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«University of Pennsylvania ScholarlyCommons Master of Philosophy Theses Organizational Dynamics Programs 5-5-2010 Aspects Of Organizational Learning: ...»

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University of Pennsylvania

ScholarlyCommons

Master of Philosophy Theses Organizational Dynamics Programs

5-5-2010

Aspects Of Organizational Learning: Four

Reflective Essays

Jerrold A. Walton

University of Pennsylvania, jwalton231@comcast.net

Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics in the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree of Master of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Advisor: Larry Starr This paper is posted at ScholarlyCommons. http://repository.upenn.edu/od_theses_mp/6 For more information, please contact repository@pobox.upenn.edu.

Aspects Of Organizational Learning: Four Reflective Essays Abstract This thesis presents my responses to questions posed by four professors with whom I studied while completing my coursework in the Organizational Master’s Degree program at the University of Pennsylvania.

My paper will present various perspectives on learning organizations – organizations characterized by a capability to adapt to changes in environment. All questions posed by each professor impact learning organizations in some manner. Dr. Stankard’s questions focus on the roadblocks organizations face when transforming to learning organizations. Dr. Kaminstein’s questions center on how organizations can become less individualistic and more team-centered. Dr. Wilkinsky queried how developmental coaching might be used to increase organizational performance. Finally, Dr. Russo asked how to address the misalignment that occurs when the leader-manager’s coaching model is not the same as the larger organization. This project has allowed me to investigate and reflect on potential key drivers of organizational learning. I have learned that a multitude of individual and organizational complexities – internal and external – affect and determine if organizations learn and whether learning is sustained. To successfully navigate those complexities through planned interventions is a core tenet of organizational development and the hallmark of a true learning organization.

Disciplines Organizational Behavior and Theory Comments Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics in the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Advisor: Larry Starr This thesis or dissertation is available at ScholarlyCommons: http://repository.upenn.edu/od_theses_mp/6

ASPECTS OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING:

FOUR REFLECTIVE ESSAYS

by Jerrold A. Walton Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics in the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania

–  –  –

This thesis presents my responses to questions posed by four professors with whom I studied while completing my coursework in the Organizational Master’s Degree program at the University of Pennsylvania.

My paper will present various perspectives on learning organizations – organizations characterized by a capability to adapt to changes in environment.

All questions posed by each professor impact learning organizations in some manner. Dr. Stankard’s questions focus on the roadblocks organizations face when transforming to learning organizations. Dr.

Kaminstein’s questions center on how organizations can become less individualistic and more team-centered. Dr. Wilkinsky queried how developmental coaching might be used to increase organizational performance. Finally, Dr. Russo asked how to address the misalignment that occurs when the leader-manager’s coaching model is not the same as the larger organization.

This project has allowed me to investigate and reflect on potential key drivers of organizational learning. I have learned that a multitude of individual and organizational complexities – internal and external – affect and determine if organizations learn and whether learning is sustained. To successfully navigate those complexities through planned interventions is a core tenet of organizational development and the hallmark of a true learning organization.

–  –  –

I would like to thank my “Quartet” - Professors Stankard, Kaminstein, Wilkinsky and Russo, for their dedication to learning, guidance and the exceptional amount of time spent with me. If this collection of essays motivates the reader to challenge his/her organization to become a true “learning organization”, the credit goes to the quartet who inspired me to learn more deeply, be courageous, and not look back.

Secondly, I thank my wife for her unyielding support and for sustaining as an academic widow, especially during the past several months.

Finally, I must thank the countless classmates who have made my learning experience at PENN so rewarding, and the Dynamics’ staff who are always there for support, encouragement, and for “making it happen.”

–  –  –

This thesis combines academic research with personal philosophy and is shaped by years of exposure to corporate organizations and academic institutions. My recent position as the lead manager of a very successful company-wide return on invested capital (ROIC) program challenged me to look more deeply at missed opportunities for improving human performance.





Research indicates how a pervasive transformation is can be fundamental to both individual performance and organizational sustainability. I see learning as a path for transformation. Successful learning organizations constantly adapt to both their internal and external environments, and over time transform to achieve sustainability. With the assistance of several professors, I wanted to explore practical topics that potential or existing learning organizations might face.

All four essays are similar in structure. Each contains an introduction, central argument, background for the question, response to the question, and concluding remarks. In Chapter 2 I respond to a question posed by Professor Martin Stankard with whom I studied Dynamics 634 - Art and Science of Process Improvement. I address several difficulties associated with converting from a hierarchical, bureaucratic firm to a learning organization. In Chapter 3 I respond to a question presented by Professor Dana Kaminstein with whom I studied Dynamics 651 – Group Team Dynamics. I address the topic of moving from an individualistic organization to one that encompasses team concepts and a team culture. In Chapter 4 I discuss possible manifestations of an effective developmental coaching program when instituted in a learning organization. This discussion was based upon my studies with Professor William Wilkinsky with whom I studied Dynamics 641 – The Art and Science of Organizational Coaching. Finally, in Chapter 5, I reply to a set of questions posed by Professor Charline Russo with whom I studied Dynamics 602 – The Leader/Manager as Coach. In Chapter 5 I address potential challenges that leaders/coaches face when their coaching models are misaligned with the larger organization.

–  –  –

Introduction My initial essay will discuss several hurdles encountered by organizations when transforming to learning organizations. In order to provide a richer context, this essay begins with an extended background, followed by Professor Stankard’s question, my response to the question, and concluding remarks.

Argument of this Essay Transforming to a learning organization is both cognitive and political.

Requisite skills for an effective change agent include an acute awareness of the needs of others (cognitive) and a constant reconciliation of individual concerns versus organizational objectives (political).

Context and Background for the Question Among the influential factors for writing this collection of essays was a substantive perspective on leadership offered during coursework with Dynamics 634 - Art and Science of Process Improvement. Although the course followed the syllabus and provided an abundance of process improvement tools and methodologies, a real bonus was the engaging discussions on the subject of leadership. Those unique sessions were engaging and illuminating. I distinctly remember one particular class when the question, “What makes a good leader?”, was raised by two students. An insightful, involved and impassioned discussion ensued. Every student could remember a person or persons who influenced them in a meaningful and productive way during important formative years.

Those interactions were instrumental in formulating various views on leaders and the impact of leadership.

Consistent in all comments was a learned and subsequently internalized value. The overwhelming majority of the relationships were related to either school (teacher/student) or sports (coach/player). The class agreed that the teachers and coaches appeared to be honestly interested in the success of their charges. In all cases that interest was manifested in teachers/coaches who challenged students/players to believe in themselves and to “dig deeper.” I observed what appeared to be several “Aha moments” after the class collectively compiled a comparative list of the characteristics reflected in good teachers/coaches versus good leaders.

Layering those adolescent experiences over years of organizational life led to several interesting paradoxes that emerged during subsequent class discussions including: 1) titles vs. demonstrated leadership (Does a title denote leadership?), and 2) success vs. leadership (Does organizational success, evidenced by promotions, mean that one is a leader?). In concluding the discussion on one particular day, the class determined that the following

characteristics are essential qualities of effective leaders:

1. Being passionate about a subject, topic or cause;

2. Inspiring others to achieve;

3. Demonstrating the belief that others can be successful beyond their expectations;

4. Setting high standards;

5. Coaching/teaching others to acquire skills needed to exceed those standards.

An effective leader is “hard on the work, but easy on the people” and realizes that in many cases it’s the process – not the staff – that requires some measure of objective intervention (DYNM 634, Spring 2008).1 Ultimately, that effectiveness is demonstrated through a proper mix of process and people.

Process improvement tools are a necessary but non-exclusive dimension of positive organizational change.

After explaining the larger purpose of my paper, I met with Professor Stankard to discuss a question or issue related to various perspectives about learning organizations.

Question from Professor Stankard Professor Stankard posed this set of questions: Why is it so difficult to convert from a hierarchical, bureaucratic firm to a Learning Organization? What are the bottlenecks? Are they cognitive, political?

Response A Brief on Bureaucratic, Hierarchical Organizations Let me first offer a positional and somewhat broad summation on bureaucratic hierarchies. Traditional bureaucratic hierarchies, whether private or public, are often associated with giving order, predictability and legitimate rights to wield power to its officeholders (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia). The image of these structures is one of imposing change, rather than adapting to change, instilling compliance, as opposed to welcoming innovation, and forceful authority instead of collaboration. Additionally, the traditional bureaucratic paradigm capitalizes on functional hierarchical line management, inward focus, cutting costs, complying with rules, respecting hierarchy, dividing labor into simple and narrowly defined jobs, and promoting standardized production and fixed automation (Jamali, Khoury, Sahyoun, 2006).2 Global, political, social and economic forces have had a huge impact on organizational structures and values. Increasing technological complexities, changing lifestyles and expectations, coupled with the rise of knowledge workers, have reshaped management processes and are challenging organizations to evolve beyond the traditional bureaucratic model to meet sophisticated expectations for performance (Drucker, 2001).3 Higher expectations have forced some leaders to consider alternate organizational structures to counter the limitations imposed by traditional bureaucratic, hierarchical arrangements. Hirschhorn, for example, has posited that the pace of economic change has pushed firms to maximize human capital utilization. “The leader no longer charts the organization’s work, with subordinates lined up to do the bidding. Instead, the leader and the subordinates must collaborate (Hirschhorn, 1990).”4 Visualizing, communicating and implementing a constantly evolving “future state” for the firm, as it responds with finite resources to meet customer preferences and environmental needs, is what a great leader does……with assistance and help from many. A central tenant of learning organizations is recognizing and harvesting the unique talents of a diverse workforce – diverse in the sense of perspectives and personal experiences, such that when cultivated, develops into a constantly evolving and innovative source of capital. A bountiful harvest is not possible without a capable farmer.



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