Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Organizations as Metaphors and their Implementation

     Throughout the last couple of classes we have had we've been discussing different metaphors that can be applied to organizations with specific focus on organizations as machines and organizations as organisms. Other metaphors can also be applied to organizations such as organizations as brains, cultures, political systems, psychic prisons, flux and transformation, and instruments of domination. But why do we even bother to use metaphors when it comes to studying organizations? A major reason is that there have been three major identified advantages of using metaphors as a tool of learning. 
  • The first of these advantages is that metaphors allow for the transfer of large amounts of information and richness in the form of much simpler and more familiar concepts. 
  • The second advantage is that by introducing information through the use of metaphors allows the individual receiving the information to interpret it in their own terms. Using this method of introducing information in a non-personal manner also allows for a reduction in the range for taking offence towards raised points or voiced criticisms. 
  • The final advantage of using metaphors as tools of learning is that this approach allows individuals to create their own metaphors for what is essentially the same topic, which allows for a greater understanding of the base material. 
     In pointing out the advantages of such techniques I am not ignoring the negative aspects, as some do exists. One key downside to using metaphors is the issue of such metaphors overreaching or simply going too far. The farther you stretch out a metaphor the greater the chance of distorting the base information becomes. Another important negative to consider when using metaphors is the exact opposite of one of its main strengths in that while metaphors allow us to understand, they can at the same time allow us to not understand. This con of using metaphors is also the same reason why there can not be one 'correct theory' to establish guidelines for all of our actions, as there is no single metaphor that provides an individual with an all-encompassing point of view. 

Organizational Metaphors
     In terms of management of organizations and the implementation of metaphors to run and maintain such, there are two main approaches in Old (Traditional) Scientific Management and New Scientific Management. In first examining the Old Scientific Management method, effective organizations are built in the image of machines. Such practices work very well in clearly defined settings, such as when it is clear as to who is in charge and who is following. These practices also work well in situations where the difference between what is right and wrong is made clear, and all individuals know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. In Gareth Morgan's book Images of Organizations he identifies that when metaphors are used they are usually based on some assumption of the organization, with more than one metaphor contributing to the overall image (Morgan, 2007). In regards to Old Scientific Management the main metaphor used is the organization as a machine with aspects of the dominance metaphor, the political metaphor, and the psychological prisoner metaphor contributing. 

Old Scientific Management 

     In more recent years however we are seeing the shift away from Old Scientific Management and more towards New Scientific Management. While the New Scientific Management method applies some of the same ides from OSM, it works from a different set of metaphors with the organism metaphor at the center drawing from the cultures metaphor, brain metaphor, and flux and transformation metaphor. The New Scientific Management approach attempts to recognize that organizations are not simply made up of parts in a machine but rather that they are organisms created from living individuals and communities. 

New Scientific Management

     I personally think that this shift in management approaches is for the better as human beings should be seen as exactly that and their individuality should be recognized. Viewing employees simply as replaceable parts within a machine is dehumanizing to them and has been shown to increase job dissatisfaction. Taking the approach of New Scientific Management and recognizing and paying attention to the needs of employees as individuals just seems to be the right approach to me. Not only does it lead to increases in job satisfaction, but it can also lead to greater productivity because of heightened levels of employee happiness. I know I for one at least would much rather be working for someone who appreciates the work I do rather than someone who sees only the completed product and does not recognize the individual labors that go into creating such. 


Morgan, Gareth. Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007. Print

1 comment:

  1. I agree and workers should be seen as individuals, not as parts as a machine. By us viewing them as people workers are more prone to focus on doing better for the company. With treating them as individuals they are also having a lower job turn- over because they don't just come to work for the money, they contribute. I would over all like to work for someone who appreciates my individual work, rather than judging me on my end product made by a machine. I also would because then they have more gratitude for workers than you can be replaced atmosphere.