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Present Transitions

Page history last edited by Mark 9 years, 9 months ago

 

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Present Transitions: Organization F and Unit 7

 

Organization F: Espoused Perception vs. In-use Reality in the Transition from BAH to UCaPP

 

Organization F did not intend to be in the business in which it now finds itself.

 

The company was a design firm. They found that they were having a really difficult time [doing administrative functions] … so they decided to put together our own little internal tool that can do this. … It reached a point that they realized, this little tool we’ve got here, this is something special. I think there’s a lot of people out there that could really use this. (Aaron-1-25)

 

Although some might call it idealistic, Aaron expresses the original essence of Organization F’s culture with respect to economic objectives, and the relationship between work and life:

 

Profits have never been what anybody’s been in this for. The money is just there to remain sustainable because we all truly like and enjoy what we’re doing, and like working with each other, and it sounds like a lot of crap, but, you know, we’re all kind of these people where work is just part of life. (Aaron-1-25)

 

It’s almost kind of a European thing, we’re not living to work, we’re working to live. ... Work is important, and everyone’s got to care about what they’re doing, but life comes first. (Aaron-1-31)

 

During our first conversation, Jeff describes the early stages of the entrepreneurship as being “like family,” and as it grows employees are, “all buddy, buddy, and that’s the way it’s still now, maybe not as much to the full extent, but pretty much everyone here’s like friends” (Jeff-1-51). He also notes the workflow and managerial delegation processes, such as they are: “They’re not like bosses. They’re not going to say, Jeff do this. Jeff do that. I just knew what had to be done” (Jeff-1-51). These analogies – comparing the business environment to being with family and friends, and Jeff just knowing “what had to be done” – are characteristic of a very different type of organizational behaviour than exhibited by the two, previous BAH organizations.

 

Leading a New Organizational Culture

 

Matt, the CEO, confirms Jeff and Aaron’s impressions by describing the founding culture of the organization, a culture that relies on maintaining the “value set” and “retaining the intimacy … [as] an opportunity and a challenge, and to me that’s energizing” (Matt-1-71):

 

We have sort of a culture of fostering trust, and people rely on each other. And part of fostering trust is in trusting people, giving them responsibility. So yeah, as quick as we can, if we find someone who has an area of expertise, we try to let them run with that. … [I] do what I can to get out of the way, and get the rest of the organization out of the way, so that those people can pull in that direction. … It rubs off on the organization, and it all comes together, fits together, so long as people are headed in the right direction. (Matt-1-95)

 

Matt describes his role as leader of the organization, expressing the espoused theory of the organization’s leadership model:

 

My role is to set the course. … I basically try to be responsible for getting nothing done, but helping to facilitate other people getting what they need done in as ideal a fashion as possible, … generally making sure that their activities are aligned with those of the organization as a whole. (Matt-1-7)

 

He subsequently self-ascribes the particular leadership attributes he deems to be strategically crucial to success as an entrepreneur:

 

I’m the sort of person who will see things, or know things for how things are going to be. Where they’re headed. I tend to live six months down the road, but if not further, in my head. And the things that are concerning me today are the things that are going to be issues in six months…

 

At the end of the day, I can probably push through any decision I like, but I like to make sure that people understand it, that I’ve gotten their feedback, because I’m often not spot on, or there’s a better way to look at things, so [I] take counsel from those around me inside and outside the organization, and trying to refine and clarify my vision of things and where things should go. (Matt-1-11)

 

Matt claims that he encourages an organizational culture in which “difference is a core value at Organization F. I think that just being able to disagree at any time lets people assert themselves as individuals, and they feel heard, and they feel like it’s a trusting environment” (Matt-1-123). He concludes his description of the espoused leadership model in terms that are quite contemporary[1] in their reference to collaborative contributions of ideas to create a shared vision and sense of purpose:

 

I like to think of Organization F as a relatively organic organization, where there’s a series of small insights that lead one to a path, and then, more insights are layered on top of that, and I don’t know if consensus is the right word, but people work towards a more shared vision of things, and you choose to execute on something. (Matt-1-13)

 

Aaron’s description of the ideal way to grow the organization captures the spirit of autonomy and collaborative coordination that seems to characterize Organization F as a UCaPP organization, at least initially:

 

Well I would like to think that as long as you just kept all of your people in small, relatively coherent units with very well-defined responsibilities, and let them sort of self-organize, and let them come up with their own directions and own solutions to their own problems, and have one leader within that group who got to choose the members of that group with the blessings of the other members of the [larger] group. Because that’s basically the way it works here. … That’s to maintain the really close dynamic. (Aaron-1-43)

 

Jeff agrees that this is the best way to foster mutual trust throughout the organization as it expands:

 

If you’ve screened and hired the right person, I would trust them, like, this guy is my friend. … It’s less realistic in terms of scalability that you know all hundred people [in a future organization]. … It might not be scalable in the future, but that’s the way I would like to do things. … Generally that’s how the culture is now. (Jeff-1-315).

 

In describing the hiring of the new marketing manager, Matt emphasizes the importance of beginning the integration and cultural socialization processes as part of the hiring process.

 

We spent a lot of time and energy investing in … setting expectations, listening to, understanding really some of the emotional concerns around stuff. … They knew this person. They’ve been exposed to this person. They did work with this person, so it wasn’t like a, just drop somebody in and just deal with it. There were relationships that existed before. There were positive experiences. We tried to nurture those kinds of things. (Matt-1-103)

 

In these comments, Aaron, Jeff, and Matt touch on a key issue that may differentiate BAH and UCaPP organizations: creating and fostering trust. In particular, they each identify the importance of incorporating mechanisms that socialize the entire organization for strong trust when introducing new members—processes that may obviate, or at least lessen the need for, traditional mechanisms of control.

 

As discussed in the first chapter, among the characteristic aspects of a more-UCaPP organization are connection and collaboration. It thus makes sense to create those circumstances from the very beginning of developing the relationship between the potential new member and the organization as a whole. When a new member joins an organization, there is often the impetus to perform, to produce, to prove oneself relative to task and completion of objectives. This traditional personal impetus, the drive-to-action, so to speak, naturally lends itself to instrumentality and interactions that are more transactional in nature. What better time is there than during an extended hiring process to focus on creating strong relationships with the new member and conveying the sense of the organizational culture? Encouraging cultural integration from first contact, as it were, seems to be an optimal way to facilitate a sustainable UCaPP environment as the organization grows. However, there are other, conflicting influences that might impede sustaining a culture that Matt might have underestimated: “For me, retaining that intimacy is just a challenge” (Matt-1-71; emphasis added).

 

The Cultural Challenges of Becoming a Small Company

 

As the organization expands, Aaron perceives the pressure of a presumed need to become isomorphic with conventional, corporate organizations (See DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Hinings, 2003). Given that the organization’s founding culture seems to be based on creating strong relationships of trust, he reflects on its seemingly inevitable demise:

 

We know full well that won’t be a sustainable culture as we continue to grow, because, obviously, every time you add a person to the organization, the number of relationships within that organization, they increase exponentially, you know, and so as we continue to add more and more people, we recognize that’s not going to be possible. (Aaron-1-31)

 

Jeff confirms Aaron's observation of a gradual transition to a more BAH-like structure, seeing clear distinctions among individuals performing separate functional responsibilities: “I can see a distinction between marketing now and development and support. I can imagine in the future maybe it will be on a different floor or a different department, and I can see communications being more difficult” (Jeff-1-115). As the organization seems to be passing the proverbial knee in the organizational growth curve (at twelve people), it is becoming more formal, structured and fragmented, perhaps to be “a lot more scalable’ relative to future growth.

 

The issue might not be scalability per se, but rather a received conception of how an organization scales, responding to the demands of internal growth through assigned division of labour, separation of supervisory and direct task responsibilities, and instituting consistent procedures and processes throughout the organization—in other words, enacting bureaucracy. Larry Greiner (1972/1998), for instance, posits that there is a certain inevitable evolution of phases of stable and steady organizational growth, each phase ending with a characteristic crisis and “revolution” that heralds the next phase[2]. Such a stepwise model is consistent with the contingency theories and structural typology models that I described in the earlier section on “the instrumental, institutional, and managerialist 20th century”—the paradigmatic environment from which Greiner’s evolution model emerged. As we will see with more-UCaPP organizations, changing the notion of what it means to scale changes the corresponding conception of how an organization responds to that growth.

 

Jeff confirms that the perceived need to adopt a more formal, BAH structure in response to growth demands was based on outside advice: “The advisor worked for one of the big companies. She’s now a consultant. And basically when we were growing she whipped us into shape. Like defining roles and creating, like, persons we’re really missing” (Jeff-1-245). He frames the change from a relatively ad hoc collaborative arrangement that is consistent with UCaPP behaviours, to a more formal, BAH structure—what Jeff refers to as an inevitable, “necessary evil”:

 

I notice things are changing and these changes have to occur … I understand they’re for the better. It’s like changing diapers to using the potty. That’s the norm, and that’s what we, from her experience is what we should do. (Jeff-1-253)

 

Knowing the theme of my research investigation, a number of colleagues have personally shared their own experiences of participating in very small organizations through a period of growth. Based on many of these shared anecdotes, among many start-up and grassroots organizations, and certainly consistent with Organization F’s experiences, a small and new organization often tends to naturally adopt impetus and coordination mechanisms that are more collective and equitable, based on collaboration, consensus, and lack of status, class and hierarchical privilege[3]. In the absence of an externally imposed structure to the contrary, it is not unreasonable to conclude that these mechanisms that are consistent with more-UCaPP behaviours are more consistent with naturally occurring, humanistic inter-personal dynamics. In contrast, the more-BAH structure that is considered “the norm” is a socialized, learned response, but arguably not a “natural” way of organizing. Aaron observes:

 

As you move to this kind of heavy, over-organized structure that I feel we’re gravitating towards, you’re forgetting these people are people. You’re forgetting that they have different strengths, different things that they’re good at, and different desires. You’re just trying to take people and put them into this totally unnatural structure. (Aaron-1-93).

 

Although Matt and Jeff claim to want to preserve the small-organization, UCaPP-like culture, the pressure towards organizational isomorphism with larger organizations seems to be compelling. Aaron muses,

 

…I don’t know that it’s being implemented to get power, so much as it’s just being implemented because “that’s just the way you do things when you grow,” you know? And so, I don’t know that maintaining our kind of unique organizational structure was ever in the cards. (Aaron-1-101)

 

Jeff, almost in denial about the seemingly inexorable pressure to change, explains:

 

It’s kind of like a military operation where you have soldiers who are not organized, there’s no command structure, to now there’s a command structure, and by doing so we can all be more productive. … So the hierarchy is there on paper, but it doesn’t really exist in our company. (Jeff-1-259)

 

Within nine months of this conversation, the emergent hierarchy “on paper” is actualized and explicit. At the time of the first Organization F conversations, there was almost no bureaucracy but there was most certainly a traditional hierarchy of authority. One would expect that the hierarchy would likely crystallize and be made explicit over a relatively short time, exemplified by the emergence of administrative procedures and processes (that can be rationalized and justified in terms of efficiency), leading to more bureaucratic structures and practices throughout the organization. This is, indeed, what transpired over the ensuing nine months to the second set of conversations.

 

For a variety of reasons and justifications – including a felt pressure towards organizational isomorphism, the socialization of both legitimate and thought leaders in the organization to traditional control structures, and an appeal to efficiency and productivity – Organization F transitioned from more-UCaPP behaviours in its entrepreneurial phase to more-BAH behaviours. Part of the motivation may be Organization F’s self-identification as a legitimate, “small company,” having matured and eschewed the label of start-up. Over the nine months between the first and second conversations, Aaron laments:

 

I do feel like we’ve gone backwards a lot from that new school sort of approach, to, in a lot of respects, we may as well be an industrial era company at this point. We’re a staff of just over twenty, and about one-third of the staff is in management. (Aaron-2-4)

 

All new employees in Organization F are oriented by beginning in support. For an organization that espouses the primary importance of customer service throughout its business, such a placement as a mandatory initial assignment accomplishes the objective of connecting every employee directly to the organization’s customers. “It's based on belief that, if you're going to be working on the product, you need to have an intimate understanding of our customers and their needs, and their pain points” (Matt-1-41).

 

It may appear as slightly odd that a novice who would likely have never had occasion to use Organization F’s application would be asked to provide support to customers seeking assistance with the application. One might be moved to ask whether this is truly indicative of the espoused theory of customer focus, or whether it simply fulfils the organization’s instrumental interest by serving up the customers as training fodder for new employees. This duality potentially offers opposite readings of the alignment between espoused and in-use theories relative to customers and service. However, if one considers the intended organizational effect, this is indeed an appropriate strategy. Organization F intends to empathize with the challenges of small business owners, its target market. Having every employee speak directly with customers over a period of time is important, so that everyone in the organization can contextualize their eventual “real” work and role in that visceral experience.

 

In addition to reinforcing organizational values of customer service, everyone answering support calls creates the impression of levelling the relative power and status hierarchy, as front-line call answering is often equated to lower status in many organizations. During the first conversation, Aaron specifically mentions that those who take support calls are often able to effect remedial application changes very quickly—everyone is empowered to help customers. These dynamics are consistent with UCaPP behaviours; specifically, everyone knowing what to do so that organizational impetus is emergent, yet coherent and consistent towards common effect.

 

In contrast, by the time of the second conversation nine months later, customer support has evolved to become more BAH in its realization. The discourse of “everyone does support” as a matter of organizational culture gives way to more “practical,” expedient, and instrumental considerations:

 

Everyone does support, and there is a tier of dedicated support people who train any new employee, and give them a lot of information on how to use the ticketing system [which administratively mediates between the ‘dedicated support people’ and the developers who were previously empowered to directly fix problems]. And we hired our first dedicated support person, ‘Faith,’ and we’re going to be hiring a few more people. Even though everyone is still going to do support, but they’re going to be like the experts, specialists in support. (Jeff-2-97)

 

With a relatively lower status, functionally decomposed support group, there is far less direct empowerment of individuals to fix problems in favour of a mediating administrative, “ticketing system,” and less frequent direct involvement of more senior organization members.

 

Privileged Specialists

 

As the organization grows, Matt specifically identifies the value of role specialization in task focus: “I can tell you that organizations as they grow, they need some more specialization, they need some more role definition. It’s been my experience to just make things clearer and smoother for everybody” (Matt-1-77). This, according to Matt, becomes especially important to manage organizational changes imposed by growth in the business.

 

Specialization in function and the apparent emergence of a hierarchical bureaucracy seem to have resulted in diminishing coordination among the newly emerging specialist departments.

 

I think that they [marketing] are largely out of sync now with what happens in the rest of the company. I think that the rest of the company has no idea of what marketing does, and I think that marketing largely has no idea of what the company does. … They’re just kind of out of sync with what it is that we do here, and they’re out there selling an absolutely incredible product that doesn’t really exist. … There’s not a whole lot of communication between, you know, the different parts: our development team and our support team, and our marketing team, and those employees that don’t really have a team, so we kind of call them, like operations. (Aaron-2-78/80)

 

As Organization F appears to have transitioned to become more BAH over this period of growth, there are two tacit assumptions demonstrated in Matt’s assertion with respect to the value and importance of role specialization, and its reification at Organization F. First, task or subject-matter specialization necessarily implies bureaucratic and hierarchical organization, essentially becoming isomorphic with traditional organizations. Bureaucratic structure, in and of itself, will necessarily accomplish the requisite internal communication and coordination functions that are enacted among the leaders of those specialized role groupings, that is, among the managers.

 

The second tacit assumption is that the task of management is a privileged subject matter, distinct from the technical subject matter of developing and running the application service itself. The role separation of “those who do” from “those who think” or manage is, of course, a construct that dates from the earliest conception of scientific management, and the advice of Taylor and Fayol that has informed a hundred years of management practice.

 

Thus, as one might expect, with the hierarchical stratification of Organization F, the senior management structure has become more formalized into a steering committee:

 

None of us are even privy to what happens at those steering committee meetings. There’s “Lee” [CFO], … there’s “Mick” [outside consultant, who] just kind of facilitates a lot of stuff. … I suspect that’s where a lot of this, oh, this is just how you do things, originates. (Aaron-2-92)

 

Additionally, “Casey,” the newly hired development manager, attends the steering committee meetings. Casey’s hiring and inclusion as a member of the steering committee has had the effect of moving the technological decision process from being highly consultative to being exclusive and privileged within the span of nine months.

 

Matt acknowledges there is a hierarchy of expertise in the organization that provides legitimation for influencing decisions, and a separate hierarchy of legitimation by virtue of organizational rank.

 

Said another way, there are people at all levels of the organization that have outright ownership or domain expertise in various areas, and for the most part, if the decision is going to have anything to do with them, that person will be the go-to person maybe to set the course, and we listen to them. Or, we’re certainly taking it into account. And then there’s other, organizational higher-level decisions, that we get the feedback and then we decide within the steering committee, if that makes sense. (Matt-1-27)

 

In all cases, it is the legitimation of hierarchical position, either through knowledge-status or rank-status, that confers the value of an individual’s opinion—a defining characteristic of BAH. There is, of course, a consequence on the morale of people like Aaron who were specifically attracted by the UCaPP nature of the organization’s earlier incarnation:

 

I actually care about the results and the outcome and the health of the company, and I actually think about what I’m doing, and that’s a problem, because somebody’s already done the thinking for me, you know. We hire thinkers from outside to sit up top, and I’m just supposed to be a doer. (Aaron-2-48)

 

The nominal reason for dispensing with a more collaborative approach is its perceived lack of efficiency, weighed against the (presumed) limited amount of time available to bring features and functions to the market.

 

A lot of the feedback [on the collaborative approach] was great and everything was working well. So I was thinking, wow, this is really good for the product. This is a good method to work, however, it’s very time-consuming. … Is that the way we should spend more time working on these [collaborations], or maybe spend less time and get it done faster and move faster? (Jeff-1-69)

 

Without having a well thought-through, consensus-creating process, Organization F began to slowly move away from collaborative consensus, and more towards a hierarchical and bureaucratic model of responsibility and decision-making, in which the CEO “comes up with” the specifications and design:

 

Right now we’re a growing business, we’re expanding, and we can’t really have time like that. … I pretty much go to each person and get their opinions [on] what our CEO came up with … and generally if they all fall into place, and everyone is kind of saying, yeah, yeah, and everyone is going in that direction, that’s great, it’s pretty much done. (Jeff-1-65)

 

In the second conversation with Jeff, he describes how even this process became too cumbersome. In admitting there is less participation and involvement in decisions, primarily because “the technology hasn’t caught up,” Jeff describes what appears to him to be the logical solution:

 

Currently, I would say that there is less democratic say, but only because we haven’t developed a system to do it better. … [The] plan is to build a system to prioritize features, and anyone can add votes. Matt might have some infinite vote, where he can just make something go higher. (Jeff-2-65)

 

In fact, design decisions have become the almost exclusive realm of the steering committee, with its hierarchical status and class decision-making privilege, consistent with a more-BAH organization. Note how Jeff acknowledges the reification of Matt’s de facto overriding influence on decisions to be taken. Jeff confirms that this envisioned system is a way of obtaining limited input from various constituencies on design features and product direction without actually having to engage and consult with them. It implements a nominal form of the more “democratic” processes that originally existed in the start-up without requiring the CEO to cede control—an excellent example of a (somewhat dysfunctional) socio-technical[4] approach that would be characteristic of a more-BAH organization.

 

What might be called consultative processes in BAH organizations would be expected to have an instrumental, if not perfunctory, quality to them. They equate merely giving participants a chance to speak, with participants truly being heard, or better yet, actively participating in a collaborative, consensus-building process. It is telling that Jeff describes what is perhaps a quintessentially bureaucracy-like response to a disagreement:

 

I think there is one person who disagreed with something wholeheartedly. Take it away. We shouldn’t do this. And I made sure that I spoke to him, got his opinion. I wrote them down and made sure [to tell the] CEO, this person didn’t like it for these reasons. As long as he understands them. Are we going to do anything about it? Like, maybe. Or, like no, but at least have them heard, on the record, and included on a piece of paper. (Jeff-1-87; emphasis added)

 

From the inception of the organization, and at the time of the first conversations, there had been a culture not only of “everyone doing support” and taking trouble calls from customers, but also of empowering the front line people to fix problems. One might easily explain this apparent empowerment in terms of many of the “support” personnel being, in fact, the developers. Nonetheless, there was a casual leeway permitted throughout the organization that enabled discretionary and empowered autonomy among those employees with the appropriate technical skills to indeed fix problems.

 

By the time of the second conversation, nine months after the first, the reported differences in experience between Aaron and Jeff are remarkable. Jeff seemed reluctant to admit directly that the organization’s renewed emphasis on “growth, growth, growth” seems to have shifted priorities from responding to customer-reported problems to adding new features. His cautious account nevertheless tends to corroborate Aaron’s assertions:

 

I do not feel remotely empowered to resolve customer issues anymore, whereas there was a time that I did. I feel that as we’ve added more resources, they’ve become a lot more difficult to harness, because we’ve added a whole lot more bureaucracy and red tape, and so whereas before I was okay with the fact that we sometimes couldn’t fix things because we just didn’t have time or the ability. Now I feel like, we choose not to improve the quality of what it is that we’re doing and, so I don’t really feel empowered to do my job. … I’m not really satisfied with working for that sort of organization, where we’re now putting growth ahead of quality. (Aaron-2-6)

 

The inconsistency in perception between Jeff and Aaron is not necessarily surprising, since Jeff is vested in his sense-making of the organization as a collaborative, participatory family, and would tend to minimize or rationalize any evidence that is inconsistent with that sense-making (Argyris, 1994; Weick, 1995). Aaron, on the other hand, had recently tendered his resignation just prior to the second conversation; as such, he had far less vested in what remained of the organization’s espoused theory.

 

Questioning Questioning

 

Being able to assimilate diverse opinions, and resolving conflicts by promoting and enacting processes of dialogue (Bohm, Factor, & Garrett, 1991), polarity management (Johnson, 1992), and integrative thinking among diametric options (Martin, 2007) are characteristics that tend to mitigate the hegemonic effects – culturally coerced groupthink – that often colonize the culture of BAH organizations. An indication of how effective that mitigation may be – not to mention how well the organization is able to make sense of its environment – lies in how well the organization fosters a culture in which inquiry is welcomed and valued as reflective practice. Unfortunately, to the BAH-minded organization, inquiry often appears as dissent, or worse, as personal threat:

 

I’ve been sat down by the CEO a couple of times about my “attitude,” because I’m too negative and critical, and I’ve been asked if I value criticism, or if I’m willing to shelve it for the good of the organization, and that question right there was kind of when it dawned upon me that I was in a place that had its priorities wrong… (Aaron-2-8)

 

As Organization F moves away from its entrepreneurial, UCaPP personality in favour of more BAH-like behaviours, Aaron describes how inquiry became increasingly shunned, and the consequences of that transition:

 

There’s not enough value placed on—I don’t even think it’s criticism. I think it’s just introspection, asking questions. … In this organization, I have often stood alone in asking questions in the past. And, if nobody asks questions, the company gropes about blindly and makes mistakes, because nobody’s thinking about the reasons behind what we’re doing. And a lot of the questions that I ask are, why are we doing this? Is it just because this is what we see others do? Have we thought about whether it actually makes sense? (Aaron-2-18)

 

As was clearly seen in Organization M, a BAH organization will often circumvent the possibility of self-questioning by appealing to supposedly objective metrics that seem to confirm success, without actually measuring the intended effects. Organization F primarily values customer service as a key element of its organizational identity. According to Aaron, there is a degree of self-deception occurring as the organization sets its metric to ensure reporting of excellent customer service:

 

It’s said that the only question that you need to ask your customers to gauge their true end satisfaction is, on a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague. And if the answer is nine or ten, it’s a yes. Anything else is a no. Well, when we asked our customers that question, did we give them a scale of one to ten? No. We gave them a yes or no. And so, 99% of them said yes. If I were to guess, none of those people are actually referring friends. In fact, if we look at our numbers, none of those people are actually referring friends. So it’s kind of a meaningless statistic that we’ve used to puff out our chests and feel good about ourselves. And I think everybody here is genuinely convinced that every one of our customers is ecstatic and everyone who checks out the software loves it, and everyone who doesn’t, just doesn’t get it. (Aaron-2-68)

 

As Aaron previously mentioned, Matt shepherds ideas through a steering committee that helps provide strategic and tactical guidance in his decision-making process. Rather than authentically seeking collaboration in decision-making, Matt’s approach seems to be a way of bridging an espoused collaborative and consultative process with an in-use theory that reflects his self-identified role of “setting the course” (Matt-1-7). He admits that he could “probably push through any decision I like, but I like to make sure that people understand it” (Matt-1-11). As such, difference is invited – even valued – but as a way of enabling Matt to discover dissenting opinions in order to effectively neutralize them with a minimum of conflict. In the following excerpt, note how he does not mention attempting to understand and appreciate the source of the dissenting opinion; rather his interest seems to be more consistent with pushing through his ideas, albeit softly:

 

In other cases, there will be disagreement. If I really believe in [my idea], and something needs to be done, then I’ll invest time in that individual to help describe to them … diving deeper into this, so they really understand where I’m coming from, and usually once they do that, … once they get into the set of shoes I need them to be in, it’s usually a lot easier to convince them that, in fact, this is what we need to do” (Matt-1-21; emphasis added)

 

From both Aaron and Jeff’s descriptions of their experiences during their first conversations, I have little doubt that the early years of the start-up organization saw little difference between the espoused and in-use theories of leadership and impetus in Organization F. They both describe the organization as highly participatory, with considerable, lively engagement among all the employees, especially with respect to debating the future of the organization’s offerings. However, as the organization transitioned from its UCaPP origins to becoming a self-described small company, adopting many BAH behaviours in the process, the leadership model seemed to transition as well.

 

Aaron’s subsequent experience – and to a lesser extent, Jeff’s[5] – of the in-use leadership model in Organization F is, to paraphrase King Louis XIV, l’organisation, c’est moi! “It was almost just more like it’s very tribal, I guess. He’s the chief of the tribe. You know, everybody has input. Everybody has autonomy, but if he says the word, that’s the word” (Aaron-1-115). During the second conversation, Aaron is even more explicit about what he perceives as a more autocratic leadership practice:

 

It took me a while to see it, but this is our CEO’s company. There are a lot of euphemisms to suggest otherwise. … I suspect that he thinks he is hiring people to do things exactly the way that he would do them. I certainly have enough [experience] to know that it is usually very important to let your people do things their own way, and it may not be exactly the way you would have done them, but that does not make it wrong. And it makes me feel like what I do is not particularly valuable. (Aaron-2-24)

 

I’ve had [Matt] sit me down and ask me if I thought I could do what he did. And if I’d answered yes, I wouldn’t have had a job anymore. [chuckles] But that, in and of itself, illustrates just how autocratic it is. The organization has not been set up as a living, breathing organism. It has been set up as an extension of one living, breathing organism. (Aaron-2-28)

 

Matt’s use of the word, “convincing,” and Aaron’s experiences in expressing dissent, may be crucial distinguishing factors in placing Organization F along the BAH-UCaPP spectrum, and suggesting the direction of its transition. In the more-BAH organizations, decisions made by those with legitimate power, relatively higher in the hierarchy, can be disseminated and enforced throughout the organization with little need to “convince” other organizational members of their necessity or propriety. Coercive influence is sufficient to ensure compliance, as is the experience in Organization A and, aside from the employment protection provided by the union grievance procedure (Stan-1-67), Organization M.

 

On the other hand, as we will see in the next two organizations, decisions in a more-UCaPP organizational context that are not unanimous will cycle back through the collaborative decision-making process for reconsideration if they turn out to be problematic. Where there is legitimate power via a nominal hierarchy in a more-UCaPP organization, those higher in the legitimating hierarchy must make a specific effort to ensure that they are honestly listening to, and truly considering, opinions and situation analyses that differ from their own. Techniques that specifically invite and integrate diverse contexts, drawn from the contemporary organization development repertoire and mentioned earlier, take on an increased importance in a UCaPP environment to ensure that the legitimate leader is honestly and authentically consulting, not merely convincing.

 

Organization F is an organization that seems to espouse UCaPP principles but is struggling with BAH isomorphism as it grows. Matt’s approach to convincing someone of the correctness of his vision and ambitions might be a sign of in-use theory separating from espoused theory in what is nominally collaborative decision making, but in fact is the legitimate leader increasingly exerting his will—even if he honestly believes otherwise. “The business continues to grow. It will be a challenge to retain [our culture] and to continue to deepen it, because the status quo is not acceptable, in my opinion” (Matt-1-71). One is left to wonder whether the “status quo” to which he refers as being “not acceptable” is the quickly vanishing culture of the UCaPP start-up.

 

 

Read on: Unit 7


[1] See, for example, Maccoby and Heckscher (2006), who frame leadership in terms of collaborative community, and Schrieber and Carley (2006), who speak to participative leadership as a means to increase social capital among all members, enabling more effective adaptability.

[2] According to Greiner, a young, entrepreneurial organization evolves through “creativity” until it faces a crisis of leadership; subsequent evolution through a phase of explicit “direction” ends with a crisis of autonomy; a phase of “delegation” ends with a crisis of control; this leads to a phase of “coordination” that results in a crisis of “red tape”; ending with an organization that finds its stability in collaboration. Greiner notes that the solution to a previous phase’s crises itself becomes problematic at a certain future time as the organization grows.

[3] See also Leung (2003) and Matherne (2007) for analyses on how this situation changes as an organization grows out of its start-up phase.

[4] The proposed voting system crosses an organizational technical subsystem with the social system of nominal collaboration in order to achieve a potentially optimal balance between the technical and human requirements of the organization. The fact that its proposed implementation is such that the CEO has an infinite override is a not-well-veiled instantiation of BAH leader control under the guise of a form of more participatory organizational democracy.

[5] In several instances, Jeff uses a military metaphor to express these ideas; for instance: “I feel it could be like a military structure where … for example, Matt said to me, do this, and I didn’t agree with it, and I let him know that I don't agree with this for so-and-so reason. … Even though I don’t necessarily agree, as long as he understood those things, I’m going to carry out those words, whatever” (Jeff-1-87).

 

 

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