Learning to create sustainable value in turbulent operational contexts: the role of leadership practices

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Journal Article
Learning Organization, 2014, 21 (4), pp. 243 - 257
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© Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose: This paper aims to report on case-study research that explores the role of leadership practices, in particular, in enhancing the capacity of an enterprise to learn to create new value from a diverse range of sources. The capacity to sustain value creation over time, and across turbulent environments, increasingly differentiates enterprise performance. Under the umbrella term of “dynamic capabilities”, a range of practices have been identified in the literature as contributing to an enterprise’s ability to learn to perform this task successfully.Design/methodology/approach: The paper is based on case studies of three enterprises whose founders have sustained the creation of new value for customers over decades. Through a series of unstructured interviews with each founder, the tacit knowledge gained from years of learning how to create, and re-create, value, is made explicit through hermeneutic analysis of the interview transcripts.Findings: The data identify four key areas of leadership practice that underpin the capacity to learn to continuously create new value over significant periods of time. The most important of these are the social practices that generate and leverage the intangible capital resources (in particular, the resource of trust) that underpin the collaborative learning on which value creation processes depend.Research limitations/implications: As interpretive research, the knowledge accessed through this research is context-dependent and cannot be readily generalised. The validity of the knowledge is high, however, as the epistemological and ontological assumptions of the interpretive research paradigm recognise the political nature of organisations and, thus, of learning and value creation. As such, the knowledge generated by the case analyses offers a rich alternative perspective on the issue under research.Practical implications: The cases illuminate the nature of learning that supports continuous value creation in enterprises. Such learning is framed by several leadership practices that enable the self-reflexivity that underpins the continuous conversion of action-generated tacit knowledge into more strategically useful explicit knowledge. At the core of these leadership practices is stakeholder collaboration and intellectual humility.Social implications: The results show that learning to create sustainable value over time and diverse contexts, has a socio-political dimension in that it depends heavily on generating and leveraging the intangible resources (such as trust, commitment, ideas) that reside within social relationships.Originality/value: The research is located within the interpretive research paradigm and thus offers an alternative view to that of conventional positivist research. Furthermore, the results indicate that learning is a strategic priority in rapidly changing environments and, thus, is a key leadership responsibility. Furthermore, the results show that value creation is a collaborative stakeholder achievement.
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