Relationship between Organizational Learning and HRM

Both organizational learning and human resource management (HRM) have been studied more recently because of their important role in improving organizational performance and as a source of competitive advantage which is probably the most significant for organizations to achieve sustainable development in the changing economic environment. With the frequent application of the concepts and theories of organizational learning and HRM in the organizational operation management and practice, a wide range of literatures have focused on these two disciplines and find that a proper combination of the two has a positive influence on organizational performance. Thus this essay is to explore and analyse the relationship between organizational learning and HRM and their impact on organizational performance. It will explain the key concepts and theories used in these two disciplines including definitions and discuss how learning and HR practice affect each other further to organizational performance. Firstly, this essay will introduce organizational learning concepts, learning organization, levels and types of learning. Then, it will demonstrate and discuss the reasons and the ways of a combination of organizational learning and HR practice including recruitment and selection, human resource development (HRD), reward and employee relations in the improvement of organizational performance.

Organizational Learning

Organisational learning has become a field with rapid growth and receives more and more attention of researchers now. It has been defined from many perspectives by scholars. According to the definition given by Garvin (1993), organizational learning is like an organization which does well in generating, getting and shifting knowledge and in action correction of staff in order to have reaction on new information and views. However, learning has been recognized as both the knowledge itself and the process of getting it by Argyris and Schon (1996) who defined organizational learning as the action of organizations obtaining various information including knowledge, methods, ideas and news through any ways with a more macro perspective.

Many researchers propose that resultful organizational learning plays a significant role in improving organization commitment and realizing and keeping competition advantage (Shipton et al, 2002).

Organisational learning is the courses in which an organization deals with information to improve its latent capacity while obtaining beneficial knowledge (Huber, 1991).

In the similar way, organizational learning is defined as a process that the employees learn to change and enhance their behaviour through the cycle of absorption of new knowledge and technique and critical knowledge accumulation and development in order to achieve organization value creation and increase (Patricia, 2002). This essay will define organizational learning as a process in which organisational performance can be improved by managers through the advancement of learning ability of staff step by step on the basis of focusing on its significant role in organisational performance (Jones, 2000).

Learning Organization

In the study of organizational learning, the concept of learning organization has been defined in different ways. In Senge’s (1990) eye, learning organization is an organization which has the ability to carry out adaptive learning and generative learning for a flexible development. According to Senge, detectable features of learning organization are unclear in definition instead of identifying the necessary rules of how to create a learning organization (Yang, et al, 2004). From a strategic view, a learning organization has been defined as “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights” (Garvin, 1993, pp.80). In these different definitions of learning organization, we could find some features in common. First, organizations have the ability to learn like people and it is known that this capability is the most significant advantage for organization in competition in long term (Yang, et al, 2004). The second feature of a learning organization might be different levels of organizations such as individual, group or team and organization have their own characteristics (Yang, et al, 2004).

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Organizational learning and learning organization are related but different. The concept of the learning organization usually means organizations with the features of ever-lasting ability to learn and strong ability of adaptation. In comparison, organizational learning refers to a collection of experiences of learning for studying new knowledge and enhancing ability (Yang, et al, 2004).

Three-Learning Loop Theory

Three-learning loop theory (Argyris and Schon, 1978) is the most important theory in the study of individual learning. As an important part of a successful organization, individual learning has been widely discussed in the area of organizational learning. As stated by Chang and Lee (2007), the dynamic of development is learning and the power of organizational development is individual level learning.

First is the “single-loop learning” that refers to “instrumental learning that changes strategies of action or assumptions underlying strategies in ways that leave the values of a theory of action unchanged” (Argyris and Schon, 1996, pp.20). In this situation of learning, a single feed-back loop caused by an investigation followed by error detection is a result of unusual phenomenon according to the definite strategies of organization in order to control the operation in the norms of organization (Argyris and Schon, 1996). When this situation happens, the employees who have learnt the “theory-in-use” of the organization will carry out this kind of approach to solve problems due to their previous learning and feedback confirmed by managers that it is proper according to the organisational norms (Yeow, 2009). Next is the “double-loop learning” refers to a learning that cause the value of theory-in-use, strategies and thoughts of organizations changed (Argyris and Schon, 1996). Double-loop learning happens when the employees evaluate the previous strategies on the products, services, customers and norms (Yeow, 2009). “Deutero-learning” is the third learning approach focusing on previous study process includes failure (Yeow, 2009).

Human Resource Management

Human resource management is a discipline comprises a broad range of theories and concepts. In other words, it is a subject of all human things focusing on recruitment of, management of, and providing direction for the people who work in the organization. From the perspective of organization, human resource emphasizes on the abilities, skills and knowledge that are benefit for the organizations of their employees (Price, 2007).

The relationship of organizational learning, human resource management and organizational performance

Facing the fierce competition in the society, organizations have been aware of the importance of capability of learning and creativity of employees and the whole organization in maintaining the sustainable success (Ulrich et al., 1993).

Types of learning and Human Resource Management

As for organizations, especially for learning organizations, improving adaptive learning and single-loop learning is only the first level and generative learning and double-loop learning are the key (Senge, 1990). Generative learning could improve the ability of creativity of employees and organizations for the development (Kaynak et al, 1998). When identifying and dealing with problems, generative learning put a focus on ever lasting practice and feedback in the consideration of the situation of organizations (Rouse and Boff, 2005). Focusing on creativity is the nature of generative learning, so “systemic thinking”, “shared vision”, “personal mastery”, “team learning” and “creative tension” are involved between the vision and reality (Rouse and Boff, 2005). Take a brief look at the responsibilities of human resource management, comprehensive employee recruitment and selection procedures are one of the most important parts in human resource management (Davenport, 2000). In addition, a determining factor of the effectiveness of organizational learning is the quality of their employee (Davenport, 2000).

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Therefore, one aspect of link of human resource management and organizational learning is the practice of employee selection and recruitment. The implication of this link is best fit employees could be benefit for generating valuable knowledge and assumptions and improving the whole organizational performance further (Kaynak et al, 1998). In other words, organizational learning will improve the value of the most important asset of people. This is one of the reasons that why people apply organizational learning into human resource management. In addition, as discussed above, generative learning help employees improve their ability to solve problems in working process with a creative perspective which is very important in either lower level of staff or higher decision making level such as line managers and top managers and the future of organizations (Kaynak et al, 1998). Thirdly, the outcome of application the theories of double-loop learning and generative learning is to set up a corporate culture which holds the features of knowledge shared and creative atmosphere gradually. In return, the strategy of human resource management such as employees’ selection, employment relationship and commitment will be improved as well (Ulrich et al., 1993).

The key step of achieve the improvement of organizational performance is to apply the organizational learning theory into the human resource management practice. According to the five features of generative learning, “systemic thinking”, “shared vision”, “personal mastery”, “team learning” and “creative tension”. In preparation, the recruitment strategy should be designed with the aim of selecting the fit employees who have the nature or personality of easy to be trained as the members of accepting the corporate culture with creativity and flexibility (Davenport, 2000). It is known that training is also one of the most important human resource practices in the process of organizational learning (Ulrich et al., 1993). In the study of this area, some changes happened to the role of individuals (Perez et al, 2006). As a result, training could be one effective and efficient tool for the application of organizational learning framework. In the process of training, individuals become more important and active in order to achieve the objects of organizations (Perez et al, 2006). The ability of dealing with internal and external information and useful organizational knowledge has become the importance of training (Perez et al, 2006). On the basis of this kind of training, information and knowledge should be treated as a shared vision in order to make sure that everyone who is eager to learn has the newest knowledge in the organization.

Just as Kamoche and Mueller (1998) noted that the corporate culture of commitment and trust to learning colleagues and organization should be trained and developed in the process of training. The employees and managers should be taught and learn to be familiar with what the whole working procedures like and how the knowledge and information management system is linked to the values of organization during the process of training (Perez et al, 2006). Moreover, this kind of training would help the new employees get a clear understanding of the company’s mission and values and the old employees to get a deeper realization of the organization’s developing direction so as to make sure a better direction and result for the learning processes involving acquisition, distribution, interpretation and organizational memory (Perez et al, 2006). At the same time, through using a common style of language and a shared vision, communication and trust among employees might be easy to set up through the strategic training as a basic way (Perez et al, 2006). For one thing, in order to avoid the static of the knowledge belonging to the organizational rules and corporate culture and to help to develop a common understanding, the designs of these training procedures help to share all the knowledge and information (Ulrich et al., 1993). For another thing, they are benefit for the acquisition of information and continuous update of new knowledge and skills, enhancing the extent of openness to new knowledge (Garvin, 1993). What training achieves is to improve flexibility, to make a contribution to promote critical knowledge and to react to competitive advantages (Ulrich et al., 1993).

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Learning levels and human resource management

In order to achieve the goal of improving organizational performance and keeping competitive advantage, managers should get a clear understanding of the function of a combination of the implement of organizational learning and human resource management in organizations. Adapting organizational learning to the operations of organizations is the only way to keep organizations in the state of high efficiency, competitive strength and win (Senge, 1990; Deevy, 1995). Many of the best human resource management practices have a positive effect on enhancing organizational performance for organizations (Marchinton and Wilkinson, 2006). Some researches have shown that a variety of human resource management practices could enhance motivation and commitment of organization (Theriou and Chatzoglou, 2007).

In general, three important natures can be identified from the literature which are enhancement of individual learning, where organizational learning begins from the employee working in the organisation, engaging team learning, where knowledge is gathered through employee interactions and learning from each other, and organisational learning practices, where tacit knowledge is procedurally and systematically acquired and transformed into explicit forms and become organisational knowledge which are assessable by employees or approved parties. For the purpose of this study, the three attributes of organizational learning have been identified as contributing factors toward performance.


In conclusion, this essay shows that organizational learning and human resource management are interdependent and interactive in the practice of performance management. Through the discussion on the reasons and the ways of that organizational learning could be applied to human resource management. This essay finds that there is a positive relationship in the two disciplines in achieving the improvement of organizational performance. In order to keep the sustainable development of organizations, managers should carry out the strategy of a combination of organizational learning theories and framework and best human resource management practice. This essay might contribute some ideas of the specific pattern of the combination of the theories and frameworks of these two disciplines to the study of the application of organizational learning to human resource management. With the further development of organizational learning, the application could be used widely and deeply.

This essay will suggest that although organizational learning develops on the basis of human resource management, however, organizational learning and human resource management could not be treated separately because of the interdependence and interaction of these two disciplines. Considering the importance of learning, organizational learning theories were expected to further development.

Accounting, Management and Information Technologies

Volume 5, Issue 1, January-March 1995, Pages 61-77

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