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Exploring the political underbelly of organizational learning: Learning during pay and performance management change

Laurie Field (Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 24 May 2011

Abstract

Purpose

In an effort to better understand the political dimensions of organizational learning, this paper aims to examine learning processes in an organizational context – namely renegotiation of pay and performance management arrangements – where the interests of organizational members are threatened.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were derived from two longitudinal case studies based in Australian companies, where the pay and performance management system was undergoing change.

Findings

Learning from the past played a significant role in renegotiations at the two case study sites, with management treading a fine line between supporting learning likely to serve the organization's commercial interests, while dampening down politically charged learning, which could undermine those same commercial interests. Indeed, the data highlight the importance of “interests”, and suggest that a great deal of so‐called “organizational” learning may be more accurately described as “shared‐interest‐group” learning.

Research limitations/implications

A limit of the data reported here is that they are derived from only one employee relations' context (Australia) and two companies. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that there would be value in further investigation of organizational learning in politically charged employee relations contexts.

Practical implications

More systematic attention to learning in politically charged employee relations situations, like the ones described here, could help organizations improve the ways they manage change (rather than approaching contentious change in an ad hoc way, and possibly repeating previous mistakes).

Originality/value

Despite acknowledgement over more than a decade of the political dimensions of organizational learning, the focus has largely been on political concomitants of learning associated with mainstream activities. Very few empirical studies have considered organizational learning in politically charged employee relations contexts, and none in the specific context of pay and performance management.

Keywords

Citation

Field, L. (2011), "Exploring the political underbelly of organizational learning: Learning during pay and performance management change", The Learning Organization, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 272-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/09696471111132496

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited