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A “learning organization”: Safran steps up to the challenge

Human resources

The core idea behind a learning organization is that a company fosters learning and development among all employees so they can contribute to its shared performance and success. In the light of the ongoing crisis, this transformation is today seen as a critical challenge for Safran. We spoke to Jean-Roch Houllier, head of Learning & Digital at Safran University.

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What is a learning organization?

The concept was coined through the work of American Peter Senge and popularized in his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline. In it, Senge defines the learning organization as a dynamic people-centric organization that implements tools and practices to ensure it stays aligned with its ecosystem. The organization continually learns from its experience and develops new skills, enabling it to stay ahead of the competition. Three years later, in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Building a Learning Organization”, David. A. Garvin said that it’s “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” This is the principle behind the co-creation of knowledge, according to which knowledge is not the preserve of experts: all employees can help develop their organization's knowledge capital. If we converge these two perspectives, we can conclude that a learning organization is above all a mindset, which should be fostered through an organization-wide project.


Why does Safran need to evolve toward a learning organization?

There are several reasons. First, the world is becoming increasingly complex, leading to growing uncertainty and making it hard to plan ahead. The most eloquent illustration of this is the ongoing public health crisis that no one had foreseen. Faced with this situation, it is absolutely essential that we strengthen our skills to remain agile and adapt to change. Secondly, skills and jobs are constantly changing, and changing fast, especially in relation to digital technology. According to a recent report jointly published by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future think tank, 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't yet been invented. We therefore believe that effective skills management holds the key to Safran's future. Lastly, to stay ahead of the competition, we must learn faster than them and empower all our employees to actively learn and grow on a daily basis. This is precisely what a “learning organization” is all about!


What are the main principles of a learning organization?

A learning organization is underpinned by core disciplines or pillars, starting with the ability of each employee to step back to gain a holistic perception of situations in order to be able to respond more effectively. Next, trial and error is accepted, since that’s the best way to learn. Another pillar is the encouragement of creativity, allowing people to tackle existing situations from a fresh, innovative perspective. Lastly, the notion of team learning, based on co-creation and co-development of knowledge – hence the importance of building job communities to foster best practices.


How do employees benefit from an organization like this?

At the individual level, it offers the opportunity to play an active part in their own development by helping to jointly create and transfer knowledge. Many people say that knowledge is the new capital. I fully agree. What's more, this is reflected in the notion of “intangible capital” with regard to industrial property. From a collective standpoint, setting up a learning organization is a unique opportunity for creating learning communities and nurturing what's known as a “self-learning organization” culture. This is where everyone contributes to a continuous, dynamic process of co-creation - the most effective response to today's increasingly complex world.


How are we fostering a learning organization culture at Safran?

Acquiring and transferring knowledge lies at the heart of this kind of organization, and so Safran University plays a pivotal part. We have already focusing on knowledge transfer. As a corporate university, we naturally help create a culture that revolves around learning and collaborative working. In addition, over the last several years Safran University has been working to develop an innovative, varied training approach that delivers full-fledged learning experiences. This blends different learning methods and delivery techniques: conventional classroom learning, job communities, on-the-job training, face-to-face, distance learning, etc. Digital technology has had a huge impact by opening up exciting new learning opportunities. Let me give you two examples. Our virtual classrooms now offer much more professional teaching thanks to a dedicated “knowledge transfer” program we rolled out in May 2020 for staff assigned to deliver these courses. More widespread use of authoring tools, which allow people to create their own learning content, has helped empower employees to gain in autonomy. Safran University's 360 Learning portal already offers close to 4,000 programs developed this way! In addition, the knowledge transfer programs we offer are also helping build a learning organization by empowering employees who want to share their knowledge with effective tools to do just that.


What have we achieved so far?

This is a recent initiative but we're already making good progress. In addition to the programs I mentioned earlier, we're conducting an in-house survey to find out how employees learn on a daily basis, and also producing a maturity map. This is a key stage in working out where we're starting from and where we want to go.