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Theories of Practice: The Symbolic Frame

Theories of Practice: The Symbolic Frame

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Theories of Practice: The Symbolic Frame

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  1. Theories of Practice:The Symbolic Frame MPA 8002 The Structure and Theory of Human Organization Richard M. Jacobs, OSA, Ph.D.

  2. For the greater part of the 20th century, the objectivity associated with the assumptions and concepts of scientific management have guided most inquiry into human organizations.

  3. While the human resources and political theories of practice provided a corrective to this emphasis by attending to the subjective elements of human organization...

  4. …all three theories of practice have failed to provide a comprehensive analysis identifying the specifically subjective elements of human organizations, influencing not only organizational functioning but also the people who populate organizations.

  5. A SYMBOLIC SCENARIO Symbolic managers and leaders are sensitive to an organization’s history and culture. They seek to use the best in their organization’s traditions and values as a base for building a culture that provides cohesiveness and meaning. They articulate a vision that communicates the organization’s unique capabilities and mission.

  6. MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP IN A SYMBOLIC SCENARIO Symbolic managers and leaders believe that the most important part of their job is inspiration—giving people something that they can believe in. People will give their loyalty to an organization that has a unique identity and makes them feel that what they do is really important. Effective symbolic managers and leaders are passionate about making their organizations the best of their kind and communicate that passion to others. They use dramatic, visible symbols that give people a sense of the organizational mission. They are visible and energetic. They create slogans, tell stories, hold rallies, give awards, appear where they are least expected, and manage by wandering around. Bolman & Deal (1991, p. 364)

  7. the symbolic frame

  8. The intuitive and subjective side of human organizations... The symbolic frame asserts that organizations are judged primarily on and by appearances... …by giving appropriate emphasis to the beliefs, meanings, and faith communicated symbolically through the attempts that people in organizations make to reconcile the dilemmas and paradoxes which they experience.

  9. The concept... • organizational culture: the “way we do things around here” (Bower, 1966) the “glue” holding the organizational pieces together (Schein, 1984)

  10. ...the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems (Schein, 1984, p. 3)

  11. Organizational culture may be likened to a medieval tapestry... …composed of many different strands …each strand giving unique color, hue, and texture to the composite …with one strand unifying the entire view.

  12. …the tapestry metaphor provides two views of organization... • the front view: unified rich holistic complex • revealed by the structural, human resources, and political theories of practice

  13. the back view: distorted messy dull lacking character • revealed by the symbolic theories of practice

  14. By means of contrast... • the structural frame stresses... …organizational rationality …the objective dimensions of human organizations The symbolic frame asserts that facts and logic can tyrannize human beings because organizations are more fluid and dynamic than the structural frame assumes.

  15. the human resources frame stresses... …what people experience …the subjective dimensions of human organizations The symbolic frame pushes beyond human needs theory, asserting that organizations are populated by people who strive for self-actualization through cooperative efforts.

  16. the political frame stresses... …how people act covertly and overtly …the subjective and objective dimensions of human organizations The symbolic frame asserts that human organizations provide a forum through which people discover meaning and purpose.

  17. the symbolic frame stresses that... …organizations are not characterized by rational, linear processes

  18. …but by intuitive, creative responses to environments where: • technology is underdeveloped • the linkage of means to ends is poorly understood • effectiveness is difficult to ascertain objectively

  19. Organizational culture explores how similar organizations... …can differ in substantive ways (Carlson, 1996)... …which can explain why some organizations survive and thrive in their environments while others do not (Schein, 1990).

  20. The concept of organizational “culture”... • adopted by organizational theorists in the 1980s from the social sciences, in particular, cultural anthropology... ...integrating anthropological, sociological, and psychological theories theories of practice ...into a complex analysis of organizational functioning

  21. organizational culture is a qualitative, multi-factor variable... …resistant to direct observation …that can only be inferred by examining the culture itself (Schein, 1992)

  22. organizational culture represents... …the self-expression of a community of diverse people assumptions values norms

  23. For Schein (1984), people oftentimes discover that they work in an organization without knowing its culture, without understanding how the organization came to be what it is, or how the organization could be changed were its survival threatened.

  24. Were managers and leaders to decipher their organization’s culture, Shein argues, it could then be reified and related to other important organizational variables, for example, setting strategy, aligning structure with purpose, and ultimately, promoting excellence.

  25. The management and leadership challenge... • to define the organization’s culture... …by studying its history and traditions …by identifying its patterns of beliefs, norms, language, and behavior …by explicating its guiding myths and rituals

  26. …as these phenomena become explicit in the “way we do things around here” each and every day.

  27. Requires leaders and managers who... 1. decipher organizational culture

  28. involves… • digging below the organization’s surface • identifying the elements of the culture • interpreting the elements by assessing how each element contributes to organizational functioning/dysfunction

  29. Elements of organizational culture... • organizational history • shared values and beliefs • norms and standards • patterns of behavior

  30. history: 1. How does the organization’s past live on in the present? 2. What traditions are carried on? 3. What stories are told and retold as folklore? 4. What events in organizational history are overlooked or forgotten?

  31. 5. Do heroes and heroines exist among the organization’s membership whose idiosyncrasies and exploits are remembered for the core values their personal qualities represent?

  32. 6. In what ways are the organization’s traditions and historical incidents modified through reinterpretation over the years? Can you recall, for example, an historical event that has evolved from fact into myth?

  33. 7. Are there storytellers, whisperers, spies, and rumor-mongers in the organization? How do they serve to keep the culture alive and intact or act as a barrier to change?

  34. shared values and beliefs: 1. What are the assumptions and understandings shared by the membership, although these assumptions and understandings may not be stated explicitly?

  35. 2. What does the organization’s philosophy, mission statement, or creed suggest about the organization and it purposes? 3. Are there slogans which reveal core beliefs that have evolved from experience and sort what works from what does not?

  36. 4. Does the organization have symbols that serve to narrow the its mission and provide guidelines for behaviors and decision-making processes? 5. What are the things that the organization prizes and rewards?

  37. 6. When members talk about the organization, what are the major and recurring themes underlying what they say? How do these statements reveal values?

  38. norms and standards: 1. What are the oughts, shoulds, do’s, and don’ts that govern the behavior of the organization? 2. Who determines who gets rewarded and for what? 3. Who gets rewarded and for what?

  39. 4. Who gets punished and for what? 5. What is it that informal communication networks condemn as wrong and bless as being right?

  40. patterns of behavior: 1. Are there rituals which reinforce core cultural values and permit subcultures to communicate effectively with one another …for example: work routines, gossip networks, task organization, annual rituals associated with entrance to and exit from the organization

  41. 2. Does the organization sponsor dramatic ceremonies which allow its culture to be experienced, celebrated and transformed from an idea into a reality? 3. Are there special rituals and ceremonies which regenerate commitment to organizational ideals?

  42. 4. What are the accepted and recurring ways of doing things? 5. What are the generally accepted patterns of behavior? 6. What are the habits and rituals that prevail in the organizations?

  43. 7. Who stands opposed to the prevailing organizational culture for a variety of reasons but views themselves (either individually or collectively) as upholding the “true” organization (i.e., the [loyal] opposition?

  44. The organization’s history, shared values and beliefs, its norms and standards, as well as its shared patterns of behavior symbolize the organization’s culture... …and provide a listing of the rich variety of concrete factors influencing “what is.”

  45. once unearthed, identified, and interpreted, managers and leaders can… • understand and appreciate the organization’s idiosyncratic culture • provide cultural leadership by... ...enhancing (or changing) those intangible factors that exercise a powerful influence upon the positive (or negative) behaviors of people associated with the organization

  46. but, managers and leaders first need... search for evidence of the presence (or absence) of these and other factors looking for how these are manifested with the organization’s culture

  47. Requires leaders and managers who... 2. reify the culture

  48. to infer from the “hard” data what the artifacts, perspectives, values, and assumptions mean …by maintaining objectivity …by endeavoring to understand how the data interact to influence organizational culture

  49. in order to gain “understanding”... …conceptually “to stand under,” that is, to conceive the fragmentary bits and pieces of data from within a larger context …without imposing a theory of practice upon the data(“Model I” behavior, Argyris & Schön, 1974)

  50. Organizational culture... • does not come into existence over night... …rather, organizational culture emerges through human interactions …and, over the years and decades, becomes a “tradition”