I just finished reading an excellent book on Management and Leadership. It was a grind to get through all 544 pages, but it was WELL worth the effort. The book reaffirmed a lot of what I’ve always believed about how to drive results in business and in life. The book, Reframing Organizations, Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Fifth Edition was published by Jossey-Bass in 2013. The book is authored by Lee Bolman & Terrence Deal. I found this book fascinating and a rich resource for anyone interested in understanding organizations, how they work, how they break, and how to turn them around or optimize their operations.
Reframing Your Perspective – Perhaps the key concept in this book is this, if you want to have a firm grasp on what is happening within an organization, you cannot view everything that goes on from one single frame of reference. Move around a bit, and see the organization and its goings on from several different points of view, and your clarity will increase dramatically. The book discusses “frames” and recommends that managers, leaders, and turn-around consultants develop the capability to review the organization and its people from multiple “frames.” By viewing the events and the company from these different frames, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of all of the dimensions of the organization and expand our ability to see the organization for all of its complexities and many aspects. This concept makes tremendous sense to me, as I have learned over the years that far too many of us get caught up on one detail, or get stuck on one dimension of an otherwise complicated organization or situation. The book recommends that leaders consider an organization from the perspective of four distinct frames, and in doing so, promises that the truths discovered from each frame begin to stack up and provide a deeper understanding of the organization. I believe that to be very true.
- Organizational Structure Frame – This first frame leads you to consider organization charts, how do things get done, who in the organization is doing the things that get done, etc. Roles, responsibilities, and reporting structures are important considerations, and reveal how things get done in an organization, and who does them. A key consideration when reviewing the organization from a structural or organizational context is to consider whether the organization is doing a good balancing act between central management control and distributed self-determination for employee associates. When Central authority and control is too strong, results suffer. When self-determination is high, and central accountability and control are in a healthy balance, organizations are neither top-heavy nor are they bottom heavy. Balance is good. A key question that gets over-emphasized at many bureaucratic organizations is what organization structure will improve our performance. In my experience, far too many organizations engage in annual and semi-annual reorganization efforts, which introduce chaos, confusion, and a relentless series of decisions to delay pursuing results while waiting for a pending change. If you are going to reorganize, do it deliberately, and then give it a LONG chance to work. Above all else, do not engage in reorganization roulette, where constant changes begin to drag the organization down…
- Human Resources Frame – Does the organization that you’re examining treat its employees like a treasured asset? Look closely at how employees are treated, and if they are being invested in? Are they hand-chosen with great care, selecting only the best to work here? Are they trusted like adults, or treated like little children? In great companies, employees are invested in for the long run, with training and development prioritized. Great companies develop a shared culture of winning, and they reward high performance. Great companies hold their leaders accountable to hold their people accountable for results and to build leaders as the company grows. A great question you need to ask as you look at a company is: can we brand this company’s culture in 3 words? Does everybody see the same culture in the organization?
- Political Frame – Another great frame to consider in your discovery is the political frame, which examines the inherent conflicts that arise from competition, over scarce resources, disparate interests, and decision-making control. By looking at how a company assigns and aligns limited resources, you gain a clearer sense of which priorities are paramount. As departments and individuals vie for resources and influence, the winners of those conflicts gain control and influence over decision outcomes. I particularly like the idea of inspecting the means of resolving conflicts. You can learn a lot about a company by determining whether the company has developed a consistent capacity to resolve conflict constructively, or whether they still tolerate either destructive conflicts (with personal attacks) or discourage conflict by embracing artificial harmony. When you’ve developed a keen understanding of a company’s political frame, you can begin to help all members of the organization to develop skills, experience, and capabilities to negotiate their way successfully through conflict.
- Cultural Frame – The final frame through which to discover a deeper perspective on what exactly is happening within an organization is the Symbolic or Cultural Frame. Strong companies pay close attention to bringing people together to build a shared experience, using rituals that reinforce important goals, and create a lasting culture that sustains the organization’s mission and vision. By paying close attention to the images, rituals, and symbolism, you gain a deep appreciation for what is important and what guides decisions and behavior over the long and short haul. I like the idea of a company prioritizing “tribal” behavior where the tribe and its leaders reward positive behavior that benefits the tribe and punishes negative behavior that hurts the tribe. By focusing on what the tribe encourages, and by understanding what it tolerates, you can understand the cultural values that drive the organization. Remember, it’s what you value as you live every day that guides decisions and behavior.
Along the way, thinking about and exploring a company from four different perspectives, or “Frames”, will change your view of the world, and will inform a balanced multi-dimensional approach to creatively solving organizational challenges. High-performance leaders either have or must develop the capability to look at a company from more than one-dimensional perspective. Doing so informs their ability to be innovative and resourceful as they lead the organization forward into a world of constant and accelerating change. Great leaders realize that the struggle is the way forward. Great leaders learn from their experiences and mistakes, and waste no time on blame, they quickly move forward by implementing informed improvements when problems occur. Strong, courageous leaders develop the strength and confidence to lead with character, and set a fantastic example for others. By going first, they enable others to join them in remaining 100% true to the guiding principles and core values that will ensure their collective success. Check out this great textbook and let us know if you see wisdom in the artistry of making great choices, and leading by reframing your perspective on an organization.