Learning and psychological contracting within the small, but growing business : an investigation into the changing individual-organisation learning relationship
In recent times the learning organisation concept has become a popular topic of research interest. A review of the literature revealed three areas of research concern. First that theory concerning the learning organisation, and organisational learning, is over-reliant on the "positivist" standpoint and methodologies, and that resulting descriptions and models of the learning organisation are mostly idealised rather than 'real' representations of the proposed phenomena. Secondly, that theory and models of the learning organisation are relatively uninformative when it comes to explaining the proposed relationship between individual and collective learning, and how one translates into the other. Thirdly, that issues to do with organisational learning in the small firm remain under-investigated, and that the literature offers little explanation concerning the subject of small firm learning, and the growth process. Responding to calls for research into these areas of research concern, this thesis contains an account of a case study investigation into aspects of small firm learning. The aim of the investigation was to stimulate new research by generating grounded research themes, ideas, questions, and hypotheses concerning aspects of learning organisation theory. Working within a consultancy context, and adopting a case study approach, qualitative data was obtained during interviews with people in three small, but growing businesses. Grounded theory methods were then used to conduct a thematic analysis of the data. Outcome of the investigation are as follows. There is grounded thematic support for the assertion that people in small firms have a need, and are able to engage in transformational learning. In particular, the findings support the making of a two-part proposition concerning small firm learning and the changing individual-organisation relationship. First, that the small firm can be usefully construed as a network of informal communities, wherein people interact to meet their own, sometimes competing needs, and to learn how to do what needs to be done. Secondly, that the way people negotiate and agree to form and engage in these informal communities of practice can be usefully explained in terms of an ongoing process of psychological contracting. Another outcome of the investigation is that it was possible to explore the value of using grounded theory methodology during a dual research and consultancy role. This part of the investigation is also described and discussed. Finally, the case for wider investigations to test the emergent two-part proposition concerning small firm learning, and the changing individual-organisation relationship, is argued.