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Reframing, Bolman And Deal

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Autor:  anton  29 October 2010
Tags:  Reframing,  Bolman
Words: 1512   |   Pages: 7
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Essay #2: Reframing Technology

Bolman and Deal organize their book around the idea of framing, and they give many metaphors, examples, and comparisons in defining this approach. It is compared to a paradigm or a map, a mind-set or a general approach to problem solving. Managers work best, they claim, when they use a holistic approach, reframing problems in four different categories: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. Leading a complex organization requires artistry to combine these approaches as well as an embrace of uncertainty. The best management needs a commitment not only to excellence but also to flexibility, dialogue, and open-mindedness. In this paper, I shall examine the general topic of technology through Bolman and Deal’s four frames, demonstrating how a manager can consider and implement technology in multiple ways.

Technology’s direct effects on organizational structure have been readily visible over the past twenty years. The ascendancy of personal computer networks over mainframes has accelerated the shift away from ponderous bureaucracies toward nimble networks. In other words, technology moves decision making closer to the immediate situation. The Wall Street Journal article about Captain Ayers demonstrated how even such traditionally rigid hierarchies as the U.S. military now see the value of empowering lower level decision makers and encouraging shared experiences throughout the organization. Because of this, technology has been one of the key enablers for eliminating layers of management and encouraging the use of self-organized teams and networks of individuals, moving toward Miles and Snow’s projected cellular form of the future. They discuss how each cell can continually reorganize and use technical, collaborative, and governance skills to customize and improve its output. These teams can even assemble over long distances to share expertise, which enhances productivity, as Margaret Wheatley notes, “…self-managed teams are far more productive than any other form of organizing.”

From a manager’s perspective, the freedom of self-managed teams and evolving groups can present an apparent problem of control. However, a manger can use the same tool of technology to enhance planning, oversight, statistical sampling, and quality control. The wealth of available information, historical data, and computer modeling can help managers make sound predictions and plans. In the area of implementation and operations, Frederick Winslow Taylor, as removed as he might seem from the world of modern technology, would be pleased that computers ease the sharing of best practices across whole companies and industries. In the same vein, Deming would champion the continued quality and innovation possible, especially when technology is combined with cross-departmental communication. A structural manager can thus view technology as an aid in planning and control, as well as coordination and networking among employees.

A manager who focuses not on the structural aspect of technology but on the human resource implications would also see much positive value in the increased communication and networking. Framing the company as a family, the human resource approach would see technology as fulfilling the need for relationships and belonging that according to Maslow’s hierarchy need to be met prior to self-esteem needs and self-actualization. People will be most productive and happy when they feel interconnected in a web of relationships and communication. The principal trap of technology is that it can put an end to face-to-face meetings. This is important to avoid, and keeping people informed and involved in the decision making process requires both technological interfaces and traditional means. Still, technology is one very important tool, particularly in connecting geographically diverse individuals.

Beyond the relationships that technology helps build, Bolman and Deal’s human resource frame would also stress the investment, learning, and training that can go into technology. Companies help individuals grow, learn, and succeed by training them in new technology related skills. It shows confidence and the value they place on an individual when they invest time and money in his or her training. Furthermore, it empowers the employee to make more decisions and exercise low-level leadership. This helps develop future leaders for the company.

This development of leadership and power is one of the primary concerns of the political frame. One of the things that technology does is distribute power more evenly across a firm. Individuals can have more access and influence in two different ways. First, the increased communication and the value placed on expertise and facility with technology can give an individual disproportionate contact and access to traditional upper level management. In this way, someone whose title and position don’t necessarily connote formal power might still have great influence in the decision making process. The converse of this access to top management is that networked communication can create large coalitions and enhance grassroots efforts at democratic decision making. Both methods are prevalent, for example, among politically active groups across the country today. Elected officials are flooded directly with email and fax communications. On the other hand, traditional protest methods are aided through email and web site coordination. NGO’s protests against international corporations like Nike, Unocal, and Novartis are just a few examples.

Technology represents a change in the overall power structure of an organization. In his discussion of politics and power within organizations, Pfeffer discusses the need to scope the political landscape and determine who has the power to aid or hinder a manager’s efforts. It allows individuals to arrange the cooperation of others who do not fall within their direct chain of command. Technology is one area that a politically oriented manager would examine for its effect on the power structure. IT professionals may wield greater influence; networked communication may enable a bottom-up effort for change; and coalition building can be aided in the direct communication available through technology.

From a symbolic point of view, technology can be a unifier in several ways. First of all, there is already a very basic unifying effect when all employees share the same hardware and software. Second, programs that in some way incorporate the company’s logo, slogans, or mission statement help create a unified culture. For example, email auto-signatures, letterheads, facsimile transmission pages, calendars, or Power Point slide backgrounds are all opportunities to create and present a cohesive visual identity for a company. Finally, businesses with enough in-house technicians can create their own software for internal use. For example, Piper Jaffray recently unveiled the SHERPA database, whose name relates to their “Guides for the Journey” slogan. This creates pride in the work of the company’s computer programmers and unifies much of the back room operations of the firm in this one proprietary program.

In addition to the symbolic value of technology, there are several myths and stories, such as how much a business has changed because of computers. Presentations about a company’s history often mention continual evolution and stories about “how things used to get done.” Technology can stand for the story of a company’s change, growth, expansion, and endurance. It can also represent a company’s speed in responding to the business environment and excellence in using the latest methods. Finally, technology creates the myth of the heroic computer technician, who puts in long hours to find brilliant, cost-saving solutions. IT professionals seem larger than life when they can fix problems and answer questions. A manager could reframe challenging or changing technology more positively through any of these images.

The chief danger to avoid in using the symbol of technology is the generational divide that it can create. The example of Shell Oil demonstrates this problem, when young technicians were not accepted in the company’s culture because of their reliance on computer models. In manufacturing industries especially, technology can also be a negative symbol of layoffs. Furthermore, while IT professionals are mythic heroes when they solve problems, they can just as easily become demonized when mounting challenges frustrate people from accomplishing their goals. A manager needs to ensure high quality technology so that the symbols it represents and the stories told about it remain consistently positive.

Bolman and Deal’s general approach of reframing gives managers a tool to be creative and step outside their traditional instincts. Viewing technology through multiple lenses helps a manager relate to his or her employees and see how each of them might view different benefits and challenges of new technology. Structurally, technology flattens an organization and aids coordination of teams. It also aids in the communication and individual development that a human resource perspective would value. A politically oriented manager would navigate and utilize the increasingly democratic power structure, and a symbolic manager would focus on the stories and unifying symbols of technology. Reframing the issue from all these viewpoints gives a manager a broad perspective on the opportunities of technology, while also helping spot potential conflicts and dangers. Bolman and Deal stress that management is an art that requires knowledge and flexibility; reframing a general topic like technology helps provide a manager with both.

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