4

Emotion and strategic learning

Hyder corporate HRD managers and staff were justifiably proud of their approach to learning in the organization. They had devised a comprehensive performance appraisal process for the entire staff, supported by programmes of training, both formal and informal, delivered by both internal and external providers. In fact, as a result of their experience within training events, several of the staff and junior managers acted in more authoritative and autonomous ways, much to the annoyance of some of their own line managers who, while being supportive of their individual learning, resented having their views or decisions directly questioned or challenged. For some of the senior managers, further reflection on decisions took up valuable time. Some of the front-line workers and junior managers felt as though they were either 'banging their heads against a wall', or worse, jeopardizing their career progression, and that for all the good ideas and intentions behind the company's learning strategy, nothing was really going to change. Managers' experience of individual learning within the company was constructive, but there was much cynicism generally about the company's claim to be a learning organization.

In order to progress beyond the point that they had reached, Hyder would have needed explicitly to acknowledge (at least) one aspect of the emotional life of the organization: how threatened managers can feel when challenged, especially by subordinates, and their consequent defensive and attacking responses to this. In terms of strategic learning, the key to its development in Hyder was to find ways of legitimizing challenge as an integral aspect of management practice within the company. This does not arise as a result of training individuals in the skills of challenge, but from prolonged and continuous daily support for a critical approach to how management is experienced and expressed within the organization. To support strategic learning, Hyder would have needed to design and implement ways of legitimising learning processes that question the assumptions informing existing power relations and practices, in addition to their provision for individuals.

In Hyder, the emphasis on individuals learning, while it genuinely encouraged individuals to learn, was limited by fears about learning and change. The discourse behind individual learning was informed by managers' fears concerning the consequences of action, reluctance to reflect on weaknesses, disinclination

-58-

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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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