Skip to main content

Organizing for sustainability: The importance of Formalization of control and Learning In the Transition Towards Sustainability

Final Report Summary - FLITTS (Organizing for sustainability: The importance of Formalization of control and Learning In the Transition Towards Sustainability)

Project objectives
The primary objective of the fellowship was to study the role of organizational control in the management of sustainability-oriented new product development projects. In particular, this project intended to investigate the mediating role of organizational learning throughout this process.
Currently, our understanding of how organizational learning contributes to the successful implementation of sustainable NPD remains rather poor. In addition, the literature on organizational control has mainly focused on the direct impact of control on project outcomes, neglecting the role of the underlying process. The project aimed to fill this gap. The execution of this research project does not only generate a deeper understanding of the antecedents of the successful development of sustainable projects, it also contributed to the development of a number of valuable skills. More specifically, the following objectives were envisioned with the project. The project would allow the fellow to become an expert in the domain of sustainable innovation management. Further, by conducting research in this field, the fellow could develop the skills to publish in top journal.
Another important objective of the project was to develop methodological skills, in particular the skills to conduct experimental research. The project also allowed the fellow to start the construction of a network in the field, as well as to develop a number of transferrable skills (such as presentation skills, leadership, mentoring & supervising skills). Together, the development of these skills would prepare the fellow for entering the job market and significantly increase the chances of finding a more permanent position.

Project activities
In total, 9 months were spent on the realization of the project. The project started with conducting a literature review. The objective of this literature review was to gain a deep understanding of the current status of research on this topic. In specific, the fellow focused on understanding and integrating two rather disconnected fields (i.e. organizational control and organizational learning).
The context in which the research is undertaken is the development of sustainable new products.
Developing sustainable products poses many challenges. Processes and products need to be Project No.: 328741
Period number: 1st
Ref: 328741_FLITTS_Periodic_Report11_20150907_150909_CET.pdf
Page - 4 of 9
reinvented, controlling systems have to integrate new sets of data, external and internal communication strategies require revisions and basis values and knowledge systems need to be adapted (Siebenhuner & Arnold, 2007). To design sustainable products, companies have to understand consumer concerns, carefully examine product life cycles and combine marketing skills with their expertise in scaling up raw materials supply, manufacturing and distribution (Nidumolu et al., 2009). Central to these challenges is the ability to learn, the ability to acquire new knowledge and integrate that knowledge into the newly developed products. Consequently, this context is not only relevant from a societal perspective but also from research perspective.
Based upon the insights developed during the literature review a research question, hypotheses and a research design were developed. To avoid issues relating to common method bias and to optimize the chances on high quality publications, a multiple respondent survey design was chosen. A sample frame was selected and potential respondents were contacted. Furthermore, collaboration with another academic partner (University of Groningen) was sought to optimize our data collection efforts and foster knowledge transfer on the management of sustainable innovation. A first round of data collection was finalized and the measurement scales were tested for reliability and validity. A second round of data collection is required to obtain all the variables and sample size needed for a publishable paper.

Results so far
Although the project was terminated before the end of the second year, nevertheless some progress was made regarding the objectives and research question described above. In specific, the literature review revealed an important tension between organizational and individual learning behavior when it concerns successful versus unsuccessful experiences. At the organizational level, failure offers a strong impetus for learning as under such circumstances the motivation to learn is high leading to a process of problemistic search. Conversely, at the individual level attribution bias may prevent individual from learning as individuals tend to attribute failures to external factors and successes to internal factors, thereby decreasing the likelihood that the individual critically assesses the causes of failure and adjusts his/her behavior. Thus, overcoming this barrier is of crucial importance for organizations in order to learn from failure. Creating a culture characterized by tolerance for failure may offer one valuable approach to overcome this hurdle. Therefore, the conceptual framework of the study was extended to include this factor as well.
Regarding the more generic objectives, substantial progress was made regarding the development of methodological skills (survey and experimental design) through participation in specialist courses and collaboration with experts in the method. A new collaboration with the University of Groningen was started contributing to the development of a network and the fellow was involved in the supervision of 9 master theses contributing to the development of supervising skills. Most importantly, the fellowship served as a quality signal of the fellow in the job market and was instrumental in obtaining a job offer as assistant professor.
As the fellow decided to accept a job offer at the Eindhoven University of Technology, continuation of the project as originally proposed was not possible. However, given that both the host institution and the fellow were motivated to continue the project, the possibility was explored to transfer the fellowship to the new host. As this was not possible, the project was terminated. However, the fellowship enabled the start of exciting research project which will be continued in the future.