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Learning to be responsible? A systems view of the organization-environment relationship

Gregory, Amanda



In this paper the issue of whether organizations can learn to become responsible will be addressed. Zadek [1] suggests that organizations ‘pass through 5 stages of corporate responsibility: 1. defensive, 2. compliance, 3. managerial, 4. strategic, and 5. civil’. Further, Zadek argues that responsibility cannot be achieved without an external focus, “Beyond just getting their own houses in order, companies need to stay abreast of the public’s ideas about corporate roles and responsibilities.” [1, p.125]. Whilst Zadek gives apparent validity to his model by citing examples from his work with such global organizations as Nike, the argument will be advanced that the model is too simple to make sense of the complex and dynamic organization-environment relationship. Using systems theory and the model of autopoiesis as a heuristic device, this paper will seek to address how an organization might come to learn what being responsible implies for it within the context of the on-going relationship between the organization and key stakeholder groups in its environment (including consumers, civil activists and the media). Concepts such as self-production and structural-coupling will be used to demonstrate how an organization’s actions may be constrained by the cultural values within its own internal environment and its co-evolution with key stakeholder groups.

Start Date Nov 14, 2005
Publication Date 2005
Pages -
Book Title IFSR 2005 : Proceedings of the First World Congress of the International Federation for Systems Research : The New Roles of Systems Sciences For a Knowledge-based Society : Nov. 14-17, 2017, Kobe, Japan
ISBN 978-4-903092-02-X
Keywords Corporate responsibility; Autopoiesis; Structural coupling; Organizational learning; Societal learning
Publisher URL