection

The antidotes for the challenges faced by these departments to deal with these inadequate behaviours are double-loop learning; balancing advocacy with enquiry; internal reflection as the core for learning; systems thinking; and the development of critical success factors that are linked to learning and growth. The research asserts that leadership is what makes these solutions to be achieved. The benefits of a learning organisation can never be realised without excellent leadership.