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9.2: Organizational Frames

  • Page ID
    5676
    • Anonymous
    • LibreTexts
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    Schools, of course, are social organizations; they comprise multiple and diverse individuals who, ostensibly, are working to achieve the same strategic goals through the same logistic goals. The term “ostensibly” is appropriate when describing organizations as they tend to be filled with individuals who different perspectives on the purpose and the work of the organization. Bolman and Deal (2008) are explicit about the difficulty of managing organizations, "The world of most managers and administrators is a world of messes: complexity, ambiguity, value dilemmas, political pressures, and multiple consistencies. For managers whose images blind them to important parts of the chaotic reality, it is a world of frustration and failure (p. 41)."

    Bolman and Deal propose four organizational frames to help managers deconstruct what is happening in their organizations and then predict and explain the degree to which innovations or changes are accepted and sustained as well as the reasons they are accepted or rejected. Barriers to innovation, they claim, tend to arise within one of these frames and how a manager responds depends on which of these frames may be problematic. The nature of leadership that is necessary to promote acceptable and sustained innovation and change depends in large part on the frame within which the leader seeks to exert influence. By addressing potential problems, building capacity to address them, and increasing awareness of the problems and solutions within each frame, organizational leaders have a greater chance of being efficacious leaders than those who ignore these frames.

    Structural Frame

    Organizations exist to accomplish goals; the book is grounded in the assumption that schools exist to ensure students participate in the communication and information landscape that dominates their society so they have experience to continue that participation when they leave the school. (Remember I am a follower of John Dewey, so I believe “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”)

    Within the structural framework leaders seek to implement new structures with innovations; implicit in an innovation is the perception by members of the organization that structures are different from those that characterized their work previously. Innovations may increase efficiency, often after a period of decreased efficiency as the innovation becomes habit. Other innovations are designed to improve performance by more closely aligning the outcomes with the desired outcomes. In some instances, improved performance means accomplishing goals and engaging in activities that were not previously recognized as goals of the organization.

    Strategic goals are achieved by achieving logistic goals. Logistic goals, and the strategic goals they support, are achieved through the tools, methods, and procedures that comprise the structural frame including:

    • methods for dividing labor (efficacious educational technology depends on different expertise to decide what is appropriate, proper and reasonable);
    • controlling activities within groups assigned a responsibility and coordinating between different groups to connect the divisions of labor;
    • establishing hierarchy (different individuals should be allowed to override the others when designing educational technology).

    Especially in large and diverse organizations in which the logistic goals are only achieved by individuals who have greater expertise than others in the organizations, the division of labor and responsibility is more marked than it is in other organizations. Efficacious IT management is clearly an example of such a situation, so it is helpful for leaders to further deconstruct the structural frame in to components following Mintzberg’s (1979) typology:

    • Operating core which includes those individuals and structures that directly lead to the strategic goal; teachers are the primary personnel in the structural frame in schools and the materials they use are the primary resources in the operating core of schools.
    • Administrative component which includes those personnel whose role is to manage the operating core and structures they use. In schools, principals and other instructional leaders along with (for example) the system they use to evaluate teachers are among to structures that comprise this component.
    • Techncostructures includes those components of the structural frame that ensure the system is efficient and effective. In educational technology, this would include the technicians and network administrators along with CIO’s who maintain the IT infrastructure.
    • Support systems include those components of the structures designed to facilitate others’ work. The assistant who processes purchase orders for computer hardware is an example of the support systems that comprise the structural frame for educational technology.

    Improvements of the structural frame within each component lead to greater efficiency of its operation and the greater alignment with the its effectiveness in achieving those logistic goals that fall under the leadership and control of those with that expertise. In general, when innovations affect the operation of one single component, those leaders and members have greater autonomy in making decisions and deploying innovations.

    When decisions and innovations affect more than one component, coordination becomes more important to ensure the innovation is effective from multiple perspectives. Coordination depends in large part on effective horizontal communication. Efficacious IT management in schools depends on the participation of leaders from disparate groups, and they have a role in ensuring members of their organizations understand the rationale for the decision, and members have a responsibility for facilitating horizontal communication of structures within their domain to others.

    Consider IT managers who are implementing a new ticketing system to report and track malfunctioning devices. The IT professionals must ensure teachers and school leaders understand the importance of using it (a message that must come from all leaders in the school) and they must ensure the system is easy to use and known to all. It is only in this way that the techncostructure of the ticketing system can help the IT professionals support the operating core of the organization. Consider, also, the configuration of the student information system. How performance is recorded and scores and grades are calculated depends on the SIS being configured so that it reflects the grading policy of the school. This requires coordination between those with different types of expertise and different responsibilities to ensure the intended outcome is realized.

    Within the structural frame, procedural changes are common as those within a division of labor attempt to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. These changes are most likely to be accepted and adopted when there is clear alignment between the changes, the logistic goal, and the strategic goals of the organization. For many leaders, this becomes an exercise in backwards design (see Figure 8.2.1). This finds managers defining the logistic goals in collaboration with disparate leaders. In a manner aligned with progressive discourse (Bereiter, 2002), they define both the language of the goal and the observations that will confirm the goal has been met. Within the component of the structural frame, experts will design and improve structures to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

    Screenshot 2020-04-28 at 19.53.40.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Backwards design

    Teachers and other school professionals recognize that leaders who are newly hired in schools or central offices often seek to change practices for reasons unrelated to the efficient and effective operation of the structural frame. Consider the school principal who seeks to implement new procedures that have been effective in other schools where she was the principal. While making the changes may improve performance from her perspective or they may make the structure more familiar to her, they may be resisted by teachers and they may result in less effective school operation than the existing procedures.

    For technology-rich organizations, understanding change within the structural frame necessitates leaders and members differentiate that change needed to keep current and that change needed for procedural or transformative changes. Technology evolves. To ensure the information ones creates is compatible with that created by others and to ensure IT systems are compatible, they are updated and upgraded. Some of these changes may necessitate procedures and tools be updated simply to maintain the current level of functionality. While these may lead to more efficient use of IT resources, they generally are not perceived to be improvements in the structural frame by leaders or members of organizations.

    Human Resource Frame

    All actions taken by leaders, and especially those in which they attempt to innovate, have implications for the people who work within the organization. Organizations that are most successful at implementing procedural and transitional changes have employees and members who are fully engaged with the work. They both implement existing procedures as designed and they identify and they communicate methods whereby procedures can be improved; they approach transitional change in the same manner. They connect the purpose to the innovation and improve the pathways between the innovations and the new purpose. The human resource frame addresses those aspects of the organization that affect members’ motivation to participate in the changes.

    Generations of managers have assumed that individuals would work for pay (or other rewards) or to avoid punishments. While those do work to a limited degree, scholars are beginning to understand the importance of other aspects of work and personality that more accurately predict and explain participation and engagement in change efforts. Efficacious IT managers (and other leaders) now understand the importance of promoting innovations by motivating members and developing human resources in a more complete manner. Bolman and Deal (2008) identified several strategies for fully developing the human resource frame; some of these can be done with the existing human resources while others necessitate changes in staffing.

    Management can affect human resources by changing their expectations of members and changing how and why management interacts with members. Examples of these strategies include redesigning structures to align with goals they value and to seek and accept members’ feedback in refining structures to improve efficiency. Decisions and actions that members perceive to be the managers supporting their development as competent and contributing members of the organization can improve the human resources frame of organizations. These strategies do include some of the traditional factors thought to motivate, such as promoting from within the organization and increasing salaries. In most educational institutions, many compensation structures are established by negotiated contracts with unions, and many advancement opportunities require additional licenses. Further, teachers who assume leadership roles often find they have less time for their regular duties, so they are less motivated by these strategies than members of other organizations.

    Managers can also improve the performance of the human resources frame by articulating a clear vision around supporting employees as valued contributors to the organization. In some cases, the human resources frame can only be improved by changing the individuals who work in the organization. This is especially true when disruptive changes are underway, and the organization cannot continue with those who reject the new purpose of the organization or those who do not have the knowledge, skill, or propensity to adopt and adapt to essential innovations. This is described as adopting a philosophy towards human resources, but in many ways the vision of human resources frame has symbolic implications. This vision also informs hiring decisions, and managers improved the human resources frame by hiring individuals with the personal qualities that are amenable to adopting and accepting change and innovation. One important aspect of hiring IT professionals is also ensuring there is a match between the technology skills of the individual and the expectations of the job.

    Argyris and Schön (1996) suggested leaders who adopt a stance towards communication that combines advocacy and inquiry are perceived as effective in implementing change while respecting important aspects of human resources. Through advocacy, leaders attempt to implement change and they are either assertive or passive. Through inquiry, leaders seek to understand others’ perspectives on situations. In this model, the leaders who are most effective seek to be integrative, both understanding and assertive; they implement change while accommodating others to the extent possible.

    When adopting an integrative stance, leaders do find a role for both the formal and informal participation of the members of the organization in decision-making. This requires leaders to provide sufficient structure that the process does not become a “turf-war” or that irrelevant factors affect decisions. It also requires the leader provide a sufficiently clear goal. When defining goals and processes, however, leaders can become imposing which threatens the participation that is necessary to improve the human resource frame of organizational innovation.

    Political Frame

    All human organizations are political; they comprise individuals and groups who are largely motivated by self-interest as they advocate the organization support a particular set of decisions and actions. Self-interest is grounded in the different values and beliefs held by individuals as well as different interpretations of information which are affected by those beliefs and values. Political advocacy is necessary as organizations have limited resources, so there are debates and negotiations that influence decision-making about which problems will be solved and which aspects of the structural frame will be improved. This is the situation from which the political frame of organizations innovation arises.

    Implicit in the political frame is power and partisanship. Some individuals and the groups to which they belong have greater influence and authority to make decisions than others and partisans are those with lesser power who support the recommendation of others. These, of course, are dynamic characteristics within organizations; individuals or groups can gain or lose power depending on changes in how partisans align their support and other factors including changes in governance. Differences in political power are also consistent with many decision-making processes especially in IT, which finds those who use the systems (and who must find them efficient and effective) and those with expertise in building the systems are different.

    Power does arise from various sources including the position one holds; in schools, the superintendent typically has the greatest authority and reports to the publically elected officials who govern the school. Efficacious IT managers will likely find it necessary to defer to the superintendent as the arbiter of political disputes. These leaders also tend to derive power from the ability to control which decisions are made, how the problems are framed, and what solutions are deemed acceptable. In addition to the superintendent, other school leaders derive political power from their offices, but power derived form position tends to be the most tenuous.

    Expertise and the capacity to solve the problems faced by the organization (and that are deemed important and unsolved by leaders) is another source of power. Increasingly expertise is determined by the nature and extent of one’s professional network as it is a source of strategies and approaches to problems that one has yet to encounter. Reputation is largely grounded in one’s expertise and the extent to which others are aware of one’s expertise; this awareness is also extended through a wide network.

    All leaders and members, including those who hold political power through their office, can extend and expand their political power by negotiating coalitions. An individual who holds expertise that is needed by others gains power and can enter into partisan relationships with others, thus those who are politically less powerful can gain power by forming their relationships. Astute political leaders will attempt to form partisanship alliances with individuals whose sources of power complete those of the leader. Because of the benefits one can gain, the ability to negotiate these partisan relationships is a source of political power that can be improved.

    Leaders who seek to promote organizational innovation improve capacity within the political frame by encouraging large coalitions of individuals and group who both support and participate in implementing the changes beyond compliance. Referring to those within organizations who are less powerful due to position, Bolman and Deal (2008) observed, “They accept direction better when they perceive the people in authority to be credible, competent, and sensible” (p. 219). Leaders who have engaged members are more likely to receive accurate and complete feedback from members who are more autonomous.

    Political conflict can be a barrier to innovation and even destructive to many aspects of organizations, especially the human resources frame. Efficacious leaders, including IT managers in schools, will recognize the political frame of decision-making, and they will negotiate to leverage collaboration among the stakeholders so that leaders access more complete expertise and those with valuable expertise gain political power. Effective political leaders also develop their own expertise so they are in a better position to evaluate their own expertise and to understand the recommendations of others.

    Symbolic Frame

    Actions, events, and situations can all have meaning for individuals. In organizations, these meanings determine in large part the emotional and intellectual connections members make to the organization and its purposes and goals. These contribute in an important way to the motivation of members to participate in innovative change. Leaders can develop the symbolic frame to affect how members connect to and identify with the organization, and the extent to which they value and contribute to improving efficiency and efficiency, as well as the collations to which they belong.

    The symbolic frame is grounded in the themes that people use to organize ambiguous and unclear situations. Culture and its components such as faith, myths, values, and rituals, all contribute to how the symbolic frame is instantiated. Efficacious leaders who seek to affect the symbolic frame will often craft myths and stories to describe their organizations or their vision for what the organization will become. In many cases these begin as myths, and the organization in fact does not reflect the myth. Over time, as innovations in the structural, human resource, and political frames become aligned with the symbolic vison of the leaders, the vision becomes realized.

    A common criticism of leaders who focus on the symbolic frame is that they are “all talk, but no action,” as the symbolic frame is often communicated in grand-sounding, but nebulous, terms. The translation of symbolic language into a clear vision and path is accomplished by defining individuals and the actions of individuals who represent the symbol. This embodiment of the symbols can both demonstrate to members that the vision contained in the symbol is possible and the members can identify with the actions. This allows members to identify a connection to the goals of the innovation which Heath and Heath (2010) observe provides the motivation for change.


    9.2: Organizational Frames is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.


    9.2: Organizational Frames is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gary Ackerman.

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