The Development and Application of an Organisational Learning Matrix

Article excerpt

Much of the organizational learning literature have emphasized on various models of learning and have convincingly argued how learning organizations will have greater competitive advantage than those with lesser learning capabilities. Yet, there is a dearth of research on how organizations learn in various levels of volatility in the business environment. In this article, an organizational learning matrix is developed by drawing on the seminal organizational learning models of Argyris (1995), Fulmer (1994) and Chaharbaghi and Newman (1996) and fusing the concept of business volatility. The matrix illustrates how organizations engage in minimal learning to survive, but in an increasingly turbulent business environment executives are challenged to 'gear up' and lead their organizations to success through higher forms of learning.

Introduction

There is a plethora of research in the domain of organizational learning in the last four decades (Argyris and Schön. 1978; Fiol and Lyles, 1985; Grinyer, 2000; Pedler, Boydell, & Burgoyne, 1989; Popper and Lipshitz, 2000; Tsang, 1997). Academics and practitioners have tended to offer explanations as to what are the factors that promote learning so that organizations could embrace those practices that have the potential to improve competitive advantage. The need for rapid learning in a fast changing business environment is well documented in the seminal works of Argyris ( 1995), Schein ( 1993), and Senge (1992). These gurus of organizational learning share a common assertion that organizations need to leam rapidly in order to sustain their competitive advantage. Although there are numerous frameworks of organizational learning, there is a noticeable lack of framework that simultaneously considers volatility of the business environment and intensity of learning.

As a result of integrating the major theories of organizational learning, an organizational learning matrix is developed. In the matrix, various forms of learning are considered in relation to intensity of learning and volatility of the business environment. Examples of learning will be used to illustrate the matrix.

Models of Organizational Learning

While there are numerous models of organizational learning, this paper will only examine three models proposed by Argyris ( 1995), Fulmer ( 1994), and Chaharbaghi and Newman (1996).

(i) Argyris' (1995) Model of Organizational Learning

Argyris (1995) has proposed three major types of learning, namely:

* Single-loop learning

Single-loop learning involves detecting and correcting "errors" (performance gaps) so an organization can carry on or achieves its present policies or objectives (Argyris, 1995). Single-loop learning, according to Argyris, requires some behavioral change. Other authors have given alternative names for single-loop learning, such as lower-level learning (e.g. Fiol and Lyles, 1985), non-strategic learning (e.g. Mason, 1993), and adaptive learning or coping (e.g. Senge, 1992). In single-loop learning, the outcomes are measured against organizational norms and expectations. If the outcomes meet the norms and expectations, it serves as a feedback to confirm that the action taken is positive. If there is a mismatch between the norm or expectation and outcomes, the organization corrects the error. Thus, single-loop learning is only involved with reacting to a problem. However, this is not to suggest that single-loop learning is not important. Argyris (1993) argues that single-loop learning is appropriate for the routine and repetitive jobs because it helps get everyday job done.

* Double-loop learning

Single-loop learning may not be appropriate for complex and non-programmable issues, so double-loop learning is required. Argyris (1995) proposes that single-loop learning is inadequate because individuals who are used to produce the actions will continue the old habits. Hence, the behavior of individuals should be altered. …