Linking Altruism and Organizational Learning Capability: A Study from Excellent Human Resources Management Organizations in Spainby Jacob Guinot, Ricardo Chiva, Fermín Mallén

J Bus Ethics


Linking Altruism and Organizational Learning Capability:

A Study from Excellent Human Resources Management

Organizations in Spain

Jacob Guinot1 • Ricardo Chiva1 • Fermı´n Malle´n1

Received: 19 December 2013 / Accepted: 9 March 2015  Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract The new features of the business environment have expanded the concept of organizational learning capability (OLC). In today’s competitive business environment, OLC has been recognized as an essential means to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. However, the effective development of that capability has not been sufficiently analyzed in the organizational learning literature.

Prompted by a recent paradigm shift in the organizational sciences, this research explores the link between altruism and OLC testing a wider picture that includes two intermediate steps: Relationship Conflict and Organizational

Trust. To check our hypotheses, we used structural equations to analyze data from a survey of Spanish firms with recognized excellence in human resource management.

Results indicate that organizational trust mediates on the altruism—OLC relationship; however, such linkage is not mediated by relationship conflict. Findings suggest that altruism and trust should be promoted in organizations in order to boost OLC.

Keywords Altruism  Organizational learning 

Organizational learning capability  Organizational trust 

Relationship conflict


The concept of organizational learning capability (OLC) has gained increasing importance over recent years. Among the main reasons for the expansion of this concept are the need for innovation and the current complexity and competitiveness in a rapidly changing environment (Camps et al. 2011;

Chiva and Alegre 2009). OLC refers to the organizational and managerial characteristics that facilitate the organizational learning process or allow an organization to learn (Chiva et al. 2007). Developing and enhancing OLC provide the basis for the survival and success of the firm well into the future (Akgu¨n et al. 2007). Organizational learning is an essential element to successfully compete in a global market (Jerez-Go´mez et al. 2005). Organizations capable to learn stand a better chance of sensing, acting, adapting, and surviving in this competitive and dynamic environment (Camps et al. 2011). Accordingly, one of the current major challenges for organizations is how to generate work environments with a high capacity for organizational learning.

However, although research in OLC has provided some relevant findings, there are still some significant areas that have not been sufficiently investigated. In this sense, some authors (e.g., Akgu¨n et al. 2007; Jerez-Go´mez et al. 2007) mentioned that there is still debate about how managers can efficiently develop a learning capability in their organizations. Although the relevance of OLC for creating competitive advantage has attracted an increasing academic interest (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2003; Flores et al. 2012), the antecedents of OLC should be expanded in order to leverage the understanding of how firms can develop such capability (Akgu¨n et al. 2007). Thus, some academics (e.g., Jerez-Go´mez et al. 2005; Van Grinsven and Visser 2011) have proposed that future research should continue uncovering the antecedents of OLC. & Jacob Guinot

Ricardo Chiva

Fermı´n Malle´n 1 Department of Business Administration and Marketing,

Universitat Jaume I, Avda. Sos Baynat, s/n, 12071 Castello´n,

Spain 123

J Bus Ethics

DOI 10.1007/s10551-015-2603-7

Previous studies on organizational learning have demonstrated that some leadership styles, such as supportive, transformational, spiritual, or authentic leadership, trigger a positive effect on organizational learning (e.g.,

Berson et al. 2006). All these leaders share an altruistic motivation as an essential common feature of them, demonstrating a genuine care and concern for people (Brown and Trevin˜o 2006). Furthermore, organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are also closely linked to

OLC (Chang et al. 2011; Somech and Drach-Zahavy 2004).

OCBs refer to employee work behaviors of a discretionary nature that are not part of employees’ formal role requirements such as helping others or going beyond the normal expectations on their job (Organ et al. 2006). And an essential common dimension of OCB models is altruism (Valentine et al. 2011). Accordingly, we consider that may be particularly relevant to reveal whether altruism could stand as an antecedent of OLC.

Moreover, the unsustainability, the increasing inequity, the escalating environmental problems, the global financial crisis, and the growing interdependence present in today’s world are calling for a reconsideration about current business strategies (Pirson and Lawrence 2010; Pirson and

Turnbull 2011; Rynes et al. 2012). In this sense, recently, different scholars have mentioned a paradigm shift in organizational sciences, management theory and practice (e.g., George 2014; Karakas 2010; Pirson and Lawrence 2010; Rynes et al. 2012) in which include a change from self-centeredness to interconnectedness and stewardship (Karakas 2010). This alternative paradigm proposes a more balance view over human being viewing individuals as more collaborative, empathetic, altruistic, and also motivated by caring about the well-being of others (Brown et al. 2012; Rynes et al. 2012). Thus, according to this more humanistic approach, altruism could play an important role in organizational settings. However, altruism has not been conceived as significant or as beneficial in the world of business (Kanungo and Conger 1993), and the research of it in organizational literature has been significantly marginalized (Healy 2004). Moreover, some authors have indicated that some contextual variables may explain and condition the effects of different types of OCB such as altruism in organizations (Bolino et al. 2013). Consequently, it is necessary to examine the mediating processes through which altruism may influence other organizational variables such as OLC or organizational trust.