Theory Help You to Make Sense of Your Own Organization and the Management Practices in Your Organization?
Too often, individuals get an idea stuck in their heads and they cannot dislodge it no matter how hard they try. In actuality though, most people who can only contrive a particular system for working, whether that be managing or running an organization, and there is no interest in change. I realize that falling back to a secure position is comforting, but it is also damaging from a growth standpoint. And, growth is the object in business; that is, aside from the fact that making money is probably the primary concern.
But making money has led to some troubling consequences in the world as businesses have grown greedy and managers have become overly authoritarian and sure of their stagnant methods. The reality is that "managing and organizing are not isolatable objects of study but are always socially imbedded, economically engaged and politically disputable" (Letiche, 2006). The reason for this is that growth is also development, and development involves change. An organization of a manager cannot stay the same or the product they are concerned with will falter. But, there is hope for the manager who believes that a particular theory of production that he or she has remained true to is the only way to lead people, and for the organization mired in a rut of its own making. The savior is called critical thinking or theory, and though it has been around for a long time, people are just now seeing that the vicissitudes suggested by this approach may be worthwhile.
The fact is that many business schools are teaching students the efficacy of the theory and they are bringing those thoughts to the business world. "There is evidence…within higher education of…opportunities to rethink curriculum content and learning that recognize and value differing cultural perspectives and critical thinking, and that promote concepts of global citizenship" (Bourn, 2011). Because the business community is broader than a particular isolated region or nation, it is necessary to use a broader, more critical, perspective. As one author put it "by criticism and making theory discussible, students see social constructions of reality as being open to change, under development, a product of circumstances, embedded in culture and history, and subject to self-control" (Delbeca, 1999). Learning institutions are always ahead of the curve because they have the time to allow people to examine the theory and decide whether it is useful or not, but managers and organizations need to take the time to learn how they can become better through the processes of critical theory. The fact is that, not only can critical theory help me make better sense of the ineptitude inherent in my organization, it can also help me become a better manager through its process of critical thinking.
Review of Literature
To better understand how critical theory can help or hurt and organization and/or management practices, it is first helpful to understand exactly what it is and is not. "Critical" is a much maligned word because people give the word negative connotations that are completely unnecessary. In this sense, it is a critique rather than a license to voice negative criticisms. Some people will believe that anything an individual has to say about a management practice or the way an organization conducts itself that regards making a change is being negative. Organizations worry about making change because most of the time this process costs a lot of money. Even when making the change will save money and grow the business for the long-term, organizations do not want to proceed because of the immediate costs. However, critical examination of processes is not only imperative because of the global nature of business, but essential to future growth in any industry.
The research gives several definitions of the theory that have proven why it this thought process is necessary for businesses. One author says that;
"The critical approach encompasses a range of different positions such as neo- Marxism…, post structuralism, deconstructionism, literary criticism, feminism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies and environmentalism… probes the meaning of sociological enterprise and is concerned with answering questions like 'knowledge for what' and 'knowledge for whom?'…engages in stimulating discussions and debates about management and infusing moral commitments into the practice and profession of management" (Akella, 2008).
Taking these three different aspects of critical theory one at a time allows the reader to observe how the theory developed and how it has become a useful tool for organizations and managers. The different disciplines that were engaged in the genesis of critical theory each have some counterpart in the business world. It may be difficult to see how, for example, the psychoanalytic qualities of the theory can impact business. The reason is that organizations consist of people who have different personalities and have different views regarding how the organization can be made better. Looking at the political, people, and place issues that are inherent in any organization it is easy to see how this new perspective can help prepare a manager or organization that has unhappy employees, a tenuous political situation, and is located in an area that has quelled production. The fact that critical theory infuses "moral commitments" into management practices is also key. Most companies realize that growth is almost impossible without a commitment to the environment, but recent developments in some overseas labor markets also call for companies (Apple and others) to be critical of how their products are produced.
Other authors have different takes on critical theory, but most remain positive about its application. When discussing the theory one set of authors wrote "We mean critical to suggest both the sense of questioning, as in "critical thinking," as well as in the sense of critical theory -- unmasking hidden tensions and meanings with a goal of emancipating thinking and action." (Holmes, Cockburn-Wootten, Motion, Zorn & Roper, 2005). The distinction made here is interesting. Critical evaluation and critical thinking are what happens as a result of understanding the efficacy of the theory (Stanton, 1993). As Holmes, et al. said though, an individual does not have to know the theory, just be influenced by the "sense" of it. The reason that the sense of the theory leads to critical thinking and evaluation of current practices is that an individual or organization can see the need to reevaluate its practices and must take a critical approach to all of its processes.
The research on critical theory also talks about the methods that are used by the proponents of the theory vs. those used by people who espouse other theoretical stances. Nathan and Whatley (2006) said that critical theory "takes a normative approach, emphasizing the possibilities regarding institutional and organizational arrangements. CT searches for models that are less controlling, less exploiting, less dominating, and more just." Many organizations in the global marketplace can be seen as controlling because it takes a great deal of resources to run such a company. Since it has a background in much of political and social liberalism, critical theory does emphasize, not only, change, but equitable change. Fairness is a large part of what organizations are trying to accomplish when they use the tenets of the theory because upon conducting a critical thinking exercise, it is easy to determine where the buying public wants an organization to be. Consumers are flocking to organizations that are more responsible with respect to employees, the environment and political situations (Pryor, Humphreys, Taneja, & Toombs, 2011). This leads to an exploration of the literature regarding how critical theory is being used specifically by corporations.
Organization and Critical Theory
Organizations have often thought of themselves as fiefdoms in the past (Pryor, et al., 2011), but they have had to change that position with more attentive global consumers. Many consumers look at the large multinational corporation and determine that they have been
"exploiting segments of the workforce; forcing employees into maladaptive personal responses; disenfranchising almost everyone; doing a greater proportion of damage to the environment; destroying or homogenizing whole cultures; knowingly selling harmful products and violating human rights; and undermining democracies and democratic processes" (Nathan & Whatley, 2006).
This may seem like a biased assessment (and in some ways it is), but the headlines show that many corporations believe that they are above concerning themselves with the ethics of their decisions. Greed is a powerful capitalistic motivator as can be seen by the companies that have lied about revenue streams (such as Enron and Health South) and taken advantage of workers and customers. The environment has also paid the price of stripped resources, endangered species of flora and fauna, and air/water quality that constantly needs re-cleaning (Nienhuser, 2008). Nathan and Whatley's statement may sound somewhat over-the-top, but, in actuality, large organizations have done committed all of those acts. The main defense they use for their actions is that they either look the other way while abuses are occurring, or they believe that the good…