Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Business

Faculty

Business and Law

First Advisor

Dr Paul Jackson

Second Advisor

Professor Alan Brown

Abstract

The 21st century presents great opportunities and threats for business: national and global markets are demanding high performance, innovation, creativity, and flexibility. Public sector organisations are continually asked to do more with less, with equal if not greater efficiency and creativity demands as the private sector. Organisational learning is a concept touted as an important and necessary strategy for organisations to keep pace with the rapid changing global environment that now plays host to opportunities as well as great economic and social volatility. However the reality for many is that they become proficient at the kind of organisational learning that reinforces the status quo (Morgan, 2006).

This thesis aims to make an original contribution to the organisational learning literature by exploring power relationships and the degree to which individual and/or groups have the capacity or power to question the existing order of things. More particularly, it examines how and why power relationships may facilitate or inhibit ‘authentic organisational learning’. In doing so, this research explores a conceptual model of power relationships drawing on a traditional organisational leadership framework originating with Burns (1978) – ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ – as well as incorporating a critical perspective, drawing on the work of Freire (1970) with the notion of a ‘revolutionary’ power relationship. These three power relationships are explored as they operate to varying degrees across the four dimensions of power drawn individually from Dahl through to Lukes and Foucault. Notions such as ‘meaningful dialogue’ and ‘liberated learning space’ are introduced as a means to explain the capacity or ‘power to’ question the existing order of things: including the traditional dominant attitudes, beliefs, values and norms in organisations.

Despite the perceived importance of organisational learning as a strategy for organisations in the 21st century, and the significant growth in the literature since the early 1990s, the notion of power continues to be all but silent in the organisational learning literature. Positioned in the recent emancipatory perspective of organisational learning, underpinned by Critical Theory, this thesis contributes to breaking this silence by exploring beyond the possible vested interests that we, as managers, may have to maintain the existing order of things in organisations. The emancipatory perspective encourages me to distinguish between organisational learning that is more ‘compliant’ to the learning agenda of managers – whether exploiting existing learning or exploring new learning both for corporate benefit – and more ‘authentic organisational learning’ driven by employees.

This original contribution has particular significance for policing organisations. The ability of individuals to question the existing order of things in such organisations is of interest due to a perceived inability to bring about meaningful cultural reform. This research argues that reform failures may be due to a managerial learning agenda being deployed, which may result in compliance rather than more ‘authentic’ learning. Hence, this thesis examines the conceptual model primarily in respect to two case studies of policing organisations: one Australian and the other in another part of the Oceania region.

Comments

Appendix L and Appendix M have been removed from the thesis.

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