The Importance of Organizational Learning in Change Processes

Seminar Paper, 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 1.1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. Problem Definition and Objectives
1.2. Course of Investigation

2. Theoretical Background
2.1. Definition of the Term Organization
2.2. Distinction of Individual, Collectivistic and Organizational Learning

3. Elements of the Organizational Learning Process
3.1. Initial Irritation of the System
3.2. Internal Treatment of New Information
3.2.1. Transmitters of Learning
3.2.2. Mediums of Learning
3.3. Scope and Transferability of the Learning Outcome

4. Relevance for the Organizational Change Process
4.1. Characteristics of Learning Processes Leading to Change
4.2. Resistance to Change

5. Concluding Remarks


1. Introduction

1.1. Problem Definition and Objectives

During the last decades, the marketplace for organizations developed gradually from a push market into a pull market. In contrast to the environment years before, where demand was high and supply scarce, today’s situation is characterized by an overflow of products whose amount is more than huge enough to satisfy the demand. The resulting customer expectations, as well as the intense international competition, depict an immense challenge for the flexibility of an organization which is operating in this environment. As a consequence of the evolved threats, organizations are forced to adjust quickly and appropriately to new circumstances in order to remain competitive (Alas, 2007; Appelbaum, St.Pierre, & Glavas, 1998, p. 43).

Recently the perception of the term organization changed towards the definition given by the new system theory which was mainly proposed by Luhmann (2000). While previous definitions focused on an organization as being the sum of its single parts, the new system theory perceives it as the manifestation of the communication between its members. In this context, Simon (2007) points out that, as any other system, an organization primarily aims at securing its survival. As an organization is constituted by the communication between its members it has to remain competitive in order to keep the ability to pay its employees without whom communication would not take place. Only if this fundamental need is secured, the focus can shift to concerns going beyond the prior goal of staying alive (pp. 32-33). Thus, as already mentioned earlier, it is crucial for an organization to adapt appropriately to changing circumstances. When doing so newly retrieved information has to be evaluated among the members and subsequently transformed into action. This processing of information can as well be referred to as organizational learning.

In the following this term paper aims at investigating the main elements of the process of organizational learning and identifies characteristics of diverging outcomes of the processing of information. Furthermore, it is analyzed what fundamental circumstances have to be fulfilled for the procedure of organizational learning to result in sustainable organizational change.

1.2. Course of Investigation

Chapter 2 starts with laying down the theoretical background of the subsequent analysis. In doing so chapter 2.1 presents the definition of the term organization to which it is referred to in this term paper. Chapter 2.2 proceeds with clarifying the process of learning by distinguishing between individual, collectivistic, and organizational learning.

After having laid the theoretical background, chapter 3 presents important elements of the learning process. Therefore, the first part deals with the initial irritation of the system while chapter 3.2 focuses on the processing of newly retrieved information through learning transmitters, and mediums. Finally, chapter 3.3 analyses the scope and transferability of the learning outcome.

Subsequently, chapter 4 investigates the importance of learning for the organizational change process. In doing so, chapter 4.1 presents the most important theories of triggering organizational change in order to, after that, analyze learning as a crucial part of the development of organizations. On basis of this, chapter 4.2 comprises two models introduced by Argyris (1997) and their implications for the organizational learning process. In this context, the underlying guiding values are described followed by the presentation of the resulting strategies of action assigned to the employee. Moreover, this chapter provides a brief introduction into the crucial characteristics which have to be fulfilled in order to achieve the process of double-loop learning and thus a sustainable organizational change. Finally, chapter 5 concludes this term paper by summing up the most important points.

2. Theoretical Background

The following chapter aims at providing the reader with a basic understanding of the modern perception of an organizational entity. Furthermore, a brief differentiation of the three stages of learning, namely individual, collectivistic, and organizational processing of information, is presented in order to specify the field of the subsequent analysis.

2.1. Definition of the Term Organization

The perceptions of the term organization are diverse. However, during the last decades the new system theory evolved into the theoretical background commonly referred to by literature. Groundbreaking work in this field was done by Luhmann (1995) who proposed an innovative concept about social systems and the interaction with their environment. On basis of the general case he, in the year 2000, elaborated his assumptions on organizations as a special form of social systems. Due to the immense importance of Luhmann’s perception this term paper as well refers to the definition of organizations as being social systems manifesting through the communication of decisions among their members (Simon, 2007, pp. 18-19, 53).

To be more specific, Luhmann (2000) states that the identity of an organization is determined through an ongoing process of autopoiesis (Luhmann, 2000 in Simon, 2007, p. 16). Hereby, the particular elements of the organization aim at reducing environmental complexity by communicating decisions among the members and as a consequence create an identity which can be seen as a self-perception being in line with surrounding conditions. As it is explained in greater detail in chapter 4, the organization is subject to reoccurring external irritations. These irritations are, with the help of communication, examined by the elements of the social system and either included in the decision process or rejected. Whether the newly retrieved information is considered valuable or not depends to a great extend on the organizational reference system which can be defined as a set of values and past decisions (Simon, 2007, pp. 23-26). The generation of this framework of reference is intensively researched in the work of Weick (1995) who developed a theory about the procedure of sense-making in organizations, whose derivation is out of scope of this term paper. Nevertheless, the reader should keep the above definition of an organization in mind when focusing on the subsequent chapters.

2.2. Distinction of Individual, Collectivistic and Organizational Learning

As already pointed out in the previous section, organizations, alike psychological systems, develop a specific interpretation of their environment and create an own identity by reducing complexity. This identity is based on internally available knowledge. This knowledge again can be described as an inter-subjective system of reference which possesses general validity for the parts of the respective organization. As shown in chapter 4 of this term paper, the system of reference plays an important role when analyzing organizational change processes.


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The Importance of Organizational Learning in Change Processes
European Business School - International University Schloß Reichartshausen Oestrich-Winkel
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Importance, Organizational, Learning, Change, Processes
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Bastian Krawinkel (Author), 2008, The Importance of Organizational Learning in Change Processes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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