External Perspective of Organizations: The Role of Management

We have emphasized the importance of contexts, or situational contingencies, as determinants of organizational behavior. We have attempted to question the internal perspective of organizational functioning and the concomitant belief in the omnipotence of individual administrative action. We have not, however, defined the role of the manager out of existence. It is important to conclude this introductory chapter by making explicit our view of the role of the manager within the theoretical perspective we are developing.

1. The Symbolic Role of  Management

As has been noted by others (e.g., Kelley, 1971; Lieberson and O’Connor, 1972), individuals apparently desire a feeling of control over their social environments. The tendency to attribute great effect to individual action, particularly action taken by persons in designated leadership positions, may be partially accounted for by this desire for a feeling of personal effectiveness and control. Thus, one function of the leader or manager is to serve as a symbol, as a focal point for the organization’s successes and failures—in other words, to personify the organization, its activities, and its outcomes. Such personification of social causation enhances the feeling of predictability and control, giving observers an identifiable, concrete target for emotion and action.

The idea that administrators serve symbolic functions is not novel. Mintzberg (1973), from detailed observations of managers, specifically listed symbolic activities, though he played down their importance. Gamson and Scotch (1964) have noted that the firing of baseball managers (and we might add, other managers in and out of sports) is a form of scapegoating, which, of course, requires a scapegoat. One of a manager’s legitimate roles is to serve as this symbol.

The symbolic role of administrators is, occasionally, constructed with elaborate ritual and ceremony. The inauguration of the president is an uncommon event invested with pomp and expectation. This even though three months earlier both voters and commentators were saying that there was no difference between the candidates. The ritual, however, is necessary.

Why organizations vary in the ritual they associate with their offices of power is little understood. One possibility is that more care and trouble is taken in selecting and installing organizational leaders when they do have influence. Another possibility is just the reverse. The very impotence of leadership positions requires that a ritual indicating great power be performed. People desire to believe in the effectiveness of leadership and personal action. When, in fact, administrators have only minor effects, it might be plausibly argued that ritual, mythology, and symbolism will be most necessary to keep the image of personal control alive. When the administrator really does make a difference and really does affect organizational performance, his effect will be obvious to all and there will be little need to make a show of power and control. It is only when the administrator makes little or no difference that some symbol of control and effectiveness is needed.

It is interesting to note that the ritual of the inauguration of American presidents has grown over time as the executive bureaucracy has grown. The president personally probably has come to have less and less effect on the basic operations of government, while the rituals associated with the office hgye increased in scope and grandeur.

That managers serve as symbols is not to deny their importance. Important social functions are served by the manipulation of symbols. The catharsis achieved by firing the unsuccessful football coach or the company executive, or by not reelecting some political figure, is too real to dismiss as unimportant. Those who remain in the organization are left with the hope that things will be improved. And, belief in the importance of individual action itself is reinforced—a belief which, even if not completely true, is necessary to motivate individuals to act at all.

The manager who serves as a symbol exposes himself to personal risks. He is accountable for things over which he has no control, and his personal career and fortunes may suffer as a consequence. The sportscasters’ cliche that managers are hired to be fired reflects a great amount of truth about all managers. One of the reasons for having a manager is to have someone who is responsible, accountable for the organizations activities and outcomes. If the manager has little influence over these activities or outcomes, it is still useful to hold him responsible. His firing itself may permit loosening some of the constraints facing the organization.

Since most organizational researchers have assumed that managers were the critical element in actual organizational outcomes, the symbolic role of management has been virtually neglected, except for the brief mention by Mintzberg (1973). We would argue that this is one of the more important functions of management, deserving of more explicit empirical attention.

2. The Possibilities of Managerial Action

Saying that managers are symbols to be held accountable does not suggest many purposeful actions for them; yet, there are many possibilities for managerial action, even given the external constraints on most organizations. Constraints are not predestined and irreversible. Most constraints on organizational actions are the result of prior decision making or the resolution of various conflicts among competing interest groups. For instance, the requirement for companies doing business with the government to develop (and, possibly, implement) affirmative action hiring plans for recruiting minorities and women did not suddenly materialize. This constraint has a lengthy history and resulted from the interaction of a variety of groups and individuals. The fact that a constraint exists indicates that sufficient social support has been mustered to bring it into existence. In the social context of organizations, behind every constraint there is an interest group that has managed to have that constraint imposed. Since this is the case, the constraint is potentially removable if it is possible to organize the social support and resources sufficient to remove it.

The social context of an organization is, itself, the outcome of the actions of social actors. Since many constraints derive from the actions of others, one important function of management is influencing these others as a means of determining one’s own environment. Organizations frequently operate on their environments to make them more stable or more munificent. One function of management, then, is to guide and control this process of manipulating the environment. Much of this book will describe just how organizations attempt to influence and control their social context.

Another component of managerial action involves both the recognition of the social context and constraints within which the organization must operate and the choice of organizational adjustments to these social realities. Even when there is no possibility for managerial alteration of the social environment, management can still be difficult, for, recognizing the realities of the social context is not easy or assured. Many organizations have gotten into difficulty by failing to understand those groups or organizations on which they depended for support or by failing to adjust their activities to ensure continued support.

One image of the manager we have developed is that of an advocator, an active manipulator of constraints and of the social setting in which the organization is embedded. Another image is that of a processor of the various demands on the organization. In the first, the manager seeks to enact or create an environment more favorable to the organization. In the second, organizational actions are adjusted to conform to the constraints imposed by the social context. In reality, both sets of managerial activities are performed. We would like to emphasize that both are problematic and difficult. It requires skill to perceive and register accurately one’s social context and to adjust organizational activities accordingly. And, it requires skill to alter the social context that the organization confronts. Both images of the role of management imply a sensitivity to the social context in which the organization is embedded and an understanding of the relationship between the organization and its environment. Both, in other words, require the ■adoption of an external orientation to guide the understanding of organizational functioning.

Source: Pfeffer Jeffrey, Salancik Gerald (2003), The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective, Stanford Business Books; 1st edition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *