Order and energy are fundamental to all organizations, especially businesses and non-profit organizations where people work for a living. The same principles apply to other organizations such as social clubs and civic groups, but the focus of this chapter will be on organizations where people work.
Types Of Organizational Order
All organizations are groups of people who act together to accomplish things which they could not achieve as successfully by acting independently. Inasmuch as their interactions are organized, there is order. Order exists at many levels in an organization, such as:
• Structural order, which involves the division of labor into jobs, departments, and a hierarchy of power or rank
• Process order, which is based on the activities people engage in; typically these processes are some manifestation of system function, that is, exchanging matter and energy with the environment. Work organizations must create value with their actions, so that customers will pay for goods and services or contributors will give their time and money.
• Physical order, which includes the physical facilities and equipment, how they are positioned and equipped.
• Purposive order, the mission, goals and objectives which guide the organization in its accomplishments.
To some degree one may say that the more an organization is ordered, the better it functions. The reader is referred back to Chapter 5, in which we note that as organizations become more organized and structured, there is a greater tendency toward specialization and division of power. However, we must also keep in mind that all order has a degree of uncertainty, and the dynamic organization must remain flexible for almost constant change in today's rapidly shifting operating environment.
Ordering The Organization's Energy
The same principle of ordering energy which is so essential to a balanced individual life is also very important for an organization – perhaps even more so. The reason I say this is that a large organization like IBM or General Motors represents enormous energy capacity.
First of all, it is essential to order all the human energy present. This includes not only the physical energy people have for doing work but also their emotional and psychic energy. Organizations which are able to keep people feeling committed to the company's mission and positive in their mental attitudes can accomplish a great deal. Just as intrapsychic conflict can be debilitating to an individual's energy capacity, so also can interpersonal and interdepartmental conflict sap an organization's energy potential.
Secondly, many organizations use large quantities of electric, gas and other natural energy. This results in a major cost to the organization, exceeding millions of dollars in big companies. Energy management is a growing discipline to try to order that kind of energy. Energy-consuming companies are major factors in the rapid depletion of the earth's natural resources. Concerned organizations are therefore paying attention not only to direct energy costs but also to secondary costs in terms of impact on the environment.
Order And Information In Organizations
As we have noted in previous chapters, information is a very important form of order. For an organization to function effectively, there must be a constant exchange of information, in a way similar to the functioning of the human body and central nervous system.
Some of this information is relatively static, such as the mission and goals. But most of it is dynamic, constantly changing as interaction with the environment and within the organization creates new information which must be communicated quickly and clearly for the organization to adapt successfully.
This has led to many organizations being linked by electronic mail and other computerized aids for the exchange of information. A well-designed computer network can function like the nerve fibers in a human body, linking the different "organs" of the organization for rapid, coordinated response. Even a group which is physically close, such as a football team, demands a constant flow of information in terms of which plays to run, instructions from coaches, the time on the clock, probable moves by the opposing team and much more.
Order And Patterns In Organizations
Whereas some forms of order such as structure, processes and communication are relatively explicit and observable in most organizations, the order of patterns, so vital to human perception, is more often relatively neglected.
One very important pattern is the corporate culture. This has to do with the sometimes implicit "personality" of the organization. Some tend to have a military-style culture, some are technologically oriented, some work like a sports team going for a score, others can be staid and academic. This culture is manifest in terms of behavioral patterns which may never be defined in writing, may never even be spoken of directly, but which shape the behavior of all people within the organization in significant ways.
As individuals in the organization behave consistently over time, others tend to take in those patterns of behavior and use them to guide their own actions. For example, if the boss has a pattern of leaving the office early on Wednesdays, ostensibly for business appointments but actually to play golf, employees can take this as a signal to be a little more slack in their own Wednesday afternoon activities.
The interactions between the people in power, such as the president and the vice presidents or department heads, often develop as patterns which influence how other people perceive each executive's real power, the limits of power and influence, the likelihood of how new initiatives will fare among these decision makers, and many other outcomes.
Larger organizations tend to create a pattern which is their "image" or "reputation." One company may have an image of being very community-oriented, another may be known as self-centered. It is interesting that even though a large organization is composed of many people, each with their own patterns of behavior, we all tend to perceive organizations through patterns which are invariably simplistic. And once these patterns are formed in the minds of consumers or the community, they can be very difficult to change, because all present and future actions are "filtered" through patterns learned and hardened in the past.
Order, Patterns And External Communications
In order to achieve success, an organization must carefully manage the many forms of pattern and information collectively known as external communications. While external groups' perceptions (patterns) of the organization are affected by the company's actions, proactive external communications can play a major role in shaping pattern perceptions.
One technique often overlooked is the importance of gaining a clear understanding of target audiences' present pattern perceptions before launching new communications. This is accomplished through market and opinion research to probe how consumers or other groups perceive the organization's products and services, how those products and services compare with competitors' offerings, how the consumer makes the decision to purchase or act, how adequately consumer needs and wants are satisfied, and other factors.
Then messages (information patterns) which are to be transmitted to target audiences must be carefully formulated so that every word, image and nuance is refined according to the audiences' present perceptions, the desired new perception, and the context of the communication. For example many advertisers pulled upbeat and lighthearted advertisements after the 1991 Persian Gulf War broke out. They were concerned that the tense context of the war, covered moment-by-moment by the media, would lead to negative audience perceptions of their commercial messages.
Congruent And Incongruent Patterns
Another factor often overlooked in external communications is the importance of congruent patterns. A company may put a great deal of effort and money into a new brochure or advertising campaign touting its leading-edge technology and its commitment to quality. But if this information is not congruent with audiences' existing pattern perceptions, it can be a waste. Other information such as the behavior of salespeople, the appearance of a company's offices or stores, the way in which bills are sent out, the company's logo, and many other items can have as much or more influence on audiences' pattern perceptions.
The best advertising claims are true, not exaggerations. The best ads reinforce positive dimensions of the consumer experience as product and services are directly perceived in use. Such communications can thus be very successful in integrating or refining existing patterns in consumers' minds with a new focus or a fresh theme that energizes and shapes existing patterns rather than trying to create wholly new ones at odds with real experience.
Order, Patterns And Quality
Quality has been a major concern of many organizations in the '80s and '90s. It has given a new focus to organizations' entire functioning, with everything being geared to customer satisfaction. Although the word "quality" is actually neutral, meaning "distinctive characteristic," it has taken on a connotation of excellence or high quality.
In the context of this book, we may define quality as a pattern-perception influenced by at least three factors: the existing patterns in the consumer's mind (built up over a lifetime), the specific pattern which defines the consumer's expectation or need, and the product or service which is purchased or experienced (again, influenced by everything the organization does and communicates).
Phil Cosby, in his watershed book Quality Is Free, defined quality as "conformance to requirements." His point was that quality does not always mean gold-plated or bejeweled. If all I need is a 1/4 by 2 inch bolt, and you can sell me one at a reasonable price, that may be all of my requirements. However, if I am responsible for building jet fighters and that bolt will be vital in keeping the wings on the airplane, my requirements for that bolt may be much more demanding.
As our preceding paragraph indicates, quality is largely a matter of pattern perception, so much so that the actual product or service purchased is only a small part of a complex "big picture." Marketers distinguish between the "core product" which is the physical thing itself and the "augmented product" which represents the total purchase experience. But we must always keep in mind that physical objects or acts have meaning only in terms of human pattern perceptions. In a real sense, the consumer is paying for a pattern perception, not a physical thing.
"Snake oil" salesmen in the old West sold bottles of colored chemicals and extracts which often had no medicinal value whatsoever. But if they were able to persuade their naive audiences that the product would cure all sorts of aches and ailments, they often made a sale. They often moved on to another town before the purchaser found out the product was worthless. Or perhaps in some cases the purchaser believed so strongly in the medicine’s power that this stimulated a natural healing process.
In more recent times many experiments have been done showing that a person may feel relief from a headache when told that an inert tablet (placebo) was a strong new pain reliever. Others have acted intoxicated when given an inert liquid described as heavily alcoholic.
All these complications are not noted in an attempt to say that defining quality is hopeless. Rather the point is that quality is a very complex pattern perception, influenced by many variables both apparent and obscure, and the company which wants to enhance its reputation for quality must consider all these factors, and not any simplistic definition that ignores the consumers' pattern perceptions.
Order, Energy And Management
The manager's task is to order the energy of the human and other resources of his organization through actions and communications. The one thing the manager can be certain of is this: that however he or she perceives his or her own behavior and communications, others in the organization will perceive it differently. Such is the nature of pattern perception.
In order to minimize the danger of misunderstanding, communication must be an on-going, two-way process. The only way to increase the probability that the managers' pattern-communications achieve their intended purpose is to interact closely with the employees who are managed. We must attempt to understand their present pattern perceptions, both in general and specifically in terms of the particular action or communication being contemplated for enactment. Enlightened organizations are increasingly undertaking participatory management, giving employees a vital role in the organization's decisions and also empowering employees to act within certain parameters without having to get permission for every move.
Effective management involves following the Golden Rule, Jesus' commandment to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. This is often forgotten by managers who feel superior to their employees. But managers who maintain their humility and treat others with respect can be more successful not only at achieving order but also at focusing and unleashing people's energy to perform at the peak of their abilities.
As in all living things, as in all the universe, the key to understanding organizations is the tremendous power of order and energy under the on-going creation of God.
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