Organization Learning

A range of concepts exists to assist the manager in managing technological diffusion. Key to most of these is early involvement of the users whose lives will be impacted by the design and adoption of the technology in their daily activities. Successful implementation of IT requires that individuals learn new ways of performing intellectual tasks. This learning process involves unscrambling old procedures and attitudes, moving to a new pattern, and then cementing this new process into the procedures of the individuals and groups. From a broader perspective, success demands that users be heavily involved in deciding how the systems can be designed to meet their needs and then in ensuring that the new system is actually assimilated into the key staff and managers; work routines instead of becoming an idle, expensive appendage.

Throughout the development of IT there has been an ongoing effort to understand the managerial issues associated with implementing and evolving automated systems in an organization. Starting with Thomas Whisler and Harold Leavitt’s article on the demise of middle management and going on to Dick Nolan and Cyrus Gibson’s stages and Chris Argyris’s espoused theory versus theories in actions a range of concepts has been advanced for dealing with the problem of getting individuals to use automated systems appropriately. After field studies (many of them longitudinal) on 28 organizations over a decade, we have concluded that the managerial situation can be best framed ass one of managing technological diffusion. Successful implementation of a technology requires that individuals learn new ways of performing intellectual tasks. As this learning takes place, changes occur in information flows as well as in individual roles. Often this has resulted in organization changes substantiating Leavitt and Whisler’s conjecture and reinforcing Nolan and Gibson’s original four stages.

We consider this process to be closely akin to the problems of organizational change identified by Kurt Lewin and described in action form by Ed Schein as unfreezing, moving, and then refreezing again. The process can best be summarized by rephrasing Nolan and Gibson’s original four stages and considering the process as ongoing, with a new start for each new technology – be it database, local area networks, or new CAD workstations. This approach usefully emphasizes the continual tension between efficiency and effectiveness in the use of IT. At one time it is necessary to relax and let the organization search for effectiveness; at another it is necessary to focus on efficiency in order to control costs.

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