Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-03282018-164013

Type of thesis
E-mail address
Organizational Learning through Crises 
Scientific disciplinary sector
Membro Prof.ssa NUTI, SABINA
Membro Dott.ssa SEGHIERI, CHIARA
  • Crisis
  • Earthquake risk management
  • Identity
  • Institutionalizing
  • Integrating
  • Interpreting
  • Intuiting
  • Knowledge repositories
  • Multi-level learning
  • Natural hazards
  • Organizational learning
  • Reciprocal
  • Responsible management learning
  • Routines
  • Self – reflexive
  • Utilities
Exam session start date
This thesis reports the results of a qualitative research on the relationship between crises and organizational learning. It has been proved that an organization’s task performance experience can be converted into knowledge. Crises supply organizations with unique and rare experience which triggers learning. It is critical to be able to learn through crises as it could reduce the future risks, prepare organizations for the crises and might even improve the resilience of the whole community. However, how to correctly draw lessons from crises is still debated due to the rareness of crises. This research aims to provide a framework which could facilitate the systematic understanding of crisis learning. <br><br>At the initial stage of the research, a local multi-utility company, AIMAG’s experience of 2012 Northern Italy earthquakes was explored. AIMAG is a medium-sized company operating in the water, environmental services and energy distribution sectors located in the province of Modena providing services to 24 municipalities. It supplies 15 million m3 of water to about 110,000 customers, it treats 95,588 tons of waste for more than 70,000 customers, and it distributes 274,963,713 m3, gas to about 130,000 customers. Though unprepared, AIMAG responded rapidly and bounced back better. Thus the assumption that the earthquakes triggered learning for AIMAG is made. To understand what and how did AIMAG learn through the earthquakes, we collected data from interviews with seven AIMAG managers who were actively involved in the response and the recovery and from achieved materials. Analysing the data based on the multi-level organizational learning theory (Crossan et al. 1999), we found that the interruptions generated by the earthquakes triggered an audit of AIMAG’s knowledge repositories, revealing its weakness and strength. AIMAG was able to exploit its existing knowledge to manage the interruptions. At the same time, it was capable of learning through the interruptions exploring new knowledge. This learning occurred at all three levels inside AIMAG, individuals intuited the situations based on their previous experience, interpreting the need to respond to the interruptions and begin recovery immediately. The collective interpretation formed the basis for joint actions, which integrated the group learning at the organizational level. The effective cognition and behaviour were instituted to the organization, and the new knowledge was absorbed into the organization’s knowledge repositories awaiting the next audit. This case study provides us with a unique opportunity to observe the learning results and processes generated by crisis experience. <br><br>We were curious to further understand why AIMAG was able to learn through the interruptions, we interviewed both AIMAG managers and the representatives from its external networks. Two representatives are from two local municipalities in AIMAG’s service area. These two municipalities are also AIMAG&#39;s shareholders. The other two are from the local trade association and consumer association, representing the interests of its key stakeholders in the external networks and its customers. The interview data is supplemented by the secondary data such as reports and news. We found out that in the crisis the shared identity linked individuals to the groups and enabled self- reflexive responsible management learning of AIMAG. As a company rooted in the local area, providing fundamental services and is owned mainly by the local municipalities, AIMAG set resuming services as its priority in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes. Believing themselves to be socially responsible, ethical, and capable, employees were highly motivated and collaborative. In the meanwhile, AIMAG was also receiving help from organizations in the local community. AIMAG derives part of its identity from the local community and the identity formation process is reciprocal. Emilia Romagna is recognized by Putman (1992) as the most civic region. The local community possesses a collective and responsible identity. when crises occurred, individuals and organizations reflected on their identity which determined the direction of their decision making and action taking.<br><br>Inspired by the two studies and to achieve the goal of systematically understand the relationship between crises and organizational learning, we conducted an extensive literature review including both empirical and conceptual studies. Thirty-nine papers were identified through the research and were read and coded. Based on the multi-level learning theoretical premises, we categorized the publications according to the three perspectives that their discussion based on individual learning, group learning, and organizational learning perspectives. An initial reading of the literature establishes that the learning can be captured at four levels: individual, group, organizational and external networks in five dynamic processes: intuiting, interpreting, integrating, institutionalizing and interacting. This study highlights the learning can also occur at the external network level, which individuals, groups, and organizations interact with when facing crises, adding an extra process to the multi-level learning model of Crossan et al. (1999).<br><br>This research contributes to constructing the theory of crisis learning creating four dimensions, the dimensions of time, space, levels and processes. To “normalize” and enhance the generalizability of crisis learning, it proposes to decompose a crisis into a series of interruptions which might have occurred in the past and may happen in the future. The knowledge learned through the crises can be stored in organizations’ knowledge repositories and will be audited, updated and restored. It suggests to consider the connection between an organization and its local community. Co-location could facilitate the formation of a shared identity which enables organizations to collaborate and mobilize resources rapidly in the face of a crisis. It advocates the learning occur at each level inside and outside an organization through intuiting, interpreting, integrating, institutionalizing and interacting processes that help us to better capture and understand organizational learning in crisis situations.<br>