organizational responsiveness

May 14, 2010

An Intelligent learning extended organization (IntelLEO) constitutes a temporal alliance among different organisations (industrial, research, educational etc.) in order to share knowledge and competences through cross-border learning and knowledge building (LKB) activities. In one hand, the increasing specialization of useful knowledge for design, engineering, and manufacturing of products makes it difficult for industrial organizations to rely entirely on in-house learning processes. For the evolution of industry knowledge and product domains an alliance is needed across the organizational borders. Academic organizations, such as universities, on the other hand, work intensively with innovative ideas, but in general stay separated from the actual frontiers of production and have limited access to the dynamically developed work knowledge and competences. Both types of organizations arise to bring the process of education under socially standardized set of institutional categories, norms and visions. The mutual knowledge exchange between these organizations is needed for capturing emergent opportunities in research and development and meeting the changes in the economy and social sphere. Such knowledge exchange between different types of organizations is believed to create synergy, and make both organizations better adaptable to the challenging situations.

In the IntelLEO project the focus is on increasing organizational responsiveness, by supporting LKB processes in IntelLEO. It is hypothesized that IntelLEOs are more responsive that single organizations.

March (1981) assumes that organizational response to environmental events is broadly adaptive. The processes that guide response to the challenges in organization follow the models of selection (competition and survival aspects), experiental learning (trial and error, reusing best past experiences), politics (bargaining, confrontation, coalition aspects), contagion (spreading the knowledge), and regeneration (new competences may arise in organizations). The IntelLEO project focuses on technology enhanced learning issues, therefore, experiental learning, contagion and regeneration are these processes for adaptation that could be considered more relevant.

Daft and Weick (1984) developed a broad theoretical framework for understanding organizational adaptation to environmental change. They argued that organizational responsiveness to such changes is influenced by fundamental underlying processes involving the recognition and interpretation of those changes. Interpretation of environmental changes can play a more significant role than recognition in organizational responses to environmental demands (Goodstein, 1995). The process of recognition is specifically linked with the visibility and organizational exposure of issues. Milliken and colleagues noted that: “shared organizational values provide important reference points and lenses for interpreting the significance and interconnectedness of environmental changes (1990). In the IntelLEO type of organizations, the shared values may temporarily emerge across organizational borders, changing and influencing intra-organizational norms and visions According to Goodstein (1995), organizational responsiveness is not strictly determined by the nature of environmental changes, but rather is influenced by other organizational factors that can either foster or inhibit actions. To understand these factors, it is useful to analyze different definitions to organizational responsiveness.

Figure presents the conceptual relations of responsiveness in IntelLEO.

Conceptualizations of organizational responsiveness

Responsiveness is considered an ability of an organization to detect the extra-organizational changes and to take measures to adopt to the situation both by a) making changes internally at individual action and learning level or at organizational structures and policies, and b) developing active interferences to change something in the surroundings so that it was increasing this organization’s adaptiveness.

Further, it is assumed that organizations must constantly keep themselves in the agile state, have the ability and flexibility to couple loosely with other organizations for knowledge exchanges.

Organizational responsiveness represents the ability of an organization to respond to its external environment in an appropriate manner (Clippinger, 1999). A more radical definition assumes that responsiveness is the aggressiveness of an organization’s marketplace strategy (Gresov, Haveman, and Oliva, 1993).

Bray et al., 2007 examine organizational responsiveness in the context of inter individual knowledge exchanges that influence the ability of an organization to respond in an appropriate manner to a changing environment. They define organizational responsiveness as the ability of an organization to respond in an appropriate manner to mitigate negative threats or capitalize on positive opportunities generated by an organization’s environment. For knowledge-intensive enterprises confronting challenges, organizational responsiveness represents their ability to respond to emergent opportunities or concerns (Bray et al., 2007). Bray et al. 2007 posit that the presence of knowledge exchanges represents one necessary and central enabler influencing whether an organization takes advantage of its organizational responsiveness ability. Individual employees comprise organizations, and the aggregation of individual actions contributes ultimately to organizational performance. Hence, insomuch that (1) individuals become more “fit” to their environment through knowledge exchanges, (2) and understanding one’s environment enables knowledgeable interpretation of and response to environmental issues, it follows that an organization’s cumulative ability to respond to environmental changes depends on the presence of knowledge exchanges among employees (Weick and Roberts 1993). Knowledge exchanges also allow humans to become more “fit” to their environment (Clippinger 1999). These knowledge exchanges enable adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The degree to which employees within an organization can use knowledge to adapt their actions to appropriately fit environmental conditions embodies an organization’s cumulative responsiveness (Bray et al., 2007). In general, responsiveness is an element of corporate social performance. Organizational social responsiveness encourages employees’ collaboration and knowledge creation. Bray et al., 2007 found that knowledge exploration and knowledge exploitation influence positively organizational responsiveness.

Jacobs (2003) proposes that responsiveness as a socially constructed attribute refers to the perceptual, reflective and adaptive dimension of an organization. Responsiveness refers to the ability of an organization to increase the chances for reflective conversation.
According to Jacobs (2003) organizational responsiveness provides a conceptual lens at the macro-level to reflect on strategy and organizational development. At the micro-level of responsive practices, dialogue as a reflective form of conversation allows for processes through which such responses can be collaboratively developed. Responsiveness at macro level is grounded in the communicative acts that drive and shape the individuals’ perception of the organization.

From the experiments of Jacobs (2003), organizational stakeholders refer to the notion of responsiveness as a capacity that is attributed to both the local unit as well as the overall organization. They identified three areas related to the notion of responsiveness: the need to be listened to, the experience of being understood, and the experience of some satisfying response from the organization.

Kent et al (2003) use the term mediated responsiveness and explained that more dialogically oriented an organization “appears,” the more likely an organization is to actually respond to its stakeholders.

Various terms may be considered as synonyms of responsiveness: adaptation capacity, sensibility, flexibility, elasticity and agility. The dynamical aspects of changes in organizational responsiveness may be explained using the agility and flexibility concepts.

Organizational responsiveness is based on the concept of flexibility. The literature on organizational change considers flexibility to be one of the dynamic capabilities through which firms confront change (Wright and Snell, 1998; Zajac et al., 2000). Organizational flexibility is the main capability that enables companies to face environmental fluctuations, as it makes the organization more responsive to change. Internal flexibility is the capacity of organizations to adapt to the environment, while external flexibility refers to their capacity to influence the environment and thus to reduce their vulnerability (Ansoff and Brandenburg, 1971).

The term organizational flexibility refers to the overall flexibility of an organization as a system (structure) defined by a set of resources (technology, personnel, financial resources, knowledge, . . .), processes (operations, tasks, routines, . . .) and managerial functions (strategizing, organizing, planning, leading, directing, . . .).

Organizational flexibility in the broad sense includes different kinds of flexibility:
For Aaker and Mascarenhas (1984) strategic flexibility is the ability to adapt to environmental changes. Organizations should not only adapt to a changing environment but, simultaneously, have the ability to change that environment. Being flexible also means changing the organizational environment through actions like innovation, communication and advertisement.

Structural flexibility as managerial practice, belongs to human resources management and some managerial practices can affect structural flexibility, e.g. the system of authority, job design, training, work teams, participation, personnel selection and the compensation system (Walton and Susman, 1987; Rowe and Wright, 1997; Adler et al., 1999). Flexible structures tend to be less formalized (Cohn and Turyn, 1984) and more decentralized (Overholt, 1996). Some studies have pointed out that organizational responsiveness rests less on the hierarchical command structures than on structures of self-organisation and lateral coordination. The adoption of labour flexible practices can increase organizational responsiveness.

Operational flexibility involves the activation of generally reversible short-term changes in the organization, based on the organization’s structures, current objectives, and temporary changes in the activity level.

According to Verduę and Goęmez-Gras (2009) a gap between actual and required flexibility shows indirectly the organizational responsiveness. By analyzing this gap, the lacks and excesses that can be used to assess the changes needed inside the organization and the managerial direction required may be detected. When the gap is 0 or is close to 0, the firm is in a situation of fit and we can consider the organization to be relatively responsive to environmental evolution. This can be defined as organizational responsiveness.

Goldman & Nagel (1993) argue that organizations must be agile to survive in dynamically changing environments. Furthermore, they contend that these agile organizations actually “thrive” because they are proficient at predicting changes in demand, reconfiguring their processes, sharing information across organizational boundaries and, adopting new processes ahead of their competitors. Hoyt et al. (2007) have developed the enablers of organizational responsiveness for operationalizing responsiveness: (1) scanning; (2) formal planning; (3) informal planning; (4) dynamic manufacturing flexibility; (5) static manufacturing flexibility; (6) supply chain relationships for commodity products; (7) supply chain relationships for specialty products; and (8) multi-skilled employees.
For Hoyt and Troy (2002) the agile company is: one, which operates in a dynamically changing, uncertain environment and, is relatively more successful (in terms of financial performance) than its nonagile competitors. This dynamically changing environment exhibits: (1) a high level of collective exchange mechanisms between competitors, suppliers and customers; scarce re-sources and little opportunity for growth and a high demand for organizational responsiveness and product scope.

The process of continual technological change necessitates a responsiveness to change through openness in organizational form, adaptibility by employees, and in the most positive form of permanent beta, broad participation in design (Neff & Stark, 2003). Permanently beta is the state of responsiveness in organizational form and process that mirrors innovation in products and services. It is believed that responsiveness to users in the design of products has the power to change organizational form (ibid).

Brusoni et al (2001) assume that the basis of organizational response is distributed intelligence and dispersed learning processes carried out within different organizations. IntelLEO is a temporary and dynamically changing type of alliance between organizations with different LKB cultures. In IntelLEOs certain coupling has to take place between the organizations to perform LKB. Orton and Weick (1990: 205) used the interaction of specialization (i.e. distinctiveness) and integration (i.e. responsiveness) to determine the extent of coupling across organizational units and different organizations:

If there is neither responsiveness nor distinctiveness, the system is not really a system and it can be defined as a noncoupled system. If there is responsiveness without distinctiveness, the system is tightly coupled. If there is distinctiveness without responsiveness, the system is decoupled. If there is both distinctiveness and responsiveness, the system is loosely coupled. The IntelLEO project business cases represent those loosely coupled organizations.

The concept of loosely coupled organizations are led by systems integrators. Systems integration is based on loosely coupled networks and it includes the technological and organizational capabilities to integrate changes and improvements and maintaining knowledge and activities (Brusoni, Prencipe, & Pavitt, 2001).

Without sufficient motivation to exchange knowledge, organizational processes to exchange knowledge will fail to provide any benefit – no one will enact such processes (Bray et al., 2007). Bray et al. (2007) developed a model detailing how knowledge technologies, embodied in 5 intra-organizational information systems, provide opportunities that influence individual level human motivations to engage in knowledge exchange processes, thereby influencing organizational responsiveness. This model both explains and predicts the different contributions influencing organizational responsiveness, to include knowledge technologies, employee motivations, and processes to exchange knowledge.
They demonstrate in inter-organizational situation that the opportunities afforded by knowledge technologies, coupled with motivations and processes to exchange knowledge, impact organizational responsiveness. Specifically, improved collaboration opportunities, facilitated by knowledge technologies, improve individual perceptions of formal incentives to exchange knowledge, normative values to exchange knowledge, and competence-based trust among individuals. These improved individual perceptions regarding knowledge exchanges correlate to improved knowledge exploration and exploitation. Improved knowledge exploration and exploitation processes then correlate to improved organizational responsiveness (Bray et al., 2007).

For IntelLEO project the responsiveness of an IntelLEO is corporate performance in which individuals are motivated to proactively learn and construct knowledge across organizational borders.

What allows IntelLEOs to be responsive?

Analyzing the factors that may influence organizational reponsiveness IntelLEO project assumes that it is necessary to rationalize the LKB processes involved in IntelLEOs to maximize the chances that both organizations can better respond to the challenging situations. The responsiveness may be achieved by different means by effectively combining learning and knowledge management approaches and systems for supporting sharing across the organisations’ borders, e.g. enabling cross border networking and collaboration with an extended offer of (high quality) learning content from different organizations, assuring better harmonisation of the individuals’ (employees/members of the organisations) learning objectives with the different organization’s LKB objectives, providing for individuals more intra- or interorganizational learning path descriptions directed to the organisations’ strategic objectives which could be used by individuals for self-directed learning in workplaces. Such responsiveness is difficult to achieve without technological support to the processes.

Intelleo project assumes that IntelLEO responsiveness can be increased by creating synergy between technological services that support participating in collaborative LKB activities across vertical and horizontal boundaries of the IntelLEO, and the harmonization of personal objectives of learning and creativity with the organizational LKB objectives of different IntelLEO counterparts.
It is assumed that synergy of collaborative LKB and harmonisation services makes their application in IntelLEO more user-friendly and may considerably enhance the motivation of learners to do LKB activities and therefore responsiveness of the IntelLEO increases.

The main issue is to enable an effective measurement/observation of the synergistic effects between the services from the perspective of the IntelLEO responsiveness. Responsiveness in IntelLEO is defined through increased motivation to proactively learn and construct knowledge in an IntelLEO. We rely on the findings that in intra-organizational conditions opportunities afforded by knowledge technologies, coupled with motivations and processes to exchange knowledge, impacted organizational responsiveness (Bray et al., 2007).

From the literature review presented above, we have extracted the following aspects that might increase responsiveness:
1. The presence of knowledge exchanges among employees
a. Improved collaboration opportunities
b. Knowledge exploration and knowledge exploitation processes among employees
c. Possibility for socially and collaboratively constructing responsiveness in organizations
d. Increased chances for reflective conversation and dialogues
2. Distributed intelligence and dispersed learning processes carried out within loosely coupled different organizations
3. The opportunity for employees within an organization to use knowledge to adapt their actions to appropriately fit environmental conditions

The last aspect interrelates organizational learning with self-directed learning and self-reflections.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by comunidades. comunidades said: organizational responsiveness: An Intelligent learning extended organization (IntelLEO) constitutes a temporal a… http://bit.ly/amWeV7 […]

  2. Yes, it is part of European IST 7th framework project IntelLEO deliverable 1.1 that is not public due to consortium agreement.

  3. […] the project we assumed that to support organizational responsiveness, cross-organizational learning and knowledge-building should be supported. Our assumption was that […]

  4. […] increased responsiveness for the cluster and for its member organizations is achieved through temporal cross- and […]

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