Ethical Healthiness: A Key Factor in Building Learning Organizations

Ethical Healthiness: A Key Factor in Building Learning Organizations

Alexis Jacobo Bañón-Gomis (Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7476-9.ch017


This chapter proposes that learning improvements in organizations are not just a matter of techniques or aptitudes but are concerned with feelings, attitudes, and, above all, the moral habits of their members. This work suggests complementing currently established conceptions of knowledge management and organizational learning through the explicit inclusion of ethics and ethical learning in organizations. The study describes the explicit need to consider ethics and ethical learning competence among agents in a learning organization context. It then points out the differences between ethically healthy organizations and ethically unhealthy organizations. Finally, the authors argue that the ethical healthiness of an organization is an essential, structural, and necessary condition to achieve a comprehensive learning process in learning organizations on both a technical and human level.
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Learning Organizations

For many years we have been hearing that we live in a “knowledge society” (Toffier, 1990; Bell, 1973; Drucker, 1968). Today it is widely accepted that the concept of knowledge is based on two primary elements: information (explicit knowledge), and know-how (tacit knowledge) (Simmonds et al., 2001; Nonaka, 1991).

Information is considered to be knowledge that can be transmitted without loss of meaning and truth, once the syntactical rules required to interpret it are known. In other words, information is meant to generate a kind of knowledge that can be “encapsulated”, or formally expressed for universal understanding. In classical terms, this knowledge was named episteme, “an abstract generalization of universal knowledge shared and circulated among the members of a practice. Being considered the “legacy” of a practice, it is taught and preserved, so it is possible to distinguish between criteria and opinion” (Bañón 2013, p. 28). Thus, knowledge as information implies knowing what something means, and that it can be written down (Grant, 1996; Nonaka, 1994). In this sense, defining knowledge as information whose validity has been established through evidence sets it apart from opinion, speculation, beliefs, and other types of unproven information (Liebeskind, 1996).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge: The result of a flow of information, anchored in beliefs and the commitment of those who possess it ( Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995 , p. 58).

Ethically Healthy Organization: The organization that contributes, to a greater or lesser extent, to the human enrichment of its members, of the people involved in achieving its mission and those affected by its activity.

Learning Organizations: Organization that facilitates the learning of its members and, therefore, continuously transforms itself.

Business Ethics: Form of ethics applied to the business environment.

Knowledge Management: The “policies, tools and actions that the organization's management uses to optimize the usefulness of knowledge as a strategic organizational resource” (Bañón, 2013 AU31: The in-text citation "Bañón, 2013" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , p. 32).

Organizational learning: An area of knowledge that studies models and theories in relation to the way an organization learns and adapts.

Trust: “The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party” ( Mayer et al., 1995 , p. 712).

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