AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This postulation is devoted to: The Allah, my Creator and my Master, and envoy,Mohammed (May Allah favor and give him), who showed us the motivation behind life. Mycountry Pakistan, the hottest womb; Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad; my second wonderful home; My awesome guardians, who never quit giving of themselves in incalculable ways, My dearest friend Noaman Akbar, who drives me through the valley of dimness with light of trust and support, My cherished siblings and sisters; especially my dearest sibling, who remains by me when things look disheartening, My beloved Parents: whom I can’t compel myself to quit loving. All the general population in my life who touch my heart, I commit this research.
A review of managerial literature highlights the crucial importance of shared culture and common schemes of interpretation in organizational learning. Since the early ‘50s, learning appeared to be a basic feature of corporate life, and its organizational forms have been studied from many standpoints and conceptualized in different ways in organizational theory. The ever growing literature demonstrates the empirical and theoretical richness of the concept of organizational learning and, later on, of the learning organization. The interpretative and sense making approaches of organizational learning insert themselves deeply in the process of the construction of social uniformity and cognitive homogeneity. Individual learning, culture, beliefs and rationality – the shared mental models – are the targets of confirmation processes. Thus, this specific kind of organizational learning cannot be considered as normatively neutral, but as a political process. A case study of a bank illustrates that organizational learning can be based on a structured social construction of cognitive homogeneity which generates an increase of control and enhances power of the management by reinforcing the legitimacy of decisions. However, this case study also shows that learning and non-learning are the two faces of the same process or, in other words, that organizational learning can produce unawareness and unintentional nonearning by too much cultural uniformity. The aim of this paper is to provide a critical examination of underlying processes involved in applications of organizational learning theory, i.e. some interventionists’ conception of the learning organization. It presents a three-fold sociological analysis. In the first part, managerial organization theory and consultants’ writings within the interpretative perspective of organizational learning processes will be reviewed and analysed. Then a theoretical framework based on concepts such as power, domination and control will be proposed. In a third part, empirical work will be reviewed, in order to illustrate the processes by which some unanticipated and unwelcome consequences of the very act of building a learning organization can appear in the long run. The empirical findings presented show that the interpretative perspective of organizational learning rarely works successfully for the organization as a whole. Interpretative stakes and schemes of sense making are as a rule shared by only some team members or groups of subordinates. Since interpretation appears as politically connoted and since beliefs are part of the imperative to obey, sense making in an organization seems closely related to domination.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control Since the early ‘50s, learning appeared to be a basic feature of corporate life, and its organizational forms have been studied from many standpoints and conceptualized in different ways in organizational theory. The ever growing literature demonstrates the empirical and theoretical richness of the concept of organizational learning and, later on, of the learning organization. At first glance, it might seem surprising that despite this diversity, organizational learning has rarely been studied in view of such fundamental concepts as power and control, important for understanding organizations as well as social life. Managerial writings on this topic are usually typologies of a non-questioned phenomenon or the approaches confine themselves to a dysfunctional view of illegitimate power. The omission of the power component of organizational learning may be considered as a constitutive aspect of organization theory, since a basic feature of its mechanistic/organic paradigm is to address power in the restrictive terms of influence or leadership style, and to picture management only as a technical, politically neutral activity. Rather, according to a political/cultural perspective, we conceptualize management as a reflexive social action the essence of which is power over people and power through people. The aim of this paper is to provide a critical examination of underlying processes involved in applications of organizational learning theory, i.e. some interventionists’ conception of the learning organization. It presents a three-fold sociological analysis. In the first part, managerial organization theory and consultants’ writings within the interpretative perspective of organizational learning processes will be reviewed and analysed. Then a theoretical framework based on concepts such as power, domination and control will be proposed. In a third part, empirical work will be reviewed, in order to illustrate the processes by which some unanticipated and unwelcome consequences of the very act of building a learning organization can appear in the long run. Briefly summarizing the approach developed here, one can state that:
- In the voluntaristic kind of organizational learning, the capacity for building a learning organization rests upon managerial power.
- Organizational learning, as a process involving others, has to be strictly and continuously monitored in order to ensure its realization and to keep control over it.
- Monitoring of sense making processes requires a reinforcement of managerial control and organizational surveillance for the gathering of relevant information.
- Development of organizational shared mental models (sense making processes) is a social construction that tends to produce cognitive homogeneity.
- Shared mental models are not politically neutral, since social conformity enhances the leaders’ legitimacy and, consequently, power (and „managerial comfort“). Thus, it has to be analysed as an ideology.
- Organizational learning through shared mental models can impede learning in the long run, by „blinding“ the organization (with collectively bounded rationality) in which the non-conforming views are treated as illegitimate because based on ideas that are different from the dominant ones.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control The empirical findings presented show that the interpretative perspective of organizational learning rarely works successfully for the organization as a whole. Interpretative stakes and schemes of sense making are as a rule shared by only some team members or groups of subordinates. Since interpretation appears as politically connoted and since beliefs are part of the imperative to obey, sense making in an organization seems closely related to domination. The functionalist assumption of organizational consensus that stands behind some trends of the organizational learning methodology appears rather incompatible with the structural reality of political and cultural disparities. Confronted with the imperative to share the normative system of the dominant group members of the organization could resort to technical or organizational subcultures in order to save their endangered collective identities. As a result, conflicts of meaning between hierarchical levels and a kind of cultural and ideological „schism “within the organization can be engendered.
Therefore, one may consider that power is applied to culture through the seemingly political neutrality of dialogue. An example for this perspective can be found in the following anecdote: „The frequent complaint one hears from CEOs (is) that, even though they have a lot of power and authority, they have great difficulty getting their programs implemented. They complain that things are not understood, that goals seem to change as they get communicated down the hierarchy, or that their subordinates „screw up“ because they don’t really under- stand what is wanted“ (Schein 1993: 50; our emphasis). One can hardly be more explicit about the aim of changing culture: effective power and obedience, on the basis of shared culture and recognition of ideological legitimacy. As we will see later, this new form of legitimacy consists of inducing the subordinates (or team members) to adopt and internalize as their own the constraints, rationality, goals and, more generally, beliefs and ideas of the leader or their superior. The managerial writings of Peter Singe can be used as a significant example of the power-related underlying assumptions of this form of organizational learning (or learning organization) model. Those assumptions can be grasped from his very first definitions of learning: „Learning is the process of enhancing our capacity for effective action “which is, according to Clegg, a form of social power – and, in the same way, „a learning organization is a group of people continually enhancing their capacity to create what they want to create (1991: 42) or „their capacity to create the results they truly desire“. Drawing from Giddens’ theory of allocative resources (1984), one can associate this capacity for action to managerial power. In order to understand the power-related assumptions of this mechanistic view, the critical paradigm seems to be adequate to analyse its hidden logic. Theoretical approaches and empirical research have shown that a fundamental principle of power (and domination) is its invisibility. It has to disappear in order to be efficient, to make the will realized. It has to be silenced to persist. Thus, power can disappear in the impersonality of the rules, be disembodied in technology (Giddens 1984), or be negated by the discourse (Bourdieu 1982). As Schein (1993) uses the politically neutral concept of dialogue similarly, Singe refers to primitive cultures in which the leaders only power is to talk. However, anthropologists have shown that the basis of legitimacy in such cultures are quite different from those of organizations in contemporary complex societies.4 By making this analogy between corporate heads and „primitive“ leadership, Senge in effect contributes to the silencing of actual power structure, thus reinforcing it and its legitimacy.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control Despite the diversity of organizational learning theories (Fiol and Lyles 1985; Huber 1991), metaphors (Tsoukas 1993, Gherardi 1996) and models (Shrivastava 1983; Dodgson 1993), it is actually possible to find relative agreement among authors on the core importance of shared culture or common schemes of interpretation in the process of collective learning, even though there is still confusion about what is really organizational learning (Weick 1991).1 That is, drawing from Daft and Huber’s (1987) distinction between systems-structural and interpretative perspectives in the analysis of organizational learning, processes of sensemaking are crucial for learning if we consider them as related to decision making processes (Schneider and Angelmar 1993) on the one hand, and to decentralisation, delegation, and autonomy necessary to knowledge activities on the other hand. Building a learning organization is not a random process but a voluntaristic project (Pucik 1988), that needs leadership to exist, to be achieved (Greiner and Schein 1988). It is a rational and target-oriented process that generally responds to the ideology of progress (maximisation, optimisation, etc). Learning is usually viewed as „a key for competitiveness“ (Garatt 1987) and for organizational effectiveness (Schön 1975). Its aim is usefulness: „Essentially, learning can be seen to have occurred when organizations perform in changed and better ways. The goals of learning are useful outcomes“ (Dodgson 1993: 378). Therefore, learning does not just appear by itself, it is a social product and has to be created by leaders who „hold the keys“. Thus, in the interpretative perspective where sensemaking is the mainspring of learning, subjectivity and power seem closely interwoven: „organizational learning occurs through shared insight, knowledge, and mental models. (…) change is blocked unless all of the major decision makers learn together, come to share beliefs and goals, and are committed to take the actions necessary for change“ (Stata 1989: 64). Argyris and Schön’s (1974) well-known distinction between single-loop and double-loop learning and between model I and model II does not need presentation here. The authors’ position is that organizational learning is impeded by the discrepancy between individuals’ espoused theories (what they say) and theories-in-use (what they do)2 which causes „fancy footwork“ and organizational defense patterns (Argyris 1990). For Argyris (1993a), as for most of his followers, a stake of organizational learning is to make explicit tacit and instinctively understood ideas. Double-loop learning may occur after „surfacing fundamental assumptions and gaining insight into why they arise“ (Isaacs 1993: 26). By making explicit „tacit thought (and) underlying thinking“ (Isaacs 1993: 31) by dialogue and confrontation, it is possible – so the argument – to create learning through changing the „rules about how to interact“ (Argyris 1990). This point of view is clearly based on the assumption of the political neutrality of interaction and of dialogue. This neutrality refers to a functionalist paradigm in which the political inequality of actors and the power-influence relations that define and structure to some extent at least the organizational interactions remain unconsidered. Therefore, this politically neutral paradigm is only partly applicable to the organizational life. According to social theory and especially to Giddens (1984) and Goffman (1959), the social agent who can define the rules of interaction exerts power on others and conditions the object of social control. This seems to be particularly true for hierarchical relations prevalent in most organizations since the interpretative process is embedded into the structural inequality of power and legitimacy among actors. So, becoming a learning organization means changing patterns of thinking (Senge 1990a), a process which „inherently involves the questioning of one’s values“ (Argyris 1983: 355) and self-identity (Weick 1995). Individuals have to give up their theory-in-use (Argyris and Schön 1975; Argyris 1990) and adopt beliefs, values, norms, premises and rationality that form the culture (Schein 1985) promoted in the organizational ideology (Beyer 1981). If organizational learning relies on shared visions, this can only happen when individual mental models or cognitive maps converge.3 This shared view of the world implies a similar process of sensemaking (Weick 1995) that links subjective viewpoints (beliefs, values) and rationality. As Nicolini and Meznar (1995: 741) argue, the organizational social construction of learning is one of the channels through which the managerial cognitive perspective and interpretation of the world is imposed as the exclusively relevant view and becomes the dominant way of acting and enacting. In this kind of learning, the collective sensemaking process – a specific way of grasping problems and developing creative responses – emerges from a relative homogeneity of individuals’ subjectivity. According to Schneider and Angelmar (1993), convergence of cognition is the condition for consensus among top management teams. In this sense, the building of a learning organization may be interpreted as a purposive structured change which represents a social construction of cognitive and sensemaking homogeneity. However, in order to understand this power-related process of instrumentalisation of culture, it appears necessary to analyse the relationship between culture and learning. The growing use of the interpretative perspective in organizational learning can be considered as corresponding to the „organizational culture“ trend (Lawson and Ventris 1992). In fact, the proposed definitions of organizational culture are sometimes the same as those of the organizational learning process: shared beliefs and values (Deal and Kennedy 1982), shared meanings (Smircich 1983), shared interests (Young 1989) or shared ways of perceiving and thinking (Allaire and Firsirotu 1984; Meek 1988). Schein (1985) proposes an integrated theory of culture and learning in which culture is defined as collective mental models, the assumptions of which being deeply influenced by values and beliefs. He describes three levels in organizational culture: the cultural artefacts (dress codes, ways of talking, etc), the espoused values, and the shared underlying assumptions. It is on the third level that organizational learning may take place. But Schein cannot ignore that culture and power are related in organizations. Since learning has to be implemented and depends on culture, it becomes a target for power („leadership is intertwined with culture formation“). A core function of management is the „cultural shaping“ – the social construction – of the organization. Building an organization’s culture and shaping its evolution is the „unique and essential function“ of leadership (Schein 1985). Some authors are even more explicit about the instrumentalisation of culture. It has to be controlled (Kilmann and Saxton 1985) and become efficient (Ouchi and Wilkins 1983), but can be a source of alienation, too (Lincoln and Kalleberg (1990). In later works, Schein (1993) – as well as Isaacs (1993) – stresses the virtues of dialogue and addresses „communication failures and cultural misunderstandings“ as indicators of differences between organizational subcultures. For the author, organizational effectiveness will „increasingly hinge on the ability to develop an overarching common language and mental model. […] Any form of organizational learning, therefore, will require the evolution of shared mental models that cut across the subcultures of the organization“ (Schein 1993: 41). Since this evolution „is inhibited by current cultural rules“ (1993: 31) – the entropy of the „preservation of form“ (Lovell and Turner 1988: 416-17) – the „unique and essential function“ of the leadership is to change the cultural rules of communication and common understanding, i.e. the nature of culture and identity. Therefore, one may consider that power is applied to culture through the seemingly political neutrality of dialogue. An example for this perspective can be found in the following anecdote: „The frequent complaint one hears from CEOs (is) that, even though they have a lot of power and authority, they have great difficulty getting their programs implemented. They complain that things are not understood, that goals seem to change as they get communicated down the hierarchy, or that their subordinates „screw up“ because they don’t really under- stand what is wanted“ (Schein 1993: 50; our emphasis). One can hardly be more explicit about the aim of changing culture: effective power and obedience, on the basis of shared culture and recognition of ideological legitimacy. As we will see later, this new form of legitimacy consists of inducing the subordinates (or team members) to adopt and internalise as their own the constraints, rationality, goals and, more generally, beliefs and ideas of the leader or their superior. The managerial writings of Peter Senge can be used as a significant example of the power-related underlying assumptions of this form of organizational learning (or learning organization) model. Those assumptions can be grasped from his very first definitions of learning: „Learning is the process of enhancing our capacity for effective action“ (Senge 1991: 39) – which is, according to Clegg (1989) and Coopey (1995), a form of social power – and, in the same way, „a learning organization is a group of people continually enhancing their capacity to create what they want to create (1991: 42) or „their capacity to create the results they truly desire“ (Senge 1990a: 3). Drawing from Giddens’ theory of allocative resources (1984), one can associate this capacity for action to managerial power. In order to understand the power-related assumptions of this mechanistic view, the critical paradigm seems to be adequate to analyse its hidden logic. Theoretical approaches (Foucault 1977) and empirical research (Filion 1994) have shown that a fundamental principle of power (and domination) is its invisibility. It has to disappear in order to be efficient, to make the will realised. It has to be silenced to persist. Thus, power can disappear in the impersonality of the rules (Clegg 1981), be disembodied in technology (Giddens 1984), or be negated by the discourse (Bourdieu 1982). As Schein (1993) uses the politically neutral concept of dialogue (in Habermas’ sense [White 1988] but not in Foucault’s), similarly, Senge refers to primitive cultures in which the leader’s only power is to talk (Senge 1991: 42). However, anthropologists (Clastres 1974) have shown that the basis of legitimacy in such cultures are quite different from those of organizations in contemporary complex societies.4 By making this analogy between corporate heads and „primitive“ leadership, Senge in effect contributes to the silencing of actual power structure, thus reinforcing it and its legitimacy. Because „organizations face today the ever-growing complexity of the world“ (Senge 1990a), the challenge is to change „patterns of thinking“ through building new „mental models“ and „improving our internal pictures of how the world works“ (Senge 1990a: 174). This cultural change is similar to the concept that Schein alludes to. One should be „living life from a creative as opposed to a reactive viewpoint“ (Senge 1990a: 141). To come to this point, Senge proposes five steps to arrive to his „fifth discipline“: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, systems thinking. Personal mastery consists in „seeing reality objectively“ (1990a) and changing mental models is „making one’s thinking more open to the influence of others“ (1990a) so that it is possible to build a shared vision through dialogue and discussion. Yet, since the ontological nature of subjectivity (beliefs, ideas, assumptions about the world and the reality) consists in the truth for oneself, and since all subjectivities have equal value as soon as they are based on reason, who is right? Who can call on absolute legitimacy? Who can have the power to question other individuals’ mental models? The answer is, for the author, quite obvious: „the core leadership strategy is simple: be a model“ (Senge 1990a: 173). A model of humility? Schein (1993) pointed out how threatening such a position can be. On the contrary, in Senge’s model the leader is superior to the subordinates or the team members because „the first responsibility of a leader (…) is to define reality“ (1990b: 11). He is the prophet. We can understand this in terms of a four-step procedure. First, „the role of the leader as teacher starts with bringing to the surface people’s mental models of important issues“. Second, „leaders as teachers help people restructure their views of reality“ (Senge’s emphasis). Third, „influence people to view reality“, the one defined by the leader. Fourth, internalisation of the dominant mental model: „the vision becomes more real in the sense of a mental reality that people can truly imagine achieving“ (Senge 1990b: 12-13). With some of the new ways of re-organization of work and delegation of decision-making process, the threat of loosing power and authority is at stake since „local decision making and individual autonomy lead to management anarchy unless (…)“ (Senge and Sterman 1992: 137). According to Frerichs (1992), the goal is to build new alliances with the aim of minimising frictions. Delegation of decision-making as a means of organizational learning implies changing the mode of using power, not loosing power. Leaders – top management – have to find a new way to obtain obedience and to gain a new form of legitimacy. Here, the problem is clearly stated: „Just granting power, without some method of replacing the discipline and order that come out of a commandand-control bureaucracy, produces chaos“ (Senge et al. 1994: 14; our emphasis).
DATA COLLECTION METHODS
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control The theoretical framework presented above rests on empirical studies carried out by the first author in various types of organizations and using the interpretative paradigm of organizational learning. Despite important differences concerning technology, structure, product, culture and history among those organizations, undeniable similarities have been found as well relating to the underlying processes and implications of organizational learning and especially concerning aspects of power and control. In order to point out some unanticipated consequences of learning organization based on concretive control, the case of the Bank Central Back-Office (BCBO) will be presented here. The choice of this organization – part of one of the largest French banks – rested on its very special status: It had a key position in the bank’s global strategy which was to modernize the banking activities. The fieldwork has been done in two parts: the first wave of interviews was conducted around the mid 80s, one year after the arrival of the new general manager; the second part has been done four years later. Altogether, 120 interviews of at least two hours each have been conducted, ranging from the bank’s human resources manager to the „boy“ (who carries the checks and business papers), in accordance with the quotas method. In this two-steps procedure, we re-interviewed (at least) the same persons in order to analyse the The theoretical framework presented above rests on empirical studies carried out by the first author in various types of organizations and using the interpretative paradigm of organizational learning. Despite important differences concerning technology, structure, product, culture and history among those organizations, undeniable similarities have been found as well relating to the underlying processes and implications of organizational learning and especially concerning aspects of power and control. In order to point out some unanticipated consequences of learning organization based on concretive control, the case of the Bank Central Back-Office (BCBO) will be presented here. The choice of this organization – part of one of the largest French banks – rested on its very special status: It had a key position in the bank’s global strategy which was to modernise the banking activities. The fieldwork has been done in two parts: the first wave of interviews was conducted around the mid-80s, one year after the arrival of the new general manager; the second part has been done four years later. Altogether, 120 interviews of at least two hours each have been conducted, ranging from the bank’s human resources manager to the „boy“ (who carries the checks and business papers), in accordance with the quotas method. In this two-steps procedure, we re-interviewed (at least) the same persons in order to Analyse the social construction of cognitive homogeneity has been conceptualized by the new general manager as a political process comprising a structural and a cultural side. Both of them have been based on a view of management resting on value-based mutual trust and agreement (shared ideas) as a basis for co-operation and hierarchical relations. As a first step, the organizational structure has been deeply modified. Intermediate levels have been removed, the pyramidal structure being flattened from a six to a three level hierarchy. All operational departments were directly placed under the authority of the general manager to avoid „interferences “of intermediary levels or assistants and to ensure direct collective decision making. The aim of increasing „direct control “on the lower management level and to improve information and communication flows has also been an opportunity to transfer out of the BCBO (with full support from the head-office) staff members considered as „non-conform“, „bureaucratic“or „narrow-minded“; those judged as reluctant to learning, not willing to adopt the new ideas and to agree with the new dominant ideological view on management. The two specialized departments have been progressively „dried out “as multi-skilling took place in the other departments. Changes in the work process using computerized technology have been set up. Moreover, the operational functioning has been reorganized by introducing the delegation of both management and technical organization tasks.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control SWOT analysis (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats) is a strategy analysis tool. It combines the study of the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, a geographical area, or a sector, with the study of the opportunities and threats to their environment. As such, it is instrumental in development strategy formulation. The aim of the analysis is to take into account internal and external factors, maximizing the potential of strengths and opportunities, while minimizing the impact of weaknesses and threats.
SWOT analysis is usually prepared through meetings with the stakeholders or experts concerned with the strategy.
SWOT analysis can be used to identify possible strategic approaches. Although originally designed for planning, this tool is used in evaluation to ensure that the implemented strategy is appropriate to the situation described in the analysis. Thus, it may either be used for:
- Ex ante evaluations, in order to determine or check strategic approaches (such as in the drafting or evaluation of Country Strategy Programmes)
- Intermediary evaluations, in order to check the relevance of the programmes under evaluation, and if required, their coherence
- Ex post evaluations, in order to check the relevance and coherence of the strategy or the programme. Especially if this task was not undertaken during the development of the strategy or the programme
- If the focus of the analysis is the agency (for example, the European Commission), the object of the internal analysis is the agency, while the object of the external analysis is the country.
- If the main object of the analysis is the country, the internal analysis focuses on the country while the external analysis focuses on neighboring countries and the rest of the world.
- If the object of the analysis is a sector, every action carried out in this sector constitutes an internal factor, and the rest represent external factors.
Whatever the methodology, the preparation of meetings should include, as a minimum, documentary analysis and interviews with key resource people.
Planning how to select the group, its size and its possible division into subgroups (thematic, regional, types of actors, etc.) are also crucial at this stage.
Strengths are positive internal factors that are controlled by the organization, or the country, and which provide foundations for the future.
In contrast to the strengths, weaknesses are negative internal elements, which are controlled by the organization, and for which key improvements can be made.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control As SWOT analysis is based on the participants’ judgments, it is subjective and qualitative by nature. If the study of the strengths and weaknesses needs to be developed, 2 complementary tools can be used: resources audit and analysis of best practice (comparison within a country between what works and what is lacking, with respect to specific indicators).
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control Opportunities are the external positive possibilities which can be taken advantage of in the context of contemporary strengths and weaknesses. They are often beyond the influence of a country, or at the margins (for example, the evolution of international consumers’ taste concerning one of the country’s commodities, the improvement of the economy in a “client” country, the increase of Internet trade). Threats are difficulties, impediments, or external limitations which can prevent or impede the development of a country, or a sector (for example, the industry). Threats are often beyond the influence of a country, or at its margin (for example, consumers avoiding national products which are economically important for the country, large increases in energy prices, general decrease in the development assistance).
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control In this research, we have proposed a critical rereading of some managerial writings on the interpretative perspective of organizational learning. Our aim was to highlight how the premises of those theories rest upon a new form of domination in organizations based on the imperative of cognitive compliance. The role of ideology and the imperative of cognitive homogeneity as major means to obtain discipline in organizational settings appear to be the key for understanding this form of domination. The processes involved in the implementation of the interpretative concept of organizational learning insert themselves deeply in the procedures of control and are normatively loaded with the aim of producing social and cognitive homogeneity inside the organization. This seems to be a powerful way of stabilizing or enhancing the legitimacy of decisions. Consequently, organizational learning via cognitive compliance appears to be a particularly fitting methodology to cope with quickly and deeply changing environments without risking internal chaos or resistances. In fact, the power structure in organizations may be enhanced by interpretative and concretive control because it is generating knowledge on rationalities and subjectivities (Foucault 1980), and, therefore, control on individuals (Dahl 1986). However, a critical element is built into the process of organizational learning if it is conceptualized as making explicit tacit thoughts with the aim to form a common and unique mental model. By making mandatory ideological convergence of all members of the organization this form of concretive control undermines the very basis of concerted organizational action: individual identities and – at least – some diversity of (bounded) rationalities. Our empirical findings indicate that the conceptual distinction between systems-structural and interpretative perspectives in organizational learning (Daft and Huber 1987) appears to be partly inoperative since the social construction of cognitive homogeneity rests upon systems-structural aspect of management. Moreover, while concentrating on a maximum of homogeneity for power-related and management reasons, an organization may sacrifice its potentials for adaptation that are associated with diversity. The unintended consequence of cognitive homogeneity and hierarchical networking may force, in the long run, the organization to unlearn (in the sense of Hedberg, 1981) its own beliefs, values, cognitive patterns and underlying ideological assumptions and to restart from new premises. How can an organization avoid the „learning trap “and prevent to get caught up in too restrictive „cognitive tracks“? The wisdom of considering that power cannot rest for a long time on the control of interpretative schemes – or any cultural dimension- appears to be one of the best advises, because leadership is to stay of a political nature. If the leaders’ legitimacy has to be reinforced through the imperative of a „one track cognition “conforming to the dominant view of the world, the leadership practice may deserve a serious reappraisal. When being contradicted or isolated in one’s view of the world appears to be difficult to bear, it’s time for a critical self-evaluation. Learning to learn also means learning to doubt – and learning to fail – about one’s own certainties, about one’s own rationality. It also means to refrain from the deeply rooted desire to obtain from subordinates and team members full legitimacy and absolute recognition of one’s truth. This implies trusting others and others’ autonomy as well as admitting that being in a position of leading a group or a company does not mean having always the best view of the world and of reality. While it is seducing for the top managers to enlarge and reassure both their power and legitimacy through enforcing cognitive homogeneity, it may be wiser – at least on a longer term perspective – to institutionalize a kind of countervailing structures, e.g. union representatives/work councils. An alternative could also be to create so-called „weird think tanks“ and encourage their members to produce divergent visions based on radically different premises and rationalities as well as alternative interpretations of political and socio-economic environments. With entire freedom of thinking institutionally safeguarded against marginalization or sanctions the chances increase that organizations are able to catch up the right ideas at the right time. However, if, as it was stated at the beginning of this paper as a premise, management represents power over people and power through people, how can a countervailing structure or even a „weird think tank“ prevent from falling into the „cognitive trap“? The answer is maybe to make the power visible or, at least, to consider it as a basic feature of dialogue. To hold a dialogue, to understand others’ position and to make explicit everyone’s assumptions and tacit ideas does not automatically imply or assure agreement and the construction of a cognitive consensus. On the contrary, dialogue can also mean discussion on the basis of hardly reconcilable standpoints. Compromises are among the hallmarks of enlighten companies. Organizational learning theory rejoins here decision making theory. In contrast to the ideal of attaining optimal and perfect rationality in reality, only a bounded rationality is possible, bounded by available information but also by norms, values and ideas. Thus, one could consider organizational learning in a context in which different interests, cultures and rationalities articulate in the construction of compromises: temporary solutions to specific problems, collectively elaborated by specific actors agreed upon for an unknown but limited period.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control At the beginning, participation was voluntary, each group being handled by a „synergetic“ manager who had personally received his mandate from the general manager after being trained particularly concerning rhetoric skills and control of discussion. In fact, besides the official goal of knowledge creation, those discussion groups were targeted at three unstated aims: – To make explicit usually tacit assumptions in cognition processes of the participants and, therefore, to detect and publicly recognise the value-conforming actors; – to convince „in-between“ participants to join the leader’s position; – to ensure that decision-making processes in which the discussion groups were involved – and their results – are in conformity with the general orientation of the BCBO so as to consolidate the organizational coherence. Taking these various aspects, the knowledge creation process was from the very beginning targeted to confirm the dominant view in the organization. In daily life, the rise of autonomy – due to computerized technology and delegation of decision-making to the work teams – has been accompanied by increasing surveillance and control. Since most of the employees had about 20 years of seniority – which explains both the high level of competency and of „defensive footwork“ – the crucial stake for management was about preventing „divergent autonomy“, i.e. to make sure not to lose control over work teams.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control Arguing that it was necessary to „know everyone personally“, monitoring activities have been conducted in two ways: by hidden computerized control of the work as well as by direct (visual) and/or indirect (hearsay) surveillance. The basic rationale was the same: to detect and empower the conforming persons and to convince or to delegitimize the non-conforming ones. After all, the Bank Central Back-Office has been, according to our analysis, an excellent learning organization. Technical debugging and innovative changes were rapidly accomplished through collective problem-solving, and by the capacity of all involved persons – at least in the first years – to understand others’ assumptions, to push discussion forward and to develop creative ideas. AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control The involvement in quality circles and other structures was high and a sense of membership – of being part of something – progressively arose during the first two to three years, creating a stimulating emulation at all levels. Quality improvement were documented by significant decreases of the monthly rate of complaints from customers. The organization clearly learned and changed. But after almost four years of constant learning and improvement, the organization has tended to stabilize and, later on, started to „unlearn“: Unsolved problems being pushed away, new problems with corporate clients not being taken into account, people being less motivated and disagreement arising in decision-making processes in some departments at various levels. The reappearance of „already solved “problems puzzled the top management team which had not thought of the possibility of a cultural and political crisis. Blinded by part of the subordinates and other team members sharing the same view of the world, the general manager had not grasped the importance of the moaning from parts of the employees and their management teams. What had happened? The first unintended – and unwelcome – consequence of the management of a learning organization via “cognitive homogenization” was a feeling of mistrust appearing among more or less conforming actors due to the contradiction noticed between the official/ideological discourse on mutual trust and the reality of monitoring and control activities, even those that seemed justified.
AIOU Solved Project 8506 Power and Control For most of the employees and parts of management teams, autonomy meant autonomy and learning implied an opportunity to increase their know-how and their collective autonomy. This is why the feeling of a cultural mismatch progressively developed. To summarize the position of employees, learning, improving one’s own performance, doing a good job and actively working for the well-being of the company did not mean „being on the side of the boss“. As one of them said: „I am here to do the best I can. Not to be brain-washed and to think like the boss“. As a kind of counter-effect, learning reinforced collective identity formation among the groups of employees and among their direct managers. And since the political nature of the organization implies a structural inequality between strata of actors, subcultures were developing in contrast to the official political structure. Although unintended, this outcome should not be surprising: The process of forging an organizational/cognitive homogeneity has lead „naturally“ to a cultural crisis because the very foundation of this form of organizational learning is political domination.
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