Reframing Organizations

All leaders get stuck at times.  We find ourselves uncertain about the best solution or way to navigate through an organizational challenge.  This week I read a book that I wish I had read a long time ago.  This book, Reframing Organizations, Artistry Choice and Leadership provides four different frames (structural, political, human resources, and symbolic) through which to view your organization.  Bolman & Deal, compare six studies on management effectiveness and conclude, “In assessing any prescription for improving organizations, ask if any frame is omitted.  The overlooked perspective could be the one that derails the effort” (2008, p325).

Twice this week I have seen this play out to the detriment of organizations by well meaning leaders who are so locked into one frame that they miss the bigger picture.  In my opinion, they are destined to repeat history until they begin to look at things differently.

The tip off in one situation was a comment, “relationships matter more than processes”.  Really?   This view from the Human Resources frame overlooks a huge part of the organization.  It naively assumes there is a way to run an organization without giving consideration to politics, structure and symbolic frames.   Bolman and Deal say, “In that view, the job of a leader is support and empowerment.  Support takes a variety of forms: showing concern, listening to people’s aspirations and goals, and communicating personal warmth and openness.  The leader empowers through participation and inclusion ensuring that people have autonomy and support needed to do their job.” (2008, p331).

There is no doubt that people matter but so do structures, politics and symbolic leadership.  A shallow view of leadership does not consider structural issues, political issues and symbolic issues.

As Bolman and Deal state, “Multiframe thinking is challenging and counterintuitive. To see the same organization as machine, family, jungle and theatre requires the capacity to think in different ways about the same thing” (2008, p. 437).

One of my favourite quotes discusses best selling business books.

“Not surprisingly, the popular best-sellers are often shorter and simpler than the scholars’ picks.  They are pragmatic and often emphasize people issues that fall into the human resources or symbolic frames, whereas the scholars’ top choices emphasized symbolic, political, and structural issues.  Typically, the popular bestsellers are upbeat.  The message is, “You can make a difference.”  The scholars often prefer works with the opposite message: “You probably won’t make much difference because you and your organization are controlled by much larger social and economic forces” (2008, 443)

This week, I watched an organization blindly insist that only people matter.  God help their leadership.


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About Sandy Reynolds

My personal blog that discusses the challenges of living by my values in the second half of life.

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