|www.ebbemunk.dkThe Technostructure versus Morgan's Metaphors|
In Images of Organization Gareth Morgan uses metaphors to show organizations in a very imaginative way. His metaphors include organizations viewed as: Machines, organisms, brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, transformation systems, and instruments of domination.
Morgan defines metaphors as any attempt to understand one element of experience in terms of another. This has the far-reaching implication for any application of theory, as all theories consist of some kind of generalized experience. It means that any attempt to understand our environment is employing metaphors. Further:
Metaphors are not to be avoided, however, but it must be clear that no single theory will ever give us a perfect or all-purpose point of view. Instead we can use a range of metaphors to generate complementary and competing insights and learn to build on the strengths of the various points of view. [Note 42]
Metaphors create ways of seeing and shaping organizational life. Any metaphor can be very persuasive. [Note 43] It can also be blinding and block our ability to gain the overall view. The real force of Morgan's approach is to use metaphors in a not-blinding way by employing several metaphors at a time. The challenge is:
To recognize and cope with the idea that all theories of organization and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. [Note 44]
Favoured metaphors tend to trap us in specific modes of action, but on the other hand the insights of different metaphors often support and reinforce each other.
In using different perspectives to create different modes of engagement we are able to tap into these and understand the same situation in many ways. Some of these may be extremely powerful, because they connect and resonate with the reality being observed. [Note 45]
This summary of Morgan's metaphors is concerning the technostructure, meaning that I have tried to synthesize all what is relevant for white-collar workers and the management. The amount of text in the sections 4.b to 4.i is around five per cent of Morgan's original text.
Gareth Morgan nominates Frederick the Great of Prussia as the inventor of the metaphor of organizations as machines. He ruled from 1740 to 1786, and he developed an army as a prototype of mechanistic organization. One of his principles was that the Prussian soldiers should fear their officers more than they should fear the enemy. [Note 46] There is a direct line from Frederick the Great's ideas to Frederick Taylor.
Scientific management: Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) developed a system he called "Scientific management", a form of industrial engineering that established the organization of work as in Ford Motor's assembly lines. Taylor advocated five simple principles:
Taylor's principles had a major influence on the organization of blue-collar work, but also on office work, for example in mechanized systems for processing insurance claim forms in many steps. Taylor's five principles led to the development of "office factories" where people performed fragmented and highly specialized duties in accordance with an elaborate system of work design and performance evaluation. [Note 48]
The perfect bureaucracy: Max Weber (1864-1920) is one of the founders of modern sociology. He defined bureaucracy as a form of organization emphasizing precision, speed, clarity, regularity, reliability, and efficiency achieved through the creation of a fixed division of tasks, hierarchical supervision, and detailed rules and regulations. Although Weber described the perfect bureaucracy, he felt uneasy with it, as it kind of eliminated all human qualities. [Note 49]
Such systems thrive throughout public administration all over the world, as the bureaucracy (ideally seen) treats all citizens alike and (ideally seen) is open for political control.
The strength of the mechanistic approach to organizations is that it works well under conditions when machines, IT systems, and robots work well:
But the mechanistic approach to organizations tends to limit rather than mobilize the development of human capacities, and with the increasing pace of social and economic change, the limitations have become more and more obvious:
The metaphor of organizations as organisms stem from the Hawthorne studies from around 1930. The idea is that the organization can grow, change, and survive like an organism. [Note 52]
The metaphor has guided the attention towards issues of the organization's survival, relations to the environment, and organizational effectiveness. [Note 53] Here are a number of topics:
Human Resource Management: Abraham Maslow set up a hierarchy with 1. Physiological needs (wages), 2. Security needs (secure jobs), 3. Social needs, 4. Ego needs, and 5. Self-actualizing needs. This suggested that bureaucratic organizations seeking to motivate employees through money or by merely providing a secure job confined human development to level 1 and 2 of the need hierarchy. That was the basis for new theories of motivation and the human resource management school:
"Much of this theorizing has proved extremely attractive in management circles, for it offered the possibility of motivating employees through "higher level" needs in a way that could increase involvement and commitment without paying more." [Note 55]
Variety of species: Gareth Morgan mentions Mintzberg's five configurations of organization as expressing "variety of species". He is interpreting Mintzberg's model this way: An effective organization depends on a cohesive set of relations between structural design, the organization's age, size, and technology, and the conditions of its industry.
The organism metaphor describes why and how organizations innovate in organic forms. It emphasizes the survival of the organization as a key aim.
The metaphor offers an understanding of the relations between organizations and their environments. However, the analogy should not be pushed too far, as organizations do not offer all harmony and functional unity. Morgan warns:
"Organizations are very much products of visions, ideas, norms, and beliefs, so their shape and structure is much more fragile and tentative than the material structure of an organism." [Note 57]
There is also a danger that the organic metaphor comes to serve as a normative guideline and thus becomes an ideology, for example that the human resource management school tends to regard employees as objects to be developed rather than subjects encouraged to choose and shape their own future. [Note 58]
The metaphor of organizations as brains is a peculiar one, quite different from other ways of regarding organizations. To be able to employ this metaphor I will introduce four useful ways of understanding how the brain and brain-like organizations are working.
The brain relies on patterns of increasing refinement. This is quite different from most man-made machines that rely on chains of cause and effect. [Note 59] Experiments with mechanical animals like cockroaches have shown information overload if they are provided with a central "brain". It works better if the animal is provided with distributed information processing on each leg – meaning that the cockroach walks without knowing how it does so – but it has clever legs! [Note 60]
Figure 5: A mechanical cockroach climbing stairs [Note 61]
If you use this discovery on the human brain it could be that what we experience as a highly ordered stream of consciousness in fact is the result of a chaotic process with many drafts generated from activity throughout the brain. [Note 62]
Limited rationality: Herbert Simon argues that most decisions are based on limited rationality, that is, the organization is working like a brain. Organizations can never be perfectly rational because their members have limited information processing abilities:
Cybernetics: During the 1940's Norbert Wiener developed the theory of artificial intelligence called Cybernetics. One of the findings was that if a system should be able to regulate itself, it should depend on exchange of information and negative feedback. [Note 64]
From this basis is extracted a theory of communication and learning with four key principles:
Later are added three more rules important for double-loop learning:
Holographic principles: Karl Pribram has suggested that the brain functions in accordance with holographic principles, meaning that memory is distributed throughout the brain and can be reconstituted from any of the parts. The holographic evidence favours a decentralized, distributed form of intelligence. [Note 67] There are five principles:
Limited Rationality and IT Systems: Herbert Simon's limited rationality can be avoided by cooperation and IT systems. Under such circumstances the organization increasingly rests within the information system. For example the Japanese Just-In-Time (JIT) systems have transformed the very concept of what it means to be an organization. [Note 73]
In other IT systems you may end up with vast amounts of centralized data processing, for example Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) that are based on complex systems where the central data management is related to logistics, production, distribution, finance, sales, and marketing. [Note 74]
Single-loop learning is an ability to detect and correct errors in relation to a given set of operating norms. Many organizations have learnt to scan the environment, set objectives, and monitor the general performance of a system in relation to these objectives. The single-loop learning follows the cybernetic rules 1-4 mentioned above. The learning abilities thus defined are limited in that the system can maintain only the course of action determined by the operating norms or standards guiding it. [Note 75]
Double-loop learning (or: learning to learn) depends on being able to take a double look at the situation by questioning the relevance of the operating norms. The double-loop learning should follow all seven cybernetic rules mentioned above. For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations must develop cultures that support change and risk taking. Paradoxically, it is a process that mobilizes disagreement to create consensus. It can raise high levels of anxiety in an organization, and the process is especially difficult to follow for those managers who want always to be in control. [Note 76]
The obstacles are difficult to pass in bureaucratized organizations, where rules often obstruct the learning process, as bureaucratization tends to create fragmented patterns of thought and action. Different sectors of the organization thus often operate on the basis of different pictures, pursuing subunit goals almost as ends in themselves, giving space for all kinds of power games. [Note 77]
The true potential rests in creating networks of interaction that can self-organize and be shaped and driven by the intelligence of everyone involved.
Some limitations are:
The metaphor of organization as culture is based on agriculture, as the original object to be "cultured" was farm land. Now, culture is defined as
"... the pattern of development reflected in a society's system of knowledge, ideology, values, laws, and day-to-day ritual" [Note 79]
The meaning of culture have even developed to mean culture in individual organizations – what I here call "company culture". When regarding "culture" in its newer meanings there are many circumstances that seem obvious. That is because many characteristics of culture rest in the obvious, meaning that it creates a form of "blindness" or ethnocentrism. In providing taken-for-granted codes of action that we recognize as "normal", it leads us to see activities that do not conform to these codes as abnormal. This holds good for both society's and company cultures. [Note 80]
Research as an outsider: A way to see the company culture and subculture is to observe the day-to-day functioning of the group or organization to which you belong, as if you were an outsider, that is: avoid "going native".
Surely, you will find something to wonder at. You will usually find sound historical explanations connected to the organization's knowledge, ideology, values, laws, and day-to-day rituals mentioned above. You should not expect to be able to measure your findings on a scale because culture is a form of lived experience. [Note 81]
Many patterns of company culture may be embedded in routine aspects of everyday practice. Many decisions and assumptions are made quite unconsciously. The patterns may have very little to do with the actual company in which they are found, being imported in an invisible way. [Note 82] You will realize that
"Organizations are socially constructed realities that are as much in the minds of their members as they are in concrete structures, rules, and relations." [Note 83]
The organization and its environment: Using the metaphor of organization as culture it is possible to see that the relations between an organization and its environment are socially constructed, that "Our environments are extensions of ourselves". Gareth Morgan claims that firms organize their environments exactly as they organize their internal operations, and that:
"The beliefs and ideas that organizations hold about who they are, what they are trying to do, and what their environment is like have a much greater tendency to realize themselves than usually believed." [Note 84]
The company culture develops during the course of social interaction. In turn the culture shapes the character of the company. In this way we must understand culture as an ongoing, proactive process of reality construction. Morgan states:
"Organizations end up being what they think and say, as their ideas and visions realize themselves." [Note 85]
Active change of the organization's culture: Company culture is important, and the management should be aware of its development. Some managers and consultants want to use company culture as a manipulative tool. They think and talk about culture at what may be described as "the level of slogans". Then, company culture is often reduced to a set of discrete variables such as values, beliefs, stories, norms, and rituals that can be documented and manipulated in an instrumental way as a kind of "values engineering." [Note 86]
The challenge of creating new forms of organization and management is very much a challenge of cultural change. The fundamental task facing leaders and managers rests in creating appropriate systems of shared meaning. Established practice may be very resistant to change, as cultural change involves the creation of shared systems of meaning that are accepted, internalized, and acted on at every level of the organization. It depends less on what the manager promises and more on what he fulfils. [Note 87]
The metaphor of organization as political systems is based on the members' fight for their special interests.
Special interests: Sometimes, if not all of the time, there are differences of opinion between the members of any organization. Various members or groups are fighting for their special interests, which is not in the interest of the organization as such.
An organization's politics is most clearly manifest during the conflicts and power plays that sometimes takes place openly, and the rest of the time in the many smaller intrigues in any organizational activity. Morgan's definition:
"Organizational politics arise when people think differently and want to act differently." [Note 88]
Conflict will always be present in organizations. Whatever the reason, and whatever the form it takes, its source rests in some perceived or real divergence of interests. Morgan cites Tom Burns for the opinion that most modern organizations actually encourage organizational politics because they are designed as systems of simultaneous competition and collaboration. People must work together, and they fight each other over resources and career advancements. The conflicts are symbolized in...
"... the hierarchical organization chart, which is both a system of cooperation and a career ladder that people are motivated to climb." [Note 89]
Power: The result of a conflict will mostly depend on the power relations between the actors involved. The actor who has the most power wins. But what is power? Morgan defines power in an ambiguous way, as both a resource and a relationship:
Democracy called off: Morgan is skeptical to whether it is possible to manage organizations in a democratically way. Even workers' cooperatives will be led by a management, and that management tends to be autocratic rather than democratic as the power to shape action rests in the hands of a single individual or group, who typically makes all the important decisions.
Here is a list of sources of power in organizations. Out of Gareth Morgan's 14 sources I have selected nine that I consider the most important in relation to the power of the technostructure.
"The sources of power provide organizational members with a variety of means for enhancing their interest and resolving or perpetuating organizational conflict." [Note 92]
One can imagine all kinds of barters between the holders of various sources of power. Some of the participants may wish to trade power in the present for promises in the future (source no. 7) but may end up realizing that the only effect is that they have increased the power holder's power (source no. 9).
Rationality is always political: The metaphor also helps explore the myth of organizational rationality. The questions one should always ask:
An organization embraces many rationalities because rationality is always interest based and thus changes according to the perspective. [Note 102]
Everything becomes political: The political metaphor encourages us to recognize how and why the organizational actor is a political actor. It show us...
"... how all organization activity is interest based and to evaluate all aspects of organization functioning with this in mind."
On the other hand there is the danger that when we analyze organizations in terms of the political metaphor it is almost always possible to see signs of political activity. Everything turns into power plays, and one can hardly imagine other ways of regarding the organization. [Note 103]
Method problems: Although the language of organizational theory often presents ideas relating to organizational politics in relatively neutral terms they are by no means as neutral as they seem. [Note 104] Here are some of the problems:
The metaphor of organization as a psychic prison promotes a critique of the other metaphors. It deals with unconscious matters, rationality, and powerlessness (where you end up with what you tried to avoid).
Working with the unconscious: The founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung (1875-1961) developed the idea, and Morgan comments on it:
"... the idea that the human psyche is part of a "collective unconscious" that transcends the limits of space and time. Many criticize this aspect of Jung's work as bordering on the occult."
"He believed that full development of self-knowledge and human personality, a process that he described as individuation, rests on a person's ability to recognize the rival elements within his or her personality ... In his view, neurosis and human maladaption stem from an inability to recognize and deal with the repressed shadow." [Note 107]
The patterns of meaning that shape corporate culture may also have unconscious significance, and unconscious projections often have self-realizing effects. An example:
"In organizations that project a team image, various kinds of splitting mechanisms are often in operation, idealizing the qualities of team members while projecting fears, anger, envy, and other bad impulses onto persons and objects that are not part of the team." [Note 108]
Working with the organization's unconscious: It is Gareth Morgan's idea that any organization must develop self-knowledge like Jung wanted individuals to develop self-knowledge. If not, then the organization will be trapped in a psychic prison. And if you do not work with the uncontrollable unconscious, it will not be eliminated, but only banished or submerged to a point from where it will reappear later:
"The invisible dimension of organization that we have described as the unconscious can swallow and trap the rich energies of people involved in the organizing process."
"Irrational qualities never accept their banishment idly and are always looking for a way to modify their rational other side."
"It is pointless to develop corporate cultures that thrive on change if underlying preoccupations and concerns are not addressed." [Note 109]
Exaggerated rationality: The psychic prison metaphor shows us that we have over-rationalized our understanding of organization. The exaggerations of rationality shows us that rationality often is irrationality in disguise!
"Irrationality is a term for human forces that we cannot order and control. Rationality and irrationality are flip sides of each other, and when one is overemphasized, distortions and dysfunctions inevitably arise." [Note 110]
Groupthink: Company culture may have prison-like qualities, for example "groupthink". Morgan mentions the CIA-planned invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba 1961. CIA's planning went ahead with a minimum of debate about the core assumptions on which its success depended, and as it failed, it almost led to nuclear war. President Kennedy was quoted for saying: "How could we have been so stupid?" [Note 111]
Defense against anxiety: Groups often regress to childhood patterns to protect themselves from the uncomfortable, real world:
"When a group is fully engaged with a task, its energies ... keep the group in touch with an external reality of some kind. However, when problems ... arise, the group tends to withdraw its energies from task performance and use them to defend itself." [Note 112]
Subcultures: Many subcultural groups provide rallying points for positive ideas and developments that cannot find formal expression elsewhere. As such they offer a hidden reservoir of energy and ideas for mobilizing constructive change. [Note 113]
In the following some distortions are ordered according to the previous metaphors:
Distortions of The Machine Metaphor:
"Manufacturing systems perfected throughout the twentieth century locked thousands of North American and European organizations into modes of industrialized inefficiency. Their mechanistic design required the creation of certainty. ... For example, buffer stocks of inventory or work in progress were typically held at different stages of the production process to "protect" one part from another. ... However, these very same buffer stocks that guaranteed the continuous operation of the system perpetuated inefficiency:
The Just-in-time principle removed the slack. When there are no buffer stocks to absorb error, there is no room for error. The Western response was to protect against uncertainty. The Japanese response was to learn from uncertainty and flow with it. [Note 114]
Distortions of The Organism Metaphor:
As we invest ourselves in our work, our roles become our realities. Survival is a high priority in organizations, for there is much more than the survival of the organization at stake:
"The artifacts of culture can be understood as defense systems that help to create the illusion that we are greater and more powerful than we actually are. ... No wonder, therefore, that people are so quick to defend their basic beliefs, even if it means going to war and confronting the reality of death." [Note 116]
Distortions of The Culture Metaphor:
Strong corporate cultures can become pathological, if particular excellence prevents them from transforming to meet new challenges. Here is an example of a negative feedback (lent from the brain metaphor):
"Icarus was the figure in Greek mythology who, flying with his artificial wax wings, soared so close to the sun that the wings melted, plunging him to his death. The power created through the wings ultimately led to his downfall." [Note 117]
The metaphor of organization as flux and transformation is a strange one – imagine the organization as a stable whirlpool in an ever-floating river. If the river is not floating, then there will be no whirlpool and with that no organization.
Are predictions possible? The whole history of organization and management theory is based on the idea that it is possible to organize, predict, and control.
Can we find rules that will predict the emergence of a pattern before it becomes reality? This is a quest that drives much of science and indeed much of the ideology of Western civilization."
Morgan suggests that it is an impossible task because of the complexity of the system:
"... even though our actions shape and are shaped by change, we are just part of an evolving pattern ... [Note 118]
Forks on the road usually arise around key paradoxes or contradictions that block the way to the future. Systems seldom change gradually – they either choose the old road or a new road. Systems that move away from the influence of a dominant attractor pattern towards a potential new configuration encounter forks on the road (bifurcation points), at which energies for change either dissipate and dissolve in a way that allows the old attractor to reassert itself or shift the system into a new form.
Figure 6: The egg will find its way, but which way? [Note 119]
Changes in organizations: New initiatives often generate their negation, and it is difficult to say whether the solution will be the old road or a new one. If no one takes any initiative, it will probably be the old road. Morgan mentions a tricky example:
"The very act of seeking to empower staff is likely to mobilize awareness of existing modes of control, which, in turn, undermines the drive towards empowerment." [Note 120]
Kurt Lewin saw that any potential change would be resisted by forces working in the opposite direction. He proposed to carry through a successful change by "unfreezing" an established equilibrium by enhancing the forces driving the change, and then "refreezing" in a new equilibrium state.
The unfreezing period is dangerous for the organization, as the employees realize that the management will not fulfill the old set of promises, but instead provide a new set of promises. An example: Many employees feel less attracted to stay in the organization if their manager leaves. After some months the situation is "frozen" with a new manager, and the employees are not so eager to find a new job anymore.
Relations with the environment: The Chilean scientists Maturana and Varela argue that all living systems are organizationally closed, autonomous systems that reference only to themselves. Pushed to its logical conclusion, the environment is a part of the organization, meaning:
"A system's interaction with its "environment" is really a reflection and part of its own self-production;
Organizations are always ... enacting their environments as extensions of their own identity.
Many of the problems that organizations encounter in dealing with their environments are intimately connected with the kind of identity that they try to maintain." [Note 121]
The metaphor of organization as an instrument of domination is yet another view of some of the former metaphors, but this time with the exercise of power as a means in itself. Domination is the result of an asymmetrical distribution of power, and as described in section 4.f, power is an asymmetrical pattern of dependence. [Note 122]
Domination through rationalization: One of the great attractions of Taylorism rests in the power it confers to those in control. It is as much a tool for securing general control over the workplace as it is a means of generating profit, and in this way the mechanistic principle is an instrument of domination. [Note 123]
For Max Weber, the logic driving modern society was found in the process of domination through rationalization. He also saw that the pursuit of rationality could itself be a mode of domination. To recognize this we must always ask "Rational for whom?"
The kind of domination that most interested Weber was
"... patterns of formal authority in which rulers see themselves as having the right to rule, and those subject to this rule see it as their duty to obey." [Note 124]
Max Weber's main concern was to understand how different societies and epochs were characterized by different forms of social domination. He set up a typology of domination:
The rational-legal domination rests in power bounded by rules. The administration is typically a bureaucracy where the means of administration do not belong to the bureaucrat. There is a strict separation between private and official income, fortune, and life. [Note 125]
Later, the French sociologist Robert Michels has put forward "The iron law of oligarchy":
"Modern organizations typically end up under the control of narrow groups, even when this runs against the desires of the leaders as well as the led." [Note 126]
Gareth Morgan concludes:
"Even the most rational and democratic forms of organization can result in modes of domination where certain people acquire and sustain a commanding influence over others, often through subtle processes of socialisation and belief." [Note 127]
The technostructure under attack: The typical members of the technostructure are stressed by the demands of their employers:
Morgan uses Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" as an example of how organizations use and exploit their employees. The members of "the primary labor market" are expected to be committed and loyal. On the other hand many of them suddenly find themselves in the place of the salesman Willy Loman:
"An increasing numbers of professionals once regarded as a core part of the "primary" labor market are finding themselves working on limited contracts where long-term commitment are neither desired nor possible." [Note 129]
When sacked, those with the most privileged access to important information or with crucial positions in their companies are often those who receive the hardest blow to their self-esteem. Many managers find themselves ending lives of workaholic involvement with their employer as the victims of cutbacks or "early retirement plans." And the higher ranking, the more probable that the manager is told to leave immediately. [Note 130]
After scrutinizing Morgan's eight metaphors is here an analysis of whether the metaphors can provide new aspects on the technostructure. I have extracted seven key topics from the synthesis of the technostructure (from section 3.f):
The table shows that the seven key topics are covered in five of the metaphors:
The list of the nine power sources in section 4.f has far-reaching possibilities for the technostructure: