We all learn through social interaction, but how individuals interpret this ‘immediate’ interaction is mediated by their socio-historic experiences; that is, their past experiences will affect their current interpretation (Billet 2008). Workers will engage in the socio-cultural norms and practices of the organisation in order to actively construct the knowledge required to perform their roles, this intentionality is deemed their epistemological agency (Smith 2006) and helps in both shaping the current norms and practices and also securing the goals and purpose of the workplace (Billet 2008). Ultimately it is this socio-historic person that navigates and negotiates the immediate experiences at work (Billet 2008).
This raises the prospect of personal agency creating a number of differing, potentially competing, variations on the ‘current situation’; with the impact being that “socialisation efforts such as attempts at securing the faithful transfer of knowledge from the social to the individual, as in intersubjectivity, unlikely to be completely successful” (Billet 2008: 49). The question further develops to one where at what point can an organisation clearly define what is being learned by its employees? It is arguable to state that it can’t at any given point, for “even when externally observable performance might be seen to be the same or similar, there can be no confidence that the learning that ultimately delivers a performance is shared” (Billet 2008: 55). The number of variables that may affect the content and direction of what is being learnt is enormous, with the potential outcome being that workplace practices, norms, goals and purpose may not be aligned to either the current or future aspirations of the organisation.
This is where and why we believe that formal learning can have a positive impact on these varied interpretations – note that we are not stating that formal learning would put an end to differing interpretations, of course it would not…it can however, specifically where leadership and performance management are concerned, provide some controllable application, guidance and parameters within which organisations would be able to recognise behaviours and performance that were congruent with a preferred approach.
Billett, S. (2008) ‘Learning Throughout Working Life: A Relational Interdependence between Personal and Social Agency’, British Journal of Educational Studies 56(1): 39–58.
Smith, R. (2006) ‘Epistemological Egency: A Necessary Action-in-context Perspective on New Employee Workplace Learning’, Studies in Continuing Education 28(3): 291-304.