Radical Humanist Approach to Organizational Analysis
Patagonia is a small company that began by making perfect pitons for rock climbers. The company was founded by a band of climbers and surfers who lived the minimalist lifestyle they promoted. The company makes clothing and gear for the silent sports -- no motors or engines are involved -- of skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling, and trail running" ("Patagonia," 2012). For the founders, the reward in each sport comes at the nexus that takes "the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection" between them and nature ("Patagonia," 2012). The corporate mission of Patagonia is to make the best possible products and to cause no unnecessary harm while engaged in that effort.
The research in this study is grounded in critical theory and phenomenology. The personal accounts given by employees of Patagonia are expressions of how they experience the world, and in particular, their work at the company. A naturalistic approach is taken to the research in order to subjectively identify emergent themes through examination of and reflection about the data. Against a background of critical theory, the research explores the perceptions of those who work within and for the company. The narratives of the ecologically oriented employees stand in contrast to the narratives of those who perform manufacturing labor in outsourcing arrangements. The use of critical theory is rational in this application as informs the individualistic approach taken by Patagonia and, presumably, its employees. Obtaining a full complement of narratives is especially important because of Patagonia's supply-chain relationships. Patagonia will not do businesses with factories in foreign countries that do not pay their employees living wages. Moreover, the company intends to inspire and to implement solutions for environmental problems, even those brought about through its own industry.
The concept of organizational culture was born in the 1930s with the work of Arnold (1938) and Bernard (1938), and was refined in the heyday of the organization man by Selznick (1957). For decades, the emphasis in organizational development and analysis was on the rational properties and not the symbolic aspects of business enterprises and organizations (Bolman & Deal, 1991). The idea of culture is now mainstream in managerial and academic study and discourse, yet the definitions continue to be debated. Bower (1966) defined culture simply as "the way we do things around here." Schein (1985) presented a more academic definitions. In his words, culture is:
"a pattern of basic assumptions -- invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and integration -- that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore has to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to their problems" (Schein, 1985, p. 9).
Schein (2004) developed a framework for organizational analysis that presents a multilayered conceptualization of the artifacts, values and beliefs, and assumptions that make up an organization's culture. Schein represents the culture of an organization in many ways, including his analogy to an iron cage that entraps run-of-the-mill employees (Schein, 2004). Whether modern-day cubicles are substituted for iron cages or not, the purpose is the same. According to Schein (1985; 2004), the cultural norms of an organization are intended to maintain a shoulder to the wheel attitude and orientation in employees (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). Even stripped of Taylorian rigidity, the symbolic message of the cubicle is clear: Compliance and conformity are expected and rewarded; deviance threatens the power structure and is uniformly and immediately punished (Marx, 1952; Taylor 1911). Employees sufficient comply with the organizational rules and adapt to the organizational culture are rewarded by moving out of the grey cubicle into an actual office -- often an office with a window to the outside world.
The limitations of Schein's model stem primarily from his focus on a symbolic and political frameworks of analysis but that does not distinguish between them. The work of Bolman and Deal (1991) is discussed in the next section as the authors set out a framework from four distinct perspectives: (1) The structure frame; (2) the human resource frame; (3) the political frame; and (4) the symbolic frame. A strength of the Bolman and Deal framework is their treatment of leadership, which is particularly germane to a radical humanist perspective, and a discussion follows in the next section.
Leadership and culture. Considerable disagreement also coalesces around the role of leadership in culture. In some interpretations, leaders shape culture and in others culture shapes leaders (Bolman & Deal, 1991). Of those who hold that leaders take an active part in the shaping of culture, proponents assert that this effect is empowering while critics argue that it is manipulative. This argument might be considered moot were it not for the fact that there is an enduring belief that organizations with strong cultures outperform those that "rely on policies, rules, or other more obtrusive forms of coordination and motivation" (Bolman & Deal, 1991). Moreover, complicating the discussion further, the causality is perceived by some analysts to be the reverse. That is, organizational success results in the development of more cohesive cultures.
Culture and symbolism. Bolman and Deal (1991) assert that all organizations have a predilection for developing their own distinctive behavioral patterns and beliefs over the life of the organization. The beliefs, assumptions, and patterns adopted by an organization may be taken as a given or unconsciously accepted. When considered from a critical theory perspective, the patterns and beliefs are an artifact of the "tacit ideological influences" of a social unit that acts to corrupt human consciousness. The result is an assemblage of symbolic forms -- such as stories, rituals, ceremonies, myths, and fairy tales -- all of which reflect what the organization believes about itself. This symbolic frame is a powerful path to influencing others (Bolman & Deal, 1991). If one converts Maslow's hierarchy of needs into a symbolic format, then meaning may be interpreted to be the most basic of symbolic needs (Bolman & Deal, 1991).
Leaders in organizations who understand the power and functioning of symbolic actions and symbolic forms -- and actively encourage the use of the symbolic frame in their organizations -- can create effective and congruent organizations (Bolman & Deal, 1991). This is particularly true, Bolman and Deal note (1991) when "what the organization stands for is isomorphic with the challenges of the environment or marketplace" (p. 269). In order to manage the culture of an organization, there must be a clear understanding of the enterprise's persona by all the relevant stakeholders (Schein, 1984). A persona is the image of itself that an organization projects and also the perceptions held by both internal and external stakeholders. (Schein, 1984) This persona is also referred to as the organization's culture or the corporate culture.
The congruence of the values espoused by and organization and the values reflected in its actions has linked to where its culture fits on a functional-dysfunctional continuum. For example, cultural congruence corresponds to expressed levels of job satisfaction, turnover of personnel, and employee engagement (O'Reilly, et al., 1991). Organizational development experts assess six indicators that are associated with cultural congruence. These indicators are as follows: Leadership style, strategic emphasis, systems of rewarding employees, approaches to managing employees, organizational binding, and the dominant organizational characteristics (O'Reilly, et al., 1991). When these characteristics are plotted individually and compared, they are very similar in congruent organizations, but congruence is low across the characteristics in organizations that have low cultural congruence (O'Reilly, et al., 1991).
Utilitarianism ethics focus on the outcome of an action, not on the motive, intent, or processes leading to the action. Decision-making in a utilitarian framework seeks to maintain the greatest balance between good and harm, in essence, justifying the means with the end if the outcome results in more good and less harm overall. The will with which an individual acts is of paramount consideration -- more so than the consequences of the act. Good will -- grounded in duty or right -- must drive decision-making because otherwise, a non-virtuous act can bring about greater good, but the moral problem of the non-virtuous act remains (Schofield, 2006). Organizations that pursue cultural congruence, consciously through a critical theory framework or deliberately by putting decisions through a utilitarianism ethics filter, are inclined to construct a work context similar to the Patagonian environment.
Critical theory and ethnography. Slaughter (2004) frames on the global level what Freire defined at an individual level. Freire's conscientization, or conscientizacao, which is grounded in Marxist critical theory, calls for post-illumination prescriptive action. Freire argued that the development of deep understandings of social and political structures and their inherent contradictions -- what in effect Rupert called historically constructed social processes (2010) -- compels taking social action against the oppressive elements identified through conscientization. According to Marxist thought, the perception and exposure of structural violence or other pre-constituted forms of social order must necessarily occur…