Out of control: organizational defensive routines.
Authors: Yang, Y.
The current theory posits that organizational defensive routines (ODRs) are one of the reasons to explain why organizations still fail to achieve their learning goals. However, this assumption lacks consistent empirical evidence. This study is one of very few attempts to refine the concept of ODRs and analyze empirically the role ODRs play with respect to organizational learning.
The thesis is a collection of essays that addresses the challenges of understanding the effect of ODRs at organizational learning. Each essay has its own focused research objectives to respond the main research questions. The researcher first examines the characteristics of ODRs based on the concept of organizational routines, then the researcher addresses the theoretical debate of how ODRs can affect organizational learning. At organizations, not only organizational factors such as structure, size and age can affect organizational learning, but so does individual factors such as individuals’ personality. Hence, the model integrated both organizational factors and individual factors into the model. To empirically assess the relationships proposed in the framework, it requires a reliable scale to measure ODRs which is missing in previous research. Therefore, the first study focuses on developing a measurement of ODRs through psychometric assessment and validation procedures. This study results in a construct measuring ODRs at the organizational level with two factors with eight items, namely organizational cover-up and organizational pretense. Additionally, ODRs at an individual level are measured by a scale with two factors and six items, namely embarrassment avoidance and rigidity at work.
Equipped with the newly developed measurement of ODRs, the researcher conducted another two studies to test theoretical relations between ODRs and organizational learning. The second study uses multiple regressions to analyze the sample of 358 working on organizations of various size, structure, and age. The study includes some important predictors such as age, size and structure of organizations. The researcher confirms that centralized and formalized structures are negatively associated with organizational learning, but age and size do not have statistical influence on learning. The researcher confirms that high ODRs worsen the negative relationship between formalization and organizational learning.
The third study applies the ODRs scale at the individual level to test role of these routines on organizational learning. It employs multiple regressions to analyze a sample of 351 observations. All the participants have more than one year working experience in their current organizations. The study includes three important personality traits as predictors, namely conscientiousness, openness to experience and neuroticism. The researcher confirms that openness to experience and neuroticism affect organizational learning. However, the researcher fails to find support on the theoretical hypotheses which predict the level of ODRs has an effect on relationships between organizational learning and those three traits.
Theoretically, this study clarifies the definition of ODRs and built a close link with the organizational routines. It also enriches current understanding on the characteristic of routines being stable at the lens of defensive routines. The newly developed scale provides an opportunity to empirically test their roles on organizational learning and other organizational variables. While findings of the empirical study targeting the organizational level lead to the conclusion that organizations should endeavor to reduce ODRs, findings of the other empirical study suggest that individual’s perception of ODRs could be beneficial for organizational learning. This work claims that there seem to be a collective/social effect that is not apparent at the individual level while it influences the organization. Results diverging from theoretical deductions stimulate interesting prospects for further research in the future which are also discussed. Finally, the study indicates that structure is the most effective factor of organizational learning in comparison with age and size. Hence, organizations should endeavor to reduce the level of formalization and centralization to create a learning environment.
The study can benefits organizations at following three aspects. First, organizations can make use of the new scale to identify ODRs at any stages of their development. This would prevent organizations from suffering serious consequences of by-passing and covering up negative issues caused by ODRs. Second, the organizations regardless of age and size can learnt from this study about the importance to realize the contributions of ODRs at organizational level and individual level. In order to alleviate ODRs, organizations should consider changing organizational factors which encourage people at organizations collectively avoid open communication. Meanwhile, they also need to pay attention at educating individuals who tend to be more likely to avoid discussing embarrassing issues. Third, organizations should design an appropriate organizational structure to facilitate information sharing and empower employees at decision making.