Learning from Experience in Intrafirm Technology Transfer - A Jotun Case Study
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Jotun is a multinational enterprise (MNE) operating in the high-end paint- and coating industry. Headquartered in Sandefjord, Norway, the firm has operations dispersed across the world; Jotun is present on all continents, and can be labelled as truly global with presence in more than 90 countries. Being a global supplier to this extent, consistent quality and supply is a chief priority for Jotun. As such, utilizing new production technology in their global network - allowing for stable and reliant fabrication at all sites and a full return-on-investment in R&D - remains a highly important source of their competitive advantage. The suggestion of technology transfer being an integral of MNE success has gained thorough support in the research community, and as a natural consequence, research on this subject has been plentiful over the past decades. Most literary contributions have focused on addressing the factors and variables that tend to influence technology transfer success, with the practical implication being that elements promoting success should be enhanced, and elements that impede success should be eliminated or dealt with accordingly. As such, this stream of literature provides a useful starting point for MNEs that wish to excel in technology transfer. However, as in other organizational activities, firms are dependent on learning from their own experiences if they really want to change and improve their transfer capabilities over time. While this importance of organizational learning for improvement is well acknowledged, this aspect have been highly overlooked in technology transfer research. We believe for firms that intend to really thrive in transferring technology, learning from their own transfer experience is the necessary complement to the knowledge of general impeders and enhancers of transfer success. As such, this represents a new and exciting approach to current literature on technology transfer. Our study indicates that three different groups of factors inhibit the success of intrafirm technology transfer. This proposal was made based on a comprehensive literature review, incorporating research following two different perspectives that previously have been treated rather separately. The groups are identified as: 1. Relational distance describes how the transfer process involves two units that may be situated in different countries, implying that they may be subject to differences in terms of culture, beliefs, values, norms, and languages, in turn making it harder for the sending and recipient unit to understand each other.2. Structural distance describes how elements such as the structure of the transfer process, the level of integration between organizational units, and the allocation of resources may impede the transfer process by reducing the ease at which the units involved can reach each other.3. Motivational variables builds on the premise that while employees involved in the transfer process may have the ability to cooperate, they must also be motivated to actively engage in the transfer process. In a similar manner, we used prior literature to propose an integrative framework for variables thought to affect learning from experience. The result showed that factors could be divided into four groups - three according to level of analysis, and the final as a class of moderators: 1. Cognitive barriers reside on the individual level and describe how mental model rigidity and cognitive biases complicates the process of learning. 2. Social barriers describe how the social context with interactions, and the organizational culture in general, can impede team learning.3. Organizational barriers refer to arrangements that impede lessons learned on individual and team levels from being internalized and utilized to yield change and improvement. In order for the knowledge acquired on individual and team levels to reach the organizational entities that can utilize this knowledge, organizational systems, processes and routines must facilitate for capturing and diffusing these lessons into the organization and impose the necessary changes needed to improve. 4. Moderators are aspects with the experience made which impact the ease of which an MNE can learn from it. Our findings imply that the greatest impediments to transfer success were all related to the formality of the transfer project; not having clear leadership or responsibilities, vaguely defined stages and phases of the project, as well as the lack of a formal framework of what to do and when to do it in the transfer project. An important discovery is that the same variables that led to problems in the transfer process also represented significant barriers for learning in the aftermath. Because of the increased effort that is necessary to engage in this learning behaviour, these variables were also found to increase in impact for learning. As such, the structural distance that impeded transfer, in many ways set the boundary conditions for the extent to which learning from experience could be achieved. Lessons were learned, but the lessons were mostly general to Jotun and partly known from before. As they continue to move up the learning curve, lessons will be harder and harder to access, and more effort will be needed on Jotun s side. Moreover, related to this, we observed tendencies to a phenomenon we describe as path dependency. The idea is that potential problems in technology transfer may be amplified in their impact when it comes to learning from experience. As such, factors that lower success in transferring technology will also likely represent the largest barriers for learning and improvement in its aftermath. This research has been limited to studying one single technology transfer in one organization. Future research should therefore seek to build on our findings by studying several transfers in preferably more than one MNE, thus testing the generalizability of our findings.