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Understanding the Sustainability of a Planned Change: A Case Study Using an Organizational Learning Lens Open Access

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The concept of implementing organizational learning principles in an organization to help individuals and groups “learn to learn” (Schein, 2017), thereby making the ongoing adaptation and change that inevitably occurs in organizations more successful, is an interesting problem to explore. While interesting, there are very few studies that examine the sustainability of change in any context. Several theoretical models incorporate the idea of sustaining, or institutionalizing, change. But, very few empirical studies actually explore that concept.The purpose of this qualitative, descriptive, embedded case study was to explore how a government agency developed and sustained organizational learning, using the Organizational Learning Systems Model (OLSM) as a lens. To fulfill the purpose of this study, the following research question was addressed: How did a government agency introduce and sustain organizational learning during and after a planned change?The results from this study contributed to the literature and to the practitioner community by showing that (1) the organization introduced and implemented organizational learning by centrally managing the learning subsystems during the change itself; (2) the organization introduced and sustained organizational learning by involving, encouraging, and empowering employees and middle managers during the change; (3) the organization introduced and implemented organizational learning by aligning all messaging from senior leadership to front-line employees during the change; (4) the organization implemented and sustained organizational learning by encouraging practice to learn the new behaviors and to iterate the change plan based on lessons learned; (5) the organization sustained organizational learning by counting on middle managers to sustain sensemaking and organizational learning post-change; and, (6) the organization was challenged in sustaining organizational learning because the specific change to a dispersed work environment has several unintended consequences that make it a tricky change.A conceptual model to augment the OLSM was proposed. Future studies could: (1) test the conceptual model proposed; (2) explore the impacts of a dispersed work environment using OLSM or social network analysis; and, (3) examine the relationship between open office design and a dispersed work environment.

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