The central idea behind critical action learning (CAL) is using power relations to initiate action in an organization (Pedler, 2013). This is particularly true in business because many researchers affirm this idea through their managerial experiences and theoretical findings. For example, Jaideep Praihbhu (cited in Lee & Greenley, 2010) highlights the need to include rigour and relevance in management practices.
The CAL model equally highlights this principle because it engages ongoing tensions in an organization (Hughes, O’Regan, & Wornham, 2009). Stated differently, it uses the radical potential of action learning to create organizational change (Pedler, 2013). This paper uses the same logic to explain how, in practice, critical action learning improves organizational performance. To do so, this paper shows how a manager could use the CAL model to improve five aspects of organizational performance – future management, self-management, financial management, staff management and customer management.
Managing an Organization’s Future
Critical action learning differs from other types of management paradigms because it is a proactive measure of organizational processes. The model is useful for managing an organization’s future because it allows managers to predict environmental uncertainties (Pedler, 2013). This way, they can plan an organization’s future by making sure it wades through uncertain times.
This reasoning aligns with the recommendations of Hughes et al. (2009), which support the proactive management of future organizational uncertainties by merging the views of practitioners and academicians. When managing an organization’s future, critical action learning provides managers with a balance between risk and uncertainty. Moreover, unlike other approaches, it does not focus (much) on the destructive aspects of negative criticism (Pedler, 2013). Therefore, it focuses on managing future uncertainties and encouraging managers to learn from their experiences, for the future benefit of an organization.
Structural elements of action learning help managers to make better-informed decisions about their lives and leadership styles. They do so by recognizing that all managers have psychological ownership of organizational problems (Pedler, 2013). Therefore, the authority and responsibility of making decisions for an organization lie with managers. To do so, the CAL model proposes that professionals should learn from their peers. Moreover, since the CAL model recognizes managers as the owners of organizational decisions, it encourages them to develop unique solutions for organizational problems.
It does so by teaching them the need to take responsibility for an organization’s actions (especially if there are negative outcomes). Overall, critical action learning helps managers learn more about their leadership styles, reflect on their actions, and understand how their decisions impede (or enable) their quest to realize their management goals (Pedler, 2013). Therefore, the CAL framework uses individual learning as the primary focus of meeting business goals.
Theoretically, organizations work by following specific sets of policies and rules that outline organizational processes. However, as Lee & Greenley (2010) say, organizational decisions are often irrational. This irrationality may confuse an organization. More so, it may cause misunderstandings about how employees work, thereby affecting organizational performance, negatively. As Pedler (2013) observes, “such irrationality interferes with achieving the blend of logic and emotional energy necessary to transcend organizational difficulties” (p. 1).
By recognizing the above challenges, managers could use the CAL model to promote emotional synergy among employees. The model would also help them give rigour and pace to the employee learning process. Lastly, critical action learning would help managers to meet this goal by using the positive energy of small employee groups in an organization.
Critical action learning helps managers to transform their organizations by making them financially competitive. Specifically, it helps managers to integrate financial management functions in the overall business strategy (Pedler, 2013). This way, managers easily find, measure, and manage an organization’s financial risks. The CAL model helps them to do so by merging theory with practice (helping managers to realize that financial risk management goals should align with the corporate goals).
Pedler (2013) says that action learning is important in promoting customer value improvements. Unlike other managerial models, critical action learning recognizes the complexity, dynamism, and multidimensional nature of the customer issues that affect an organization. The same outcome is true when understanding how critical action learning reduces customer complaints (especially for service-oriented businesses). One way it does so is by helping organizations to learn about their mistakes and the critical issues that most customers have with their services. Managers are at the centre of this process because critical action learning provides them with the vital pieces of information they need to make important customer service improvements in their workplaces, as a customer management strategy.
Although critical action learning is beneficial because it provides managers with a model for managing their decisions, their customers, their staff, their finances, and the future, it cannot show its effectiveness if it does not have an organizational influence. This provision is essential for critical action learning to introduce useful organizational changes because it promotes a synergy of simultaneous developments among different organizational parts.
Its developments occur at personal, organizational, and business levels and impact managers, employees, and customers alike. This well-rounded approach gives it enough impetus to influence company decisions because managers (owners) see it as a suitable and socially acceptable return on investments. Similarly, employees embrace it because it allows them to reform. This way, it eliminates the frustrations they get when undertaking their duties. Overall, the CAL model improves managerial performance.
Hughes, T., O’Regan, N., & Wornham, D. (2009). Let’s talk: getting business and academia to collaborate. Journal of Business Strategy, 30(5), 50 – 56.
Lee, N., & Greenley, G. (2010). The theory-practice divide: thoughts from the Editors and Senior Advisory Board of EJM. European Journal of Marketing, 44(1), 5 – 20.
Pedler, M. (2013). Action Learning in Practice. Web.