IMAGES OF ORGANIZATION
Gareth Morgan’s Images of an Organization was published in January 1997. At that time, it truly revolutionized the way people thought about business structures and corporate cultures. It is published by Sage Publications and categorized as a book on Management, Organizational Behavior and Business Ethics. The new Second Edition includes volume updates while retaining its original framework. Part I begins with and overview and introduces the concept that a business organization can be viewed as a machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, flux and transformation, and instrument of domination. . It then goes on to provide information on each of these images of organizations in Part II.
The first image it presents is that in which a business structure is viewed as a machine in which the functions of time and motion are vital. In this structure management functions to train and acclimate the human resources to integrate themselves into a greater whole in such a manner so that they complete their assignments with a given order and within a certain time frame. . The strengths and limitations of the machine metaphor are that it uses a scientific method and workers are variable interchangeable elements providing particular functions. This creates a strong business structure, but it does not use all of the human potential that each staff member could contribute if he or she were viewed as individuals. .
Organizations can also be seen as organisms that recognize the importance of environment. Human resources are then viewed as individuals and part of what helps sustain these organizations as open systems.
Organizations structured as brains work in a manner similar to cybernetics. These organizations as information processing units that creating learning, as they focus on earning to learn. . This encourages the decision-making functions to take place on the collective level rather than as a dictatorial process .
Some organizations see themselves as creating a social realty in which they are a cultural phenomenon. This generally results in a series of corporate cultures and subcultures that combine creating organizational reality
Political systems where the organizations are structured as systems of governance is another way corporate culture can be constructed. This structure focuses on analyzing interests, understanding conflict and exploring power.
An organization can also become a psychic prison and Morgan uses the metaphor of Plato’s Cave to illustrate this. In this situation there is a trap created by encouraging favored ways of thinking, playing upon the unconscious and even manipulating issues of repressed sexuality and the patriarchal family.
Business culture can also serve as a vehicle for transformation. This organizational structure is the one most sensitive to the ripple effect of changes. In this situation, there is what Morgan describes as a ‘holoflux the flowing nature of implicit order” .
Morgan also delves into what he terms “The Ugly Face: Organizations as Instruments of Domination” . This is the last structure discussed in which the corporations exploit their employees subjecting them to b work hazards, occupational disease, and industrial accidents. This culture promotes workaholism along with social and mental stress. Many of the multinational corporations fall into this category because of their record of exploitation.
Before deciding how a CEO can benefit from Gareth Morgan’s Images of an Organization it is important to understand what CEO does. According to Steve Robbins, they are first and finally responsible for the corporation’s direction and bottom line. In his article on He observes, “Work gets done through people, and people are profoundly affected by culture.” . The central elements of a CEOs job according to Robbins are establishing that culture and building teams consistent with the corporate and cultural structure. .
Images of an Organization is about corporate culture. It starts at the foundations and examines every level of corporate structure all the way to the top. A CEO who studies this book will understand why the IT, Sales, or HR department feels a certain way about a policy. Moreover, a CEO who uses this book will understand in advance how a leadership directive will be interpreted on each level and be able to present it so that staff members greet it with enthusiastic support instead of resistance.
Knowing and understanding the corporate culture, is the first step in adjusting and perfecting it. It is hard to change a culture without a deep understanding of what it is, and the ripple effects can be devastating. On the other hand, with that full understanding a small change can result in gradual, effective and long lasting results. Making changes with that deep understanding is a far more effective way to lead. Never the less, this form of leadership cannot take place unless the CEO understands the corporate culture so deeply that those small, effective changes can be made.
According to Robbins, another of the CEOs primary functions is team building. Here again, understandings gained from Images of an Organization can prove invaluable. It is easier to structure teams when they remain within the corporate cultural norms. Teams thrive best when they consist of peers. This can be easy to effect in an organic organizational structure, but far more difficult in a strictly hierarchical business model. In the latter situation, a team member who is a highly skilled technical worker may not be afforded the same respect given to a higher-ranking executive who does not have a technical background. In other situations, it could be the executive whose opinion is discounted because it apparently lacks technical or scientific knowledge. This could doom a project to failure unless it is structured in such a manner to establish equality within the group. This must be regardless of each individual’s position within the greater corporate structure. This is one example of where executive team building skills are vital.
Team members are each important however, the team building skills and ultimate leadership must come from outside the team. Everyone on the team must understand the goal, know they will share in the success, or be chastised it the team fails. Understanding the corporate culture facilitates team building. In certain situations, it could help if the team is structured as a microcosm of the greater organism. In other situations, it may be relevant to point out to team members that the general corporate does not apply to the team.
Understanding their own corporation’s structure is important for CEOs; understanding another corporation’s culture can be equally valuable. Every corporate culture comes with its own set of suppositions and language. Therefore, it is important for a CEO to understand what they mean when they say For example; the CEO of a hierarchal corporate organization might make the statement “We are all together on this decision.” To that person the statement could mean that I discussed this with the Board of Directors and they agree with me. However, it will take days, weeks or even months before this decision trickles down through our chain of command and we can move effectively on it. In the case of an organic business structure, it could me that the decision is in keeping with the corporate culture, strategies and goals. In that event, the organization may be able to shift direction in the same way a flock of birds or a school of fish can move when they all switch direction at the same time. When setting the course for his or her own corporation it is important to understand if a few weeks out further inquiry is going to result in a response such as; “These things take time,” “You mean you have not produced yet,” or “we are both on the same page.” The first two reactions could create a breach in the business relationship. Accurate predictions are made by CEOs who know their own business culture. Strong business relationships are forged between CEOs who understand each other’s business cultures and strategies.
As important as it is to understand the corporate cultures of partner corporations is, understanding a rival’s culture can be equally valuable. The ripple effect that can be used to optimize effective changes in a CEOs own corporation also affects other corporations as well. This could mean that replacing upper echelon management in a competitor indicates there are serious problems in their organization that are being addressed on a high corporate level that will become evident in the future.
Looking at up and coming businesses it is important to understand if they are led from the top down and likely to slow down and establish strong foundations that will be difficult to shake as the company grows. A relatively new corporation might also be likely to take an entirely different track and, although it remains smaller, it might pose a constant threat because its nimble structure allows it to change immediately in the event of economic fluxions or any display of weakness from a rival.
The sheer volume of information covered in this book is one of its greatest strengths, and one of its weaknesses. It is more of a reference text in some ways and that does not make for an engaging read. Going through it, the reader knows that it will be impossible to absorb on just the first time around, and that is likely to be something a busy CEO does not look forward to. Never the less it does provide the foundation knowledge needed to introduce any corporate culture a person is likely to encounter in today’s business world.
Another strong point is that its usefulness is not limited to CEOs. Anyone who works for a corporation, wants to work for a corporation, or does business with corporations can benefit from reading this book. Job seekers looking to identify the best approach to use at an interview and are doing their homework should reference the corporate structure. A contractor putting in a bid could turn to this text to gain insight as to how it is likely to be received and how the final decision will be made.
Gareth Morgan’s Images of an Organization has a strong points and weaknesses. It tends to be overly broad and simplistic. Never the less this book covers the foundation material well and it revolutionized thinking when it came out about twenty years ago. However, there is only so much room in any one book to cover a topic as far reaching as corporate culture. The material on every corporate style would occupy many volumes, therefore this book can only identify the organizational cultures and outline how they work. I found this to be interesting, a text I will return to, and a subject I will investigate in greater depth in the future.
Morgan, G. (1997). Images of Organization. Sage Publications.
Robbins, S. (1994 - 2014). What do CEOs do? A CEO Job Description. Retrieved from Steve Robbins, Inc: http://www.steverrobbins.com/articles/ceojob
Robbins, S. (2014). A CEO Job Description. Retrieved from Steve Robbins, Inc.: http://www.SteverRobbins.com/articles/ceojob