The Impact of Organizational Culture on Organizational Learning at Six Estonian Hospitals

By Alas, Ruth; Vadi, Maaja | Trames, June 2003 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Organizational Culture on Organizational Learning at Six Estonian Hospitals


Alas, Ruth, Vadi, Maaja, Trames


Introduction

In the 21st century an organization's ability to learn has became a critical factor for its success. In order to increase the overall ability to learn and implement changes faster in Estonia, employers prefer to employ younger people. Consequently it is not easy for people over 45 years of age to get a job. At the same time, due to the low birth rate the work force is ageing. This preference for younger people in the Estonian labour market is also connected with the fact that for many people their work experience has mostly been in soviet organizations. As Estonia only started the transition from being a part of the former Soviet Union with a centrally planned economy to a politically independent country with a free market economy a decade ago, the majority of Estonian people obtained their first work experience in organizations managed according to the rules of a centrally planned economy. The criteria for success in these soviet organizations differed fundamentally from the criteria for success in organizations in a free-market economy.

The learning process in order to overcome the differences between the values and basic assumptions inherent in a centrally planned economy and those in a market economy is time-consuming, and often leads to fundamental changes in organizational culture, leadership style and strategy. To increase an organization's ability to adapt to such fundamental change, experts (Garvin 1993, Senge 1997) have developed the concept of the learning organization. Although there are several definitions of the learning organization, theorists and practitioners have agreed on one thing: certain organizational traits are required for developing a higher level of learning. To put it another way: some cultures have a more positive effect on organizational learning than others. According to theorists, efforts to bring about change in post-modern organizations typically focus on the domains of process and attitude; and attitudes are embedded primarily in culture (Bergquist 1993:237). So, in order to change the organization, cultural components should be more fully understood and addressed.

Most East- and Central-European countries probably face the same problems--a socialist heritage and an ageing work force--a problem also faced by many European countries. At the same time few studies have investigated the connections between organizational culture and organizational learning among various organizational members. This has led the authors of this paper to explore data concerned with the impact of organizational culture on organizational learning in Estonia. In this paper a brief overview concerning organizational learning and organizational culture will be followed by analyses of results from empirical research in six hospitals in Tallinn going through a process of amalgamation.

Organizational learning and organizational change

Organizational learning has been generally defined as a vital process by which organizations adapt in their social, political, or economic settings (Rosenstiel and Koch 2001). Tsang (1997) defines organizational learning in more detail as learning which occurs in an organization and produces real or potential change after a shift in the relationship between thought, organizational action and environmental response. Emphasis on the connection between organizational learning and the environment in both definitions indicates that certain types of change in an environment may require a particular type of learning.

Levels of learning and types of change. Theorists distinguish between single-loop learning, double-loop learning and deutero-learning. If single-loop learning only refers to correcting behaviour without altering the nature of the activities, then double-loop learning tests assumptions and changes the governing values (Argyris and Schon 1978). The third level, deutero-learning involves learning how to learn and is directed at the learning process itself (Cummings and Worley 1997). …

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