Are there distinct stages in the change process when Organizational Learning (Grow) methods and thinking are applied?  Evidence from five initiatives

sponsored by the Organizational Learning Center at MIT (predecessor to The Society for Org. Learning ) produced the following conclusions:

(Summary of my article published in Organizational Dynamics journal,).

   (1) There is a typical sequence of stages in the life of learning-based change initiatives.

The start can be traced back to one or a few pioneers, change enthusiasts, or "co-conspirators"

who catch and hatch the idea for a new approach. "There must be a better way " They seek out knowledge of others who have trod this path, cautiously inviting other like-minded partners, as well as a line-manager partner (who sees the need for an improvement project in their unit and gives it a home), and as well as a senior executive sponsor.

   (2) In each case, the success of the initiative in improving a unit's performance was due to

the way executives introduced a fresh approach to leadership which created a safe space for

employees to "learn together" (in place of command and control, management through fear) and

which evoked from them more of their unrecognized and underutilized talents. I am calling this

"learning-based leadership".

   (3) An important role was played by a "core learning team", an alliance among several

volunteer change enthusiasts who want this initiative. The previous point indicated how the change leaders created a safe space for their employees; this point concerns how the leaders created a safe space for themselves, in which to learn from the novel situations they must manage.

(4) Each of the organizational changes required significant personal change in its

participants (including leaders) themselves. Participants had to develop new skills in learning,

especially in discovering and testing their mental models, so that they could begin to modify

them, when necessary. This involved not just new skills but personal growth (“emotional

intelligence” )or personal development).

(5) The success of each case in gaining the support of the parent organization for its

unconventional approach depended on the leaders of the OT initiative bringing together two

elements in their strategic goals for the initiative. This is the "bi-focal formula" where the leaders

of the initiative resolved (at least temporarily) the seemingly-conflicting demands of both short term business results and process improvement (paying off in the long term). They set short term

goals (providing business results) that lay along a path leading to improved processes and

capacity for continuous improvement. This bi-focal balancing act (between short and long-term

perspectives) was also essential to the most successful cases in the Built to Last and Good to Great studies .


Collins, Jim and Porras, J.I., (1994) Built to Last, NY: Harper.

Collins, Jim (2001) Good to Great, NY: Harper.

Sugarman, Barry, (2001). A learning-based approach to organizational change: Some results and guidelines. Organizational Dynamics, 30 (1), pp. 62-76.

The (classic) CAR LAUNCH case