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Reframing, Bolman And Deal

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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



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