Organisational learning and transformative capacity: leveraging collective knowledge

Shehata, Gamal Mohamed Mohamed (2000) Organisational learning and transformative capacity: leveraging collective knowledge. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

A growing part of the literature on organisational learning sets out to describe how and why organisations learn. Nevertheless, a large number of the recent reviews on organisational learning address several gaps that challenge the future progress of the subject. A critical examination of the organisational learning literature was conducted to identify a number of gaps that exist in the field. These gaps include the fragmented nature of the subject itself, the fact that insufficient attention is being devoted to the cumulative progress of the field, and the theoretical or descriptive nature of major contributions in the field. The response to these gaps is in three integrated ways. First, this research complies with the critical need for rich empirical studies by carrying out an in-depth qualitative study that includes four different organisational contexts. Second, much value is placed on the cumulative development of the subject by submitting the basic conceptual perspectives that exist in Dixon's (1994) organisational learning cycle to an empirical examination. The Dixon (1994) organisational learning cycle is employed as an analytical instrument to examine the practice of organisational learning. In so doing, the conceptual trustworthiness of Dixon's (1994) model will be explored. Third, the Dixon (1994) model will be extended by linking it to what Garud and Nayyar's (1994) call 'transformative capacity' and hence, help to better comprehend the latter.

The intention is to examine the practice of organisational learning in four different organisations that demonstrate an interest in the phenomenon under investigation. These organisations vary in terms of structure, objectives, nature of business, management style, and geographical locations. The conceptual context of Dixon's (1994) organisational learning cycle guides this study in examining the practice of organisational learning in terms of the four-stage cycle. According to Dixon (1994), organisations that can create a learning cycle that promotes collective learning will be able to transform themselves in response to an internal need for change and in response to external constraints. The objective, therefore, is to examine the organisational learning cycle in terms of what Garud and Nayyar's (1994) name 'transformative capacity'. On the one hand, Dixon's (1994) model helps not only to understand a variety of organisational learning practices that are being carried out in an organisation but also to place these practices in the organisational learning cycle. On the other hand, Garud and Nayyar's (1994) concept of 'transformative capacity' helps to understand the way by which an organisation assimilates and utilises collective knowledge to generate business opportunities and ideas. The concept of transformative capacity primarily strengthens an organisation's ability to generate business opportunities from exploiting its store of internal knowledge. The basic research questions are as follows: How do the participant organisations develop the capability for organisational learning? What are the main features that describe an organisation's approach to organisational learning? What are the main reasons for performing a given set of organisational learning practices within an organisation? How do these organisations assimilate and exploit collective knowledge to create and to recognise new business opportunities and ideas? How do these organisations initiate their efforts to establish organisational learning and knowledge creation as specific management practices to maintain a long-term business success?

These questions are addressed by carrying out a comprehensive exploratory study that incorporates four different companies. Company (A) is located in the UK and serves primarily in the financial service business. Company (B) is situated in the UK and works in the management consulting business. Company (C) is established in Egypt and operates in the auto assembly and manufacturing business. Company (D) is located in the UK and serves in the retailing business. The Dixon (1994) model is employed to explore the basic steps that each of these companies is going through to create the capability for organisational learning. The examination also touches on the different features that describe each company's approach to organisational learning. Besides, managers' own perspectives on the way(s) by which an organisation integrates and takes advantage of collective learning to achieve a sustainable business success are explored. Expanding Dixon's (1994) model by linking it to what Garud and Nayyar's (1994) name 'transformative capacity' helps to explain the results obtained from the case studies. This combination leads to the development of a systematic methodology that demands an examination of collective learning in each company. In addition, this systematic methodology helps to identify a number of processes that each company puts into practice to accelerate the capability for organisational learning.

A qualitative methodology has been employed to explore the practice of organisational learning in four companies. The case study approach was chosen to be the main research strategy. Data were gathered through in-depth interviews, informal interviews, documentation, and observation. The personal in-depth interviews with managers in participant companies were the primary methods for data collection. A semi-structured questionnaire was used to carry out the interviews. Throughout the empirical study particular attention was devoted to the context through which organisational learning is developed. A wide-ranging investigation to the whole process of organisational learning was carried out. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed precisely. Huge amounts of data were then qualitatively coded to allow an identification of the main themes and categories. This classification was conducted in relation to the main objectives of the study. A detailed literature review was conducted during all the stages of this study in order to broaden the conceptual understanding of the phenomenon and to strengthen the generalisation into a framework for the main findings of the study. Based on the results of the case studies and by relating these results to the literature, a framework was developed to explain the way by which organisations leverage the capability for organisational learning to sustainable business success. This framework was developed during the progress of this study and its causal links have not yet been established. In other words, this framework was built on managers' perspectives and hence, it should be considered as a tentative attempt. The principal argument behind this framework has been that the ability of organisations to achieve sustainable business success relates to their collective capacity to assimilate and to make the most of collective knowledge.

This study makes the following important contributions to the existing literature. First, the case studies results reveal that organisations learn to a varying extent from the everyday business operations. Second, this learning sometimes happens as a result of unintentional or informal learning activities. Third, collective learning empowers an organisation capacity to transform itself in a response to changes that happen in a dynamic business environment. Fourth, knowledge sharing is seen as an essential mean to avoid erosion of organisational memory due to personnel turnover and passage of time problems. Fifth, a large part of organisational learning takes place when organisational members are provided with an opportunity to reflect on past experience and to draw lessons from it. Sixth, an effective utilisation of information services strengthens an organisation's capacity not only to encode best practices and lessons learned but also to transfer knowledge and best practices from one place to another. Seventh, organisational learning is increasingly seen as a central source of a competitive advantage particularly for organisations faced with rapid changes and work in a competitive business environment. The case studies results provide exploratory insights on the ways by which participant companies leverage the capability for collective learning to a sustainable competitive advantage. This study adds to the organisational learning literature by proposing a framework that draws an analytical description for the way by which organisations leverage collective learning to sustainable business success. This evidence should be validated through a future rich empirical study. This framework serves as a general guideline for those wishing to carry out this study.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Berry, R.H.
Starkey, K.P.
Uncontrolled Keywords:Organizational learning, success in business
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
ID Code:1607
Deposited By:Ms Valerie Airey
Deposited On:27 Oct 2010 12:15
Last Modified:27 Oct 2010 12:15

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