INDIVIDUAL PAPER 1: Applying the Machine Metaphor Metaphors are often used in order to analyse organisations and theories of management by helping us to see and understand in a distinctive yet partial way (Morgan, 2006). The use of metaphors allows us to understand something by comparing it to an experience to which we are familiar. Akin & Palmer (2000 p 69) further explain the effectiveness of metaphors saying they “are integral to our language. It is through metaphors that we communicate. ”
When using metaphors Morgan (2006) explains although they can create valuable insights we need to be aware that they can produce one-sided insight, create distortions, be incomplete, biased and possibly misleading. During times of organizational change, metaphors can be particularly useful as stated by Akin & Palmer (2000 p 67) “A wide variety of metaphors have been applied to organizations, and the use of metaphors for diagnosis and intervention has become common for many organizational change agents”.
Grey (2009 p 97) also confirms the use of metaphor during change but with a more cynical tone by writing “organization theory typically looks from, or through, a number of metaphors which have the effect of legitimizing the fetish of change” A metaphor commonly used is for organizational analysis is organisation as machine, which Grey (2009) explains is the most longstanding of metaphors. Although the mechanistic society is evident in the earliest forms of organisation, the invention of machines along with the industrial revolution was when organisations really became mechanized due to organisations needing to adapt to the needs of machines. Morgan 2006) Most organizations that are designed to operate like machines are called bureaucracies and to some degree most organizations behave like machines in at least some areas of the business explained Morgan (2006). Behaving as a bureaucracy is not always ideal as Warwick (1974) explains bureaucracy is a concept where most members feel like they have no control over processes within the organisation and are nothing more than subordinates. This is a weakness of operating like a machine and will be discussed in further detail later.
A “machine view” of organization focuses on organization as the relationship between structures, roles, and technology” (Morgan, 1993 p 80) In order to further explore this view of a machine metaphor and the strengths and weaknesses of it within organisations we will look at a real life organisation Coles to examine its machine like systems and functions. Coles is a large supermarket chain owned by Wesfarmers limited that has been operating in Australia for over 90 years. Today Coles is a leader in Australian food retailing, with more than 100,000 employees and over 11 million customer transactions a week. Coles Website, 2012). Within Coles many systems are operated in a mechanized way, which can be described as an advantage, due to the effect these processes have on improving productivity and efficiency. There are also disadvantages with this approach, which can have the opposite effect of actually decreasing productivity through the very means that they were designed to make more efficient. Some of these strengths and weaknesses will now be discussed. “Workers in McDonaldized systems function efficiently following steps in a redesigned process.
They are trained to work this way by managers, who watch over them closely to make sure that they do. ” (Ritzer 2000 p 12) This is also true within the Coles organisation and can be considered a strength in relation to ensuring the safety of both the employees and customers within the Coles environment. For example rules regarding food handling hygiene need to be strictly adhered to in order to ensure the highest standard is maintained which will result in customers consuming products do not become sick.
Also rules regarding safety such as mopping up spills immediately and using the correct equipment when stacking shelves serve an important purpose in making sure that no injuries occur. In these circumstances a mechanical process would be ideal. In mechanistic organisations the employees are “Trained to do a limited number of things in precisely the way they are told to do them” (Ritzer 2000 p 14) This can be an advantage within an organisation when it is used to ensure consistency so that no matter what Coles a customer shops in they know exactly what to expect.
Coles also has very strict policies and procedures in place that employees are expected to follow and not challenge. Ritzer (2000 p 12) explains the advantage of this is that “Organizational rules and regulations help ensure highly efficient work. ” The alternative view to this aspect of mechanical operating is that it can stifle creativity and innovation, causing the organisation to become stagnated and outdated as no new ideas are introduced.
As Morgan (2006) explains that rather than taking an interest in what they are doing, by encouraging people to obey orders and not ask questions they are creating employees who are careless and can display a lack of pride which can have a severely negative effects on an organisation like Coles who needs its front line staff to deliver a high level of customer service to gain a competitive advantage. “Foucault developed the idea that modernity has encouraged us to discipline ourselves and each other. (Mowles 2011 p 132) he was not in favour of this and explains this is a form of control as the result of a disciplinary society. Within organisations like Coles this social surveillance is achieved by using the mechanistic approach that has the ability to develop organisations into a mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy. In the eyes of management this may seem ideal as they feel that they have control when in reality can have extremely negative effects on productivity as it produces a feeling of confinement and employees are less likely to take the risks required to help organisations grow and mature.
Nonhuman technology like cash register, automatic slicer, electronic price tickets machines replacing people in order to eliminate the risk of human error. Ritzer (2000 p 16) presents a very interesting view regarding the use of this technology, which is that “rational systems serve to deny human reason” this highlights the fact that machines are not free thinking. For example at a self serve checkout the machine cannot always carry out their required task when something out of the ordinary occurs like a product scanning at the incorrect price.
Machines can only be trusted to a certain extent and the need for their output to be verified by humans still needs to be heavily relied upon. “People tire quickly of repetitive work and standardized procedures” (Bolman & Deal, 2003 p 81) so how do you motivate them without undermining the consistency and uniformity required is a question that must be asked in order to achieve the required balance between using mechanistic practices without dehumanizing the employees causing productivity to actually decrease. Machine bureaucracies have large support staffs and a sizable technostructure, with many layers between the apex and operating levels” (Bolman & Deal, 2003 p 80). This mechanic style is illustrated in an organisation like Coles where there is a head office that dictates many of the processes that all the independent stores must follow regardless of their individual situations. This often causes a disconnect between the local managers and headquarters who don’t understand the differences required in some locations. The decisions from the head office don’t always match the needs of individual units.
This represents the inflexibility of a machine structure as the head office uses data that has been collated to make decisions without taking into account or allowing the human aspect to be considered. Akin & Palmer (2000) explain the machine metaphor suggests that when a problem occurs that in order for things to go back to how they were something is broken and must be repaired or replaced. When the problem is a human being repairing or replacing becomes a much more complicated process and too often organisations begin to view the employees as replaceable parts of the machine, which can have an extremely damaging effect.
From experience the notion that employees are replaceable is one area that Coles behaves like a machine by employing a large number of casual staff so that they are able to simply replace anyone that may become a problem rather than concentrating on resolving the problem through training or job rotation. There is no development or succession planning set up for this group of casual employees. This can have a negative impact on productivity as they have a high turn over rate and constantly have to train new people along with decreasing morale among the group.
In review it can be concluded that in certain situations like emergency responses and when tasks are routine, predictable and straight forward mechanization may be the best solution in order to improve efficiency and control output. It needs to be noted that if this mechanical style encompasses every aspect of the role it can lead to a dehumanizing effect on the employee and stifle innovation and creativity which could ultimately lead to decreased productivity. Morgan (2006 p 31) argues, “modes of mechanistic organization are coming under increasing attack because of their rigidities and other dysfunctional consequences. Therefore it is important that only certain tasks and situations operate like a machine rather than every element of a role or every process in the organisation to ensure there is a balance, which will assist the organisation to be productive while retaining a human element. In reflection it may be in the organisations best interest to explore other ways of operating before resulting to implementing work practices that imitate the machine metaphor.
Reference List Akin, G & Palmer, I 2000, Putting Metaphors to Work for Change in Organizations in Organizational Dynamics, Winter 2000. Bolman, L & Deal, T 2003, Reframing Organizations, 3rd Edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Company history c. 2012, Coles Supermarket, viewed 24 August 2012, Grey, C 2009, A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about Studying Organizations (2nd ed). Sage Publications, California. Morgan, G 2003, Imaginization, Sage Publications, California. Morgan, G 2006, Images of Organization, Sage Publications, California. Mowles, C 2011, Rethinking management : radical insights from complexity science Ritzer, G 2000, An Introduction to McDonaldization, Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, California,