Root Metaphors as an Aid to Understanding Organizational Behaviour

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Robert Allen 11500024
Root metaphors as an aid to understanding organizational behaviour and their relevance to organizations in a knowledge based economy. Introduction
The use of root metaphors to provide insight into organizations seems to be seen as a useful if limited way of understanding their complex natures (Morgan, 1997) (Andriesson, 2008), which may have been more suited to the industrial age. The rise of the Knowledge Based Economy (KBE) and post-industrial organizations pose further challenges to the effectiveness of root metaphors when attempting to understand organizations in what is now generally recognised as fast paced (Bart, Victor, and Stephens 1994), sometimes chaotic environments where knowledge and technology are seen as key drivers and understanding the present is as difficult as predicting the future. When faced with such uncertainty it could be argued that root metaphors are of limited use in understanding Knowledge Based Organizations (KBO) that are categorized as ambiguous, flexible, autonomous entities without mechanistic command and control structures (Handy, 1996) (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Beckhard 1997).Alternatively, the prevalence and longevity of these metaphors may indicate that they can still contribute to understanding organizational behaviour in a KBE. This paper will explore these positions with reference to Bentley Motors an organization that it can be argued is operating in a KBE. Discussion

At the heart of the machine metaphor is a set of assumptions and beliefs about the organization it attempts to describe, broadly concerned with quantifiable outputs, efficiency and structure, command and control and a prevalence for seeing people as a source of muscle not brain power (Town, 2011). On the face of it these assumptions would suggest that the machine metaphor has a limited use in a KBE as described by amongst others (Drucker, 1997) and (Champy, 1997) with their emphasis on an inherent flexibility to embrace change and uncertainty and a need to encourage knowledge networking (Sommerville & Mroz, 1997). However, there is evidence to suggest that the machine metaphor still has a contribution to make in the post-industrial era (Kilduff, 2001) (Hatch, 1997).

It is suggested that neo-classicist theorists such as (Barnard, 1938), and (Selznick, 1948) et al refined the machine metaphor, extended its relevance, and added to its longevity and application to KBO. If one takes a standpoint that the advance of the KBE brings with it additional pressures on the modern knowledge based worker including the need to be hypercompetitive and hyper productive when insecurity is a constant (Hammer, 1997) then the machine metaphor still has an important contribution to make. It can be argued that the work of the classical theorists (Taylor, 1916) et al is just as relevant today when applied to the ‘Bentley Associate’. Every single component of a Bentley is filed on computer in minute detail and can be tracked back through each stage of its development (Bentley Website, 2011).

Case study

In 2001, Volkswagen instructed Bentley to raise annual production within five years from 1000 to 10,000 cars. Bentley introduced the Bentley Production System (BPS) based on lean manufacturing and kaizen principles. Employees were rebranded as ‘Bentley Associates’. They had “to look at every line, every seat cell and every sub cell, at every line operation as part of the implementation” (Remaking the legend, 2007). The machine metaphor appears to be relevant, in this case boundaries are clearly delineated, tasks and processes are defined. “Team leaders video their processes, and along with the kaizen leader, look at how they can improve their processes relative to quality and productivity” (Remaking the legend, 2007). ‘Associates’ are placed where they can most efficiently be used. Power and authority are clear, and management’s job is to produce the most that the organization is capable of producing....
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