Case study: Comperative Research

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Learning and Crisis management - a case study


(Virtual) organizations in a Dynamic Context Date: 20-12-2012
Students: Urvienne Pinedoe (10084266), Hamed Fahimi, Snorre Rubin (Contract Student), Martijn van de Bovenkamp (10189661)    

1 Introduction

The challenge of facing crisis situations has for a long time been the topic of discussion of different studies and articles. This has of course lead to the numerous articles and books already been written on this subject. But although the subject is not new to neither the research community nor to business leaders, it seems that firms still have difficulties with applying organizational learning to crisis situations (Smith & Elliott, 2007; Veil, 2010). The concept of learning in relation to crisis situations can be applied before, during, or after the crisis; whether the organization learns from a crisis, or applies the lesson learned to next crises or even treats the learning as crisis (Smith & Elliott, 2007). This paper aims to firstly provide some insights and to present some ideas about the organizational learning, crisis management and, thereafter aims to explore the integration of these issues together. To do this a case study is done, on a large international IT company, in order to examine the theory in practice.

2 Theoretical Framework

2.1 Organizational Learning

Organizational learning as a tool for companies has received a great deal of attention in academic circles in recent years . Using organizational learning enables companies to generate new knowledge in areas important for their success. Companies that are able to stimulate learning are able to handle more diverse situations. For that same reason, Garvin (1993) states that it is necessary for companies to adapt organizational learning, so as not simply to repeat old practices.
Looking at the literature on the subject, there is no single definition for organizational learning in the literature. One definition of organizational learning means " …a process of detection and correction of error" (Argyris & Schon, 1978). Fiol and Lyles (1985) defined it as the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding. David Garvin (1993) defines organizational learning as “a learning organization as an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights”. On the other hand Ray Stata (1989, p. 32) states 'organizational learning occurs through shared insights, knowledge, and mental models ... [and] builds on past knowledge and experience-that is, on memory'. Furthermore Pawlowsky (2001) considers it as a modification in the organizational knowledge system, that enables organizations to improve their understanding and evaluation of the internal and external environments.
Despite the fact that there are many definitions for organizational learning, one recurrent point is that organizational learning relates to change in an organization based on knowledge that has been acquired through experience. Knowledge can be obtained through different components i.e. history, routines and experiences of employees. Organizational learning occurs in a context (Glynn, Lant, & Milliken, 1994) that includes the organization and the environment in which the organization is embedded.
Garvin (1993) defined five activities for learning organizations: systematic problem solving, experimentation with new approaches, learning from their own experience and past history, learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. For each, a distinctive mind-set, tool kit, and pattern of behaviour is needed. So managers should create systems and processes to support these activities and integrate them into the daily operations to make the learning more efficient. Therefore there should be a knowledge system so knowledge can be captured and transmitted by the members of the organization. Thus knowledge systems are both antecedents and results of organizational learning processes (Pawlowsky, 2001)
Beyond these activities, Pawlowsky (2001) defined four different dimension of organizational learning:
• system levels of learning ( individual, group, organization and inter organization),
• learning modes ( cognitive, cultural and action learning),
• learning types( single loop , double loop and duetero),
• phases of collective learning process (identification creation, diffusion, integration/modification, action).
Pawlowsky(2001) claims that each dimension should be taken in account by the management. First, the system levels of learning deals with different variables. Individuals may not react in the same way that groups do when it comes to learning. Second, learning modes involve how people understand new knowledge in order to adopt new assumptions and routines. Next, the learning types describe what type of problem solving process may help in a problem situation. Finally the learning process indicates how the information within an organization should be combined in order to generate new knowledge.
Besides the activities and dimensions for organizational learning there are many frameworks proposed for organizational learning. For example Wang (2008) designed An integrated Model of organizational Learning for Crisis Management. This model could be described as a rational model and it entails the following processes: knowledge acquisition, knowledge diffusion, knowledge utilization, reflection and organizational memory. These processes are found in many other frameworks. Wang (2008) claims that each process plays a crucial role whenever organizations are in a learning stage. And in order to acquire knowledge an organization must be conscious about learning. However it may be said that all organizations learn, whether they consciously choose to or not, because it is a fundamental requirement for their sustained existence (D. H. Kim, 1993). According to Kim (1993) some companies deliberately advance organizational learning, developing capabilities that are consistent with their objectives; others make no focused effort and therefore, acquire habits that are counterproductive.
Based on what is mentioned above, organizational learning entails acquiring knowledge and using it in order to improve a company's performance. There are five activities that have to be managed well, different dimensions for organizational learning that should be taken in consideration by the management and also a lot of frameworks proposed for organizational learning.

2.2 Crisis Management

The word crisis derives from the Greek word ‘krisis’, which in its direct translation means ‘decision’, ‘choice’ or ‘judgment’. The meaning and consequences of a crisis may differ based on its different context or environmental conditions where an organization is located. Shrivastava, Mitroff, Miller, & Miclani (1988, p. 285) describes the industrial crises as “… strategic problems caused by the harmful effect of their (organizations) own activities or the effect of environmental forces on their activities”. Regardless of cause of such an event, an urgent decision-making is indispensable. Pearson & Clair (1998, p. 60) clarify this further by stating that: “An organizational crisis is a low-probability, high impact event that threatens the viability of the organization, is characterised by ambiguity of cause, effect and means of resolution, as well as by a belief that decisions must be made swiftly”.
The study of crisis management originated with the large-scale industrial and environmental disasters in the 1980s (Shrivastava et al., 1988). There have been several approaches toward crisis management. Firstly, A traditional view which was mostly focused on how to avoid the crisis. Secondly, a classic view which looks for linear cause-effect relationship. Lastly and a most recent view is how to use crisis as an opportunity to (un) learning and change. Although, effectiveness of management, reliability of information and strategic thinking play in either approach an important role. Besides, defining the business objectives clearly for all stakeholders is necessary (Khodarahmi, 2009).
Nowadays, the crisis happens frequently and within a shorter time frame. Therefore, the crisis can be seen as a norm rather than an exception (Paraskevas, 2006). Any change within or outside of the organization may result in issue which always gives early warning signals (Shrivastava et al., 1988). This may impact the equilibrium state of the organization. In the equilibrium state, organizations can deal with limited count of variables, which still can be controlled by the organization. When the issues – as a result of change in the controlled variables – consciously or as a result of ignorance being intensified, then the crisis may be inevitable. Therefore, the organization behaviour will be changed as the controlled variables are changed. After entering the unstable situation, the organization may break through a new state of order. In such a situation each agent functions based on its perception of the situation instead of following a central control mechanism (Paraskevas, 2006).
According to Pearson, Misra, Clair, & Mitroff (1997), crises develop through a five-phase sequence. The first phase is signal detection in which some incidents happen. In this phase, the organization may ignore the situation or in best cases, attempt to dispel the crisis. However, the real crises signals might not be easily distinguishable. The next phase is preparation whereby organizations take preventive actions to deal with the crisis situations. However, the motivation behind such a preparation might be to satisfy the concerns of stakeholders. Thirdly, damage containment would be happened. During this phase, the crisis is showing up and organizations attempt to isolate the situation to prevent spreading to the whole organization. Moreover, the cost of such actions might be higher than the cost, which the organization would pay at the signal detection phase. In the recovery phase, as fourth phase, the crisis is over and the organization attempts to recover to a stable situation. Therefore, it might be necessary to reorganise or revert back to the core business and cut through the extra costly activities. Lastly, the surviving organizations will enter the learning phase. Some organizations use this situation to adopt the management mind-set, reconsider the business performance – to be prepared for next crisis – and really learn from what is happened. However, there are still some organizations, which strive to forget the situation and will therefore have lost the opportunity to learn.
However, some studies show that all organizations apply the most recent approach - seeing crisis as an opportunity - to crisis management. There are still organizations, which believe that they are practicing crisis management while they are actually ‘cleaning up the mess’ (Pearson et al., 1997). Pearson et al. mentioned in the same article that strategic management is not a strategic formula but a daily practice that drives the business; or a kind of mind-set, which would be possessed by managers. Therefore, the relation between crisis management and organizational learning becomes important. Robert and Lajtha (2002) contend that the key to effective crisis management lies with structured and continuous learning processes that equip managers to deal with the sudden and the unexpected rather than with detailed crisis management programs. To achieve a significant crisis management, it is therefore important to classify the crises. Mitroff and Alpaslan (2003) classify crises into two categories of “normal crisis” and “abnormal crisis”. By normal crises, they mean the situations, which are caused by natural and non-intentional disasters. While by abnormal, they mean the intentional turbulences which are caused intentionally such as cyber attacks. From another point of view, Cutlip, Center, & Broom (2006) classify eight types of crises, such as natural, technological, confrontation, malevolence, skewed management values, deception, management misconduct, business and economic. Based on this classification and available resources, organizations may make their resources available to deal with the crisis situations. However, while it is not an easy task to always be prepared for the crises situations, it is still possible to be alert and to detect the signals and use learning to deal effectively with crisis situations.

2.3 Integration of organizational learning and crisis management: Earlier work

Combining the topics of organizational learning and crisis management is not a new idea. Many studies, as far back as the early 80’s (Nystrom & Starbuck, 1984; Ramirez, 1983), have looked into this subject, and a great diversity of different theories as to the connection between the topics. So many in fact, that it would not be possible to list them all in this document. Instead some examples on the earlier work on the subject will be given, to give a sense of the field.
In their introduction Deverell and Olson (2009) give a fair description of the diversity of the field, stating that the field can be divided on two axes: Optimist vs. pessimist, as to whether an organization can learn from crises; organizational vs. individual view, i.e. identifying the learning agent. The authors argue that whether, and how an organization learns from crises is dependent on the top managerial response in crisis situation, stating that the top management is able to imbue meaning on the crisis situation, shaping how the organization interprets the situation.
As seen in Veil (2010), sometimes organizational structures and culture prevents organizational learning, hindering the organizations ability to avoid crises. The cases described in that article were those of Chernobyl, and of Three Mile Island. There was a crisis, a near catastrophe, at Three Mile Island in 1979, from which the organization running the Chernobyl plant did not learn anything.
In a case study on the French Nuclear Power supplier (EDF), Roux-Dufort & Metais (1999) show how EDF did what Chernobyl did not, they learned from earlier crises in other organizations, building a sustained learning process in regards to their core competencies in crisis management.
Lalonde (2007) criticizes most crisis management approaches for being idiosyncratic, which leads managers to repeat the same mistakes again and again. She points out that it seems that it is only the academic circles that learn from the crises experienced in organizations, meaning that large amounts of knowledge is produced through analyses of these crises, but the knowledge do not seem to be transferred to the organizations.
These last two approaches fit well with Nystrom & Starbuck’s (1984) original advice to unlearn to avoid crises. The central point here is the learning in an organization can be “frozen”, in the sense that the way things are usually done becomes the way they are always done. The organization loses its ability to adapt. This highlights an important point: that organizational learning is not just about getting an organization to learn, but to get it to learn correctly. Incorrect learning is exactly the kind that Nystrom & Starbuck’s (1984) writes about: the kind, which is encased, making the organization inflexible, and prone to crises.
The case study on Hyundai Motor Company, done by Kim (1998) takes an alternative view of the connection between organizational learning and crisis management. Here crisis is used to avoid crisis. While this may seem paradoxical, it seems to have been a very successful strategy for Hyundai. Small internal crisis were constructed in order to prompt learning in the organization. In some cases this was to push the organization forward, and in other cases to avoid a looming external crisis.
Deverell (2009) has a similar perspective in that he tries to shed light on how crises can be seen as learning triggers. A defining difference between this angle, and the one presented by Kim (1998), is that while Kim describes proactively constructed crises, that is, crises as tools, Deverell analyses naturally occurring crises for the potential they hold for learning. As can also be induced from the literature on the Adaptive Cycle all organizations learn from crises, that is, if they do not succumb. But as was also stressed by Lalonde (2007), there are several ways to learn. When an organization experiences a crisis it is forced to find new ways of doing things, otherwise it will die. This is the simplest form of learning, also called single loop learning (Deverell, 2009), and the form of learning that Lalonde (2007) criticizes. In this form of learning organizations only change what they do, to get out of the crisis. They do not change the way they change, so to say. That would be double loop learning, and the kind of learning, which Lalonde (2007) calls for, i.e. to learn new ways of reacting to crises.
Looking at the literature reviewed here, concerning the combination of organizational learning and crisis management, we see four distinct perspectives emerging. Some articles deals with the ways in which an organization can (1) learn from a crisis. This perspective also includes the opposite, which is the failure to learn from a crisis. Other articles pushes the idea of (2) learning to avoid crisis, in other words, organizational learning as a form of crisis management tool. Yet other articles treat organizational learning as an analytic category, in that (3) lack of learning or bad learning can lead to crises. Finally a few articles deal with the more unique idea that (4) crises can be used proactively to prompt learning in an organization.
To sum up, these are the four perspectives on organizational learning and crisis management:
• Learning from crisis
• Learning to avoid crisis
• Lack of/bad learning leads to crisis
• Crisis for learning
It should be noted that one category of thought does not exclude another. In fact several of the articles represent more than one of the above-mentioned perspectives.

3 Research question

In order to research the extent to which an organization uses organizational learning as a tool to overcome a crisis we will try to answer the following research question via a case study:
“To which extent does the company use the organizational learning as a crisis management tool?”.
This research does not take a hypothesis to prove or reject, but will instead attempt to gain more insight into the crisis management approach of the case study organization, and whether the organizational learning is considered as an important factor to deal with crisis situations.

4 Methods

The aim of this case study is to see how the combinations mentioned above are played out in the real world. In other words the aim is to see how a real life organization has handled crises, and to find out what role organizational learning played in that context. The kind of information we seek could therefore be conveniently collected. We want to hear their story, and that story is best told by them. This led us to the choice of semi-structured interviews as research method. We constructed a fairly straightforward interview guide. It was straightforward as the information we were seeking to extract is not something that needs to be eased out of our respondents, the way it could be with opinions or the like. The interview guide was constructed in order to lead our respondents through subjects of previous crises and the various circumstances relevant to these crises. After this questions are asked as to the organization’s policy on learning, and its practices on the same front. Finally the respondents are asked how the two topics related, within their organization.
Through all this, we took care to frame our questions so that they refer to both the organization, and the personal experience of the respondent.
After doing the interviews, the data was analysed. Transcribing the interviews was not deemed necessary, as a deep, hermeneutic analysis was not the aim of the interviews. Instead we attempted to extract the events, policies, and experiences as they were told, from the interviews. The data, as we found it, will be described below.

5 Results

5.1 Interview 1

The interviewee: The interviewee is a manager of 32 consultants with speciality on IT infrastructure technologies field. The interviewee also operates as a sales manager for a group of five individuals in the field of project management.
Crisis example: During the introduction of the interview an example crisis was presented to the interviewee. The example is as follow: “What happens when an employee becomes suddenly absent for a long period and has crucial information needed for the business processes he was responsible for?”
A crisis situation: The interviewee reacted by saying that this could not happen in the organization, because all information - needed to perform the daily tasks - is well documented and available for those who have access to it. Furthermore, the current workload in the department permits a loss of an employee (in terms of workload). The interviewee mentioned, if the workload becomes unacceptable, he would try to attract a new (temporary) employee to lower the workload. The interviewee takes this opportunity to describe a different scenario, which has a link with crisis. He mentioned [...when a situation occurs when intentional fraud is detected, we will take measures to make sure it never happens again, even if this means restructuring the environment we work in]. Such a situation calls for the creation of a project team, which solves the problem and writes a report with lesson learned. These lessons learned include a description of the problem and instructions to prevent the problem from happening in the future. This crisis teams also contacts other individuals or teams to gather knowledge needed to solve the problem. According to the interviewee, the above-mentioned crisis was a crisis at the operational level. Next, the interviewee zooms in on the strategic and tactical crisis management level.
Change management: The company is active in monitoring developments in the markets. However, there is no pro-active setting for learning new technology. If a customer asks for a consultant on a certain field - and if this field is new to the company - then the company will train the consultants. Knowledge is learned when the demand for the knowledge (from a customer) is there. Furthermore, the company actively monitors the number of idle consultants in the company. When the number of idle consultants increases, practice managers try to come up with a solution to reduce the number of idle consultants.
Management Mind-set: Next, the interviewee mentioned the company developed the ability to know when to end a project or invest in a certain technology through experience of the employee through the years. Also, sharing of information does not happen via formal channels, it happens often via informal channels. The company expects a consultant to be proactive, this however is not always rewarded in a explicit way. Furthermore, the interviewee described the culture currently present at the company. When an employee expresses his or her displeasure concerning the current state of (cultural) affairs, this does not lead to a change in the organization because the cost this change would bring with it.

5.2 Interview 2

Introducing: The second interviewee has been a change manager. He has also involved in different crisis situations as a crisis manager. He has begun his IT career as an IT technician in 1965. In 1975 he has started his career in the management field with focus on relation between IT and business: a job with two aspects (1) to make it possible for business managers to understand how to use IT – as a tool – to support the business and (2) how to align business with IT as these could not well be match with each other; there were different points of view which as a result the alignment was problematic.
Crisis example: At the beginning of the interview the Adaptive Cycle of Resilience is shortly explained for the interviewee. Then an example of crisis situation as a result of disruptive technology is explained. The situation, which may arise, as a result of - for example - change in the environment and context wherein an organization exists.
A crisis situation: He defines the crisis as a situation when the result of an action is other than expectation. He names the higher cost than planned, untimely delivery of projects and unexpected results as examples with regard to the crisis situation. In an example of a real crisis, which was happened for this organization, warning signals were detected by employees involved in a specific project. The customer of this project is therefore informed that the project is going wrong. This resulted in a crisis situation for the executing organization. To solve the crisis, they evaluated the project. Instead of focusing on customer relation management, the organization emphasized on legal issues to defend the organization against possible penalties. Such an approach might impact the quality of service negatively. Finally, the organization accepted the situation as crisis and began to negotiate with the customer and with some change in the contract the new conditions defined which built the basic for a new project. This mentioned situation was comparable with the situation, which was happened earlier for the organization. If the organization had learned from those earlier experiences, this mentioned crisis would not be happened. The interviewee pointed out that the organizational culture is important when facing with a crisis situation. He mentioned the example of a procedure, which is based on rigid legal ‘if/then’ formulation rather than negotiating with the customer about the situation to find out a solution. He suggests, making it possible that involved people in such a situation to solve the problem rather than removing them from the project and putting the legal people – who do not understand the situation properly and have not customer focus – to just defend the organization. Those involved people could then – if necessary – be supported in the background.
In answer to a question about signals before crises, the interviewee mentioned that the signals are always present and there are people in the organization who are aware of them. Actually, due to the lack of the direct interpersonal communication, which is caused by the time pressure, the employees who perceived such signals do not tend to warn of it.
Change management: According to the interviewee, the unfreezing/change/freezing idea is not anymore applicable. Nowadays, the change should be continuous as the context and environment and developments are continuous. For this mean, managers with change oriented mind-set are needed as well as an organizational culture which promote the change and stimulate and courage the employees to be prepared and inclined to change. He mentioned further that IT might also be the cause of rigidity of the organization for example by long during IT contracts which can not be broken – meanwhile - to change the IT architectures.
He suggests choosing for change instead of crisis in the Adaptive Cycle model to be well prepared for the crisis situation by constantly changing. The interviewee said that technology, market, and the situation are changing. Therefore, to deal with this he suggests the theory of high-performance (a team of top management) to bring a balance between change and need for change.
Management mind-set: He mentioned that the mind-set of management might be influenced by the external factors such as concern about stakeholders’ satisfaction. Therefore, they do everything to keep the satisfaction high. As a result, the managers might not be able anymore to think strategically and how to deal effectively with a crisis situation. Such managers have more a defensive attitude toward the crisis situation rather than being real entrepreneurs. In such an organization an external stakeholder satisfaction manager seem to have much importance than an internal quality manager, according to the interviewee.
Organization Learning: The interviewee stated that organizations are not able to learn. He mentioned ‘We have very smart people’. Individuals learn very well and improve themselves for the next time they face with the same situation. However, in the organizational level the learning abruptly stops, according to him. The experience of this organization in the last 30 years shows that in projects the same mistakes are happening again which have been led to financial and reputational damages. This is because organizations unconsciously are not able to learn. People are trained with new project management tools and techniques with the aim to function even more effective, however, still the results stay the same with the same issues; late delivery, low customer satisfaction and far from exception of the customer. These issues are not limited to this organization, according to him, but other big IT organizations are also struggling with the same problems. Evaluations of the results show that the cause of the problems stay the same such as: Business-IT alignment related issues, wrong resource allocation such as project managers, wrong requirement specifications, etc. He concluded that lack of organizational learning leads to crisis.
He mentioned further that for an effective organizational learning, there is a need for the investment in knowledge management. For this mean, he suggested to promote a culture wherein employees are stimulated to make brain-dumps of their knowledge on daily or weekly basis.
Lesson learned: At the end of each project, there are some reports and evaluations made which mostly seemed not to be used and not applied to the next projects. Besides, the professionals seem not having the tendency to make use of those lesson learned.

5.3 Preliminary conclusion / summary

After analysing the two interviews, the following findings were discovered.
• The organization is not likely to change from signals from employees, because the cost for change are (too) high (according to the organization).
• There is a strict and formal culture within the company, this prevents the organization from applying innovative solutions to overcome a crisis. They rather ‘stick’ to the rules and regulations as defined by the management.
• This culture is a problem in overcoming crisis: they tend to follow rules and regulations instead of anticipating on the situation to overcome a crisis.
• Crisis signals are ignored, there is no time to respond to these signals (organization is problem-solved oriented instead of proactive in solving problems). No direct communication.
• The organization is active in a highly adaptive market (namely Information Technology) and finds it difficult to ‘keep up’.
• Managers have a more defensive attitude towards a crisis situation rather than being real entrepreneurs.
• A lack of organizational learning in the company leads to crisis.
• At the end of each project, reports and evaluations are made to document lesson learned. However, these lesson learned are not used in future projects. The consultants are not eager to use the lessons learned documentation due to fear of their reputation.
The next chapter will link the above-mentioned findings with the theoretical framework.

6 Discussion

In the discussion we will analyse the results in combination with the theories presented earlier. The outline of the discussion is as follow. The discussion starts with a description of the organizational learning ability of the company studied in the case study. Next, we describe how the company acts in a crisis situation. Last, we link organizational learning and crisis management together and reflect the theory on the case study (using the results of the interview). The information output of this discussion should lead to answering the research question.

6.1 Organizational Learning

According to Garvin (1993), if a company wants to prevent repeating old practices, they need to adapt organizational learning. Garvin (1993) uses five activities to describe organizational learning: (1) systematic problem solving, (2) experimentation with new approaches, (3) learning from their own experience and past history, (4) learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and (5) transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. We have found that the company we studied does indeed follow steps 1 to 3. However, learning from the experiences and best practices of others does not happen in the company. According to an interviewee who stated: “...at the end of each project, reports and evaluations are made. However, these reports and evaluations are mostly not used or applied in future projects”. This prevents the company from learning as an organization. Individuals do learn, the organization does not. This also prevents the organization from completing the fifth activity of Garvin (1993) “transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization.”

6.2 Crisis Management

When it comes to dealing with a crisis situation, Pearson et al. (1997) describes crisis through a five-phase sequence: (1) signal detection, (2) preparation, (3) damage containment, (4) recovery phase, and (5) learning phase. While crisis management is present in the company we studied, it is in a different form and has different goals than the five-phase model by Pearson et al. (1997). An interviewee mentioned “...the organization is not likely to change from signals from employees, because the cost for change may be quite high.” This means that signals from employees do not lead to change or action. This is confirmed by the way a manager runs his or her division. Managers within the company have a defensive attitude towards a crisis situation. In other words, managers view a crisis as a threat rather than an opportunity to learn or change. The company has signal detection, prepares for a crisis and tries to contain the damage and eventually recovers from the situation, however the last phase, and possibly the most crucial phase, is ignored. This is the same situation as in the organizational learning phases. The company struggles to learn from a crisis, it is in the culture of the company to view a crisis as something that happens and then strives to forget it. As a result, the opportunity to learn from the crisis is lost. Veil (2010) confirms that organizational structures and culture can prevent organizational learning, hindering the organizations ability to avoid crises.

6.3 Organizational Learning used for Crisis Management

An interviewee (2012) mentioned “...a lack of organizational learning in the company leads to crisis.”. This is true to the extent that if a company does not learn from its mistakes, the mistakes (or crisis) are likely to happen again. The problem in this situation is a combination of issues in organizational structure and culture. Signals from employees are sometimes ignored, and managers are defensive in a crisis, rather than being entrepreneurs and solve the crisis. The culture within the company also focuses more on following rules and regulations, instead of anticipating on the situation to overcome a crisis. Rules and regulations are needed, however it is impossible to document every possible scenario. Furthermore, large amounts of knowledge, which could prevent a future crisis, are either ignored or not available for those in need of the information. This leads to the conclusion that the company we studied falls in the perspective of “lack of/bad learning leads to crisis” as described in section 2.3. While the individuals in the organization do learn from a crisis, the problem is that this knowledge stops there and is not distributed. The research question, mentioned earlier in this document, is “To which extent does the company use organizational learning as a crisis management tool?”. The company we studied does not use organizational learning as a crisis management tool. Moreover, the lack of organizational learning sometimes leads to a crisis.

6.4 Relation with Adaptive Cycle

The focus of our paper is on Organizational Learning as a tool for Crisis Management. During classes of (virtual) organizations in a dynamic context, we had a lot of discussion concerning the Adaptive Cycle. We do not have enough information from the company to have an elaborate discussion on the Adaptive Cycle in the context of the company we studied. However, we do want to discuss the Adaptive Cycle briefly to link some findings to the Adaptive Cycle. Our findings from the interviews were mainly small daily crisis within the company. The adaptive cycle is a tool to cope with a crisis on a higher level. There might be a relation with the Adaptive Cycle and the company we studied on this level. If we examine the history of the company it shows that it has been taken over by other companies and it has merged with another IT consultancy firm. This could mean that other companies want to use this company to start up new combination to return to their equilibrium state. Since we do not have enough information to determine the state of the other companies, this conclusion is speculative and based only on observation from our case study.

7 Further Research

Our advice for further research is to get more insight into the reasons why individual learning is present in the company and organizational learning is not present. Lessons are learned after a project, the information is there. It is important to use this information. Future research should reveal whether the lessons learned from a project are used in future projects. Furthermore, an analysis of a crisis situation should be performed to investigate if the crisis could have been prevented if the right information was available.


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9 Appendix A: Interview guide

Hello. Thank you for participating in this interview. We would like to talk a bit about crises and organizational learning.

First, can you shortly explain a little bit about the organization, and your role in it?
Ok, can you tell us if there has been any crises that you can recall, within the organization?
What kind of crisis was that?
What do you think caused the crisis?
Was it a crisis for the whole organization? Or for a part? Or even for a team?
How was the crisis resolved?
How did the crisis affect the organization? Was anything done differently after the crisis?
Lessons learned?
Could you see any warning signals? What did you do?
Were the crises similar?
What is YOUR experience with learning?
Did the organization have a policy on organizational learning before the crisis?
Was that actually followed? Or did people act differently?
How about after?
Did you view learning differently after the crisis than before?
Did learning affect how the crisis? How?

1 describe the organization
2 your role?
3 has the organization had any crises that you can remember? (give example)
4 describe the crisis
5 what caused the crisis
6 whole/part of organization
7 how was it resolved?
8 What was the effect on the organization?
9 Was anything done differently afterwards?
10 What were the lessons learned?
11 Did you remember seeing any warning signals?
a if yes: what did you do?
12 (in the case there were more than one crisis): were the crises similar in any way?
13 do the organization have a policy on organizational learning?
a how about before the crisis?
14 do you remember if anything changed, around that?
15 Did people act differently? Learning wise...
16 Did you, as a manager, view learning differently before the crisis, than you do now?
17 Did learning affect the crisis, either before under, or after, in any way?