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Strategic Leadership & Organizational Learning: Dr Dusya Vera

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Dusya Vera, from the University of Houston, shared her research on what leaders do to support organizational learning.  She began by offering an overview of an org learning framework that she and Mary Crossan developed to represent the various levels of “stocks” and “flows” that support learning.  For example, there are individual stocks of competence, capability, and motivations.  There are group learning stocks such as the group dynamics that support the development of shared understanding.  And there are organizational stocks such as the alignment between nonhuman storehouses of learning and systems that support learning as a competitive advantage.  In addition there are flow:  feed-forward flows and feedback flows.  Feed-forward flows are the ways in which information improve individual, group and org levels of produces, services, and processes.  Feedback flows are ways in which existing knowledge aid people in their daily work practices.  She and her colleagues have developed an instrument to evaluate the quality of the feed-forward and feedback flows.

She suggests that there are four levels of organizational learning processes that connect the levels and flows in an organization: intuiting (recognizing patterns), interpreting (explaining insights), integrating (developing shared understandings), and institutionalizing (embedding learning in systems and structures).  Daniel: I suppose the big point here is that leaders need to diagnose the quality of these processes in their current state in organizations and then figure out how to design interventions.

She points out that feedback forward and feedback flows are in tension with one another for resources and attention.  Balancing attention to these tends to be thought of in terms of creating different times and spaces for these process.  Another way to consider the balancing these is through role descriptions – giving the same people permission and support to engage in these processes in different time and spaces.  Her research suggests that most organizations feel that they are strong in developing individual assets and weaker in feed-forward processes tend to be seen as weaker. Daniel: the mean differences based on her data seems not to be that different – individual assets score a 4.9 while feed-forward scores a 4.21.  So these differences may not be statistically significant.

She noted another piece of research looks at the leadership behaviors that seem to support stocks and flows.  Transformational leadership styles versus transactional leadership styles seem to be related.  For example, transformational leadership styles are negatively correlated to exploratory innovation while transactional leadership is negatively correlated.    There was quite a lot of discussion among members about the counter-intuitive findings that in highly dynamic environments that transformational leadership was negatively correlated to incremental innovation.

Another area of research that Dusya shared was about the role of improvisation as real time learning.  Some big lessons they extracted what that there were some big areas of behaviors that leaders engage in to support improvisation: interpreting the environment, crafting strategy in real time, cultures for tolerating error, developing individual skills, fostering team work (“yes and” behaviors that set others up for success), and cultivating shared leadership.  She noted improvisational exercises for managers (see

Harvard Graduate School of Education