3

Power, emotion and organizational learning

In this chapter I develop and illustrate a conceptual framework for understanding organizational learning. Recent advances in the study of organizational learning, particularly a social and political perspective on organizational learning, provide a theoretical base for strategic learning. To emphasize this: in this book, the term 'organizational learning' particularly represents the academic side of strategic learning. 'Strategic learning' is a broader term, which links the academic study of organizational learning to the thoughts, reflections and actions of managers and other practitioners (concerned with learning and development). As I mentioned in Chapter 1, I use the term 'strategic learning' as a bridge between academic and practitioner voices, views and interests.

I explore in depth the difference between individual learning in an organization and organizational learning. As I explained in Chapter 2, this is an important distinction because, if the emphasis of strategic learning is on changes in 'the sensemaking and knowledge management structures of an organization' (Thomas, Watts-Sussman and Henderson, 2001), then it is the development of an organizational level of analysis of learning that is most likely to assist in imagining what such changes are, as well as how they might be attempted. I argue that an emphasis on individuals' learning within an organization and its possible eventual impact on the organization as a system is unlikely to lead to the transformation of organizing structures. Instead, I refer to organizational dynamics, constructed from the interaction between emotion and power, that create the social and political context within which both learning and organizing take place. Using a combination of psychodynamic theory and reflections on the politics of organizing I develop the idea that organizations are learning when the establishment that is being created through the very process of organizing can be identified and critically reflected on. I argue that this combination of psychodynamic theory and politics is an important addition to current thinking about the relationship between learning and organizing. I use an example of a change initiative within Hyder plc to illustrate and develop my thinking.

To remind the reader of the context, Hyder had two distinctive but interlinked business directions: Hyder Utilities, a multi-utility business mainly located in Wales, and Hyder Infrastructure Development, which undertook

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Rethinking Strategic Learning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - An Introduction 1
  • 2 - Strategic Learning and Hrd 13
  • 3 - Power, Emotion and Organizational Learning 38
  • 4 - Emotion and Strategic Learning 58
  • 5 - Being Taken Over 76
  • 6 - The Politics of Imagined Stability 91
  • 7 - Organizing Reflection 106
  • 8 - Redefining Leadership 127
  • 9 - The Point of Intervention 146
  • References 161
  • Index 170
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