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We are NDSU Extension Service: Organizational Learning (11/10/2015)

This is the ninth in a series of blog posts to highlight key information about our Extension organization’s culture. The focus of this post is organizational learning. Organizational learning is the process of creating, retaining and transferring knowledge within an organization. An organization improves over time as it gains experience which, in turn, creates knowledge. (Wikipedia) 

The NDSU Extension Service places strong emphasis on learning in the workplace, assisting all staff—county, area and state—to gain experience. To be successful, this learning and experience must be transferred to others within our organization and, subsequently, to those outside of the organization—the people we serve—in order for them to obtain value.

How do we accomplish this learning? Our Extension organization is very deliberate and spends a great amount of time and resources providing learning opportunities through a variety of methods. Mentoring county-based Extension agents, attending workshops and trainings, and encouraging participation in professional organizations are just a few of the methods used to encourage learning.  

Once learning takes place, is the environment such that reasonable risk-taking and innovation can occur to share what we have learned? What happens if something doesn’t work? We are all encouraged to try something new to actively engage the people we serve—our customers. Sometimes the tried and true method works best; however, with today’s changing environment we must try new ideas and techniques to share knowledge through transformational education to stay relevant. The risks of becoming stagnant are greater than trying something new.

What rewards do we receive for taking these risks? The obvious answer is the knowledge gained and satisfaction we receive from helping North Dakotans improve their quality of life. Our organization also recognizes and rewards good work through Program Excellence Awards, Ag Faculty/Staff excellence awards, and the Learn and Lead incentive program for field staff.

In addition to meetings, trainings, conferences, etc., Extension is fortunate to use listservs as a quick method of sharing information across the organization. Each of us are on multiple listservs pertinent to our role and location that can be used to target information to individuals who need that specific information. Prudent and targeted use of listservs is best, putting information in the mailboxes of only the colleagues to whom it pertains to not “clutter” up our system. The list of listservs is available in the Ag Info Center via the Extension Staff Directory.

As a result of all this learning, district directors often hear this from new staff: “There are so many good meetings, trainings and workshops; how am I supposed to fit them all in?” Well, in reality, you can’t; there are just too many opportunities. An individual has to be deliberate and focused in their learning. 

Focused learning to meet the needs of our clientele is not all we must strive for. We need to learn for ourselves to grow personally and professionally. Are you doing all you can to be a part of Extension’s organizational learning? 

Gerald Sturn, Southwest District Director

Next up: Empowerment

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