Orgaisation as Machine Metaphor

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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...
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