The relationship between managers and employees

According to West and Meyer (1997, p25), learning organization can be facilitated by “enriched relationships that are created and enables through communication”. Accordingly, communication is another useful tool to increase shareing knowledge, improveing cooperation, and embracing learning. (Griffith, 2002) Among a number of communication methods, electronic communication is favored by many organizations because of its easy and fast accessing, with a consequential result of fast strategic decision making without geographical and structural barriers.

As happen in BP, the leaders believe the information technology is the centre for people to do things. (BP home, 2004) In order to achieve the basic capability for employees to communicate, IBM and Dell computers and Compaq servers are offered to 33000 employees replacing the mixed personal computers. Expect a standardization of Windows platform and Microsoft office are adopted, telecoms, intranet and even desktop video conferencing systems are designed to support better communication throughout the organization.

These equipments contribute employees to work together electronically at any time in any place and the common operating environment offer necessary channels for people to communicate, share experiences and skills, ultimately the quick learning of the whole corporation. (Newing, 1998) Moreover, an upward feedback meeting is carried out inside BP which continually improves the relationship between managers and employees.

This upward appraisal not only helps supervisors to listen to their employees, but also provides a place for employees to assess the managers’ performance and respond to the business decisions, consequentially improve communication and build trust with each side. (Moravec ; Gyr, 1993) As one of the key elements in our learning model, leadership has been defined as people who continue facilitate organizational change as well as their personal development.

(Senge, 1996) The major role of leader is to create a learning atmosphere that helps their followers change rather than maintain in an existing state. (Senge, 1990; James, 2002) BP’s executives have recognized their roles of a learning organization and did well in this field. BP’s CEO John Brown has ever summarized managers’ commitment as “Leaders have to demonstrate that they are active participants in the learning process. You can’t say “Go do it” without participating’ “. (Prokesch, 1997, cited in Popper, 2000, p.

194) In practices, BP’s leaders act as transactional leadership, which strongly emphasize on learning-goal orientation (Bass and Avolio, 1994, cited in Coad ; Berry, 1998), to support employees’ activities rather than direct control. For instance, in the behavior-based safety (BBS) process, which is a program to encourage safety behavior, supervisors take the strategic support role to help employees developing their safety knowledge and stimulating their participation by attending steering committee meetings by themselves, providing resources, giving positive reinforcement, with a consequential result of great employee acceptance of BBS.

(Byron, & Thomas, 2003) In the process of organizational learning, knowledge management is viewed as one of the infrastructural factors because of the need of sharing knowledge, interaction and innovation throughout the organization, especially learning organizations. (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby & Herron, 1996) In all individual, team, and organizational levels, the transformation of complete, undistorted and verifiable information plays a key role to increase organizations’ ability of responding to current and future requirements.

(Popper, 2000) As BP is a complex and global enterprise, its framework of knowledge management is base on the computer networks. That is, every network member of BP owns dual identities, one of which is the role of his/her functional unit while another is the member of the network he/she participating to support the federal welfare. The network is regarded as a cheap and effective approach to share information because there are more than 250 networks with 18000 knowledge employees participating in it which including employees, contractors, engineers, scientists and technicians.

Individuals with similar interests and common objectives may share their skills and experiences in different networks to support certain project needs, such as the refinery operations managers network, engineering authorities network and drilling learning. (Barrow, 2001) According to Lehr and Rice (2002), motivation refers to both the internal and external drives stimulating an individual to act and sustain behavior to a certain objective. To share knowledge, to achieve all levels of individual, team and organizational learning, motivation plays an important role to drive these ideas into practice.

(Byrne, 2001) As discussed above, behavior-based safety (BBS) is one of the BP programs to encourage safety behaviors, employees are encouraged to join the committee but not coercively required. The leaders believed that some employees may reluctant or even resist involving in the activity when this program was first carried out. Accordingly, the corporation motivated their employees by carrying out the compensation packages of recognizing the meaningful behavior and achieved performance. For instance, expect social recognition, a day off with pay or free video rental cards would be provided to the champions of BBS Programs.

A positive effect from this motivation was many skeptics employees have finally become strong proponents of BBS program, thus learn to behavior safely. (Byron ; Thomas, 2003) Culture is the final element in our learning model. As Pool (2000) argued that a supportive culture may contribute to organizational learning by encouraging employees’ learning performance. In BP, the goal of culture change is to replace the present culture and commit to a new one which emphasizes on open thinking, personal impact, empowering and networking.

It is believed that learning will be highly enhanced when organizational members feel free to challenge their own mental models, create new ways of thinking as well as share leadership. (Macher, 1992; Gardiner, 1999) Hence, one of the program of “Project 1990” of BP was to transform BP’s old culture to a new faster moving organization that embraces teamwork, effective compensation system, and employees empowerment, with a consequential result of achieving real competitive advantages. (White, 1992)

As one of biggest global companies worldwide, BP is attempting to improve its operational safety record and employees’ health. As its health and safety objective reflects that “The health and safety of our employees and of those who come into contact with our operations and products is one of our highest priorities: our goal is clear – no accidents and no harm to people”. (BP Home, 2004) Accordingly, BP attempts to prevent and minimize the potential catastrophic accidents by offering training programs.

However, training hasn’t be identified as a key factor in our learning model. Accord to Gordon (1992), organizational learning is a process to help people create new knowledge and continually improve their capacities, thus improve the performance of the whole organization. Training plays an important role in this process to help people achieve the creating new knowledge and sharing understanding, thus improving organizational performance.

At BP, one of its safety plans is to offer online health-and-safety training programs to 80000 to 100000 employees, managers and contractors in order to distribute the usual safety issues. (Anonymous, 2003) Besides this, a behavior-based safety (BBS) process, which has been discussed above, is also a training program designed to dispread safety issues, change employee’s old mental models, and thus strengthens their safety consciousness and behaviors.

Management demonstration, champion selections and coaching are also carried out with the training program to reinforce the shared learning throughout the organization. (Byron & Thomas, 2003) Expect training, many researchers have also explored various internal elements which influence organizational learning, such as organizational climate (Mohanty & Deshmukh, 1999), performance management system, senior management commitment (Appelbaum & Gallagher, 2000), organizational structure (Gephart, Marsick, Van & Spior, 1996).

It is the limitation of our model that hasn’t mentioned these factors and ignored their roles in learning. However, although not all factors have been identified in our learning model, our model, in some way, can still act as an effective tool to analyze organizations’ total effectiveness, such as BP, because it composes of three levels in which all embrace six key elements (knowledge management, leadership, teamwork, culture, communication and motivation).

It is an ongoing cycle and open learning system that interacts with external environment. (Chen et al. , 2004) Moreover, it is considered that there will have no the best learning model in the world because it is impossible to cover all the key factors. Every element should be viewed as an essential, equal but partial role to influence organizational learning.