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“Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership” Book Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 1st, 2020

Book summary

Written by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, the book, Reframing Organizations, entails a comprehensive approach to understanding organizational structures, management models, and applying such knowledge towards the achievement of company goals and objectives. All twenty-one chapters of the book make up six major parts, with each tackling a single concept divided into manageable sections to give the reader a better understanding of elements within each of the concepts. The first part of the book, making sense of organizations, takes up the first two chapters. In this part, the authors discuss some of the ways in which managers misinterpret situations in an organization, thus leading to disastrous outcomes and possible solutions to avoid such misunderstandings. This part of the book also discusses basic factors that complicate life in an organization due to elements such as ambiguity and unpredictability.

The structural frame, which is the second part of the book, underscores how the social structure of a company functions. It discusses factors that managers should consider when developing such structures in accordance with an organization’s goals, duties, and unique environment. This part explains how the design of a social structure can affect the effectiveness of an organization’s operations. It also explores the need for restructuring according to necessity and development of teams. This three-chapter section covers the above concepts in comprehensive details using relatable examples.

Part three of the book, the human resource frame, provides detailed information on the role of people as an independent entity in an organization. The authors explore the role of people in the formulation of organizational structures as well as the relationship between human nature and organizational structures. According to the authors, the aim of this topic is to create awareness for managers regarding the importance of relationships between the management and employees in fostering the success of a company, employee motivation, and networking.

Part four of the book deals with the political aspect of organizations. This part of the book, the political frame, discusses matters concerning the individual interests of the management team with regard to ways in which such interests affect the success of a company. One of the examples that the authors give to explain this concept is the loss of the Challenger space shuttle. The authors discuss the dynamics that often surround decision-making processes in most organizations. They delve in matters such as policy formulation, negotiations, competition, ethics, and formation of networking.

In the fifth part of the book, organizational symbols and culture, the authors explain the use of emblematic elements such as metaphors, rites, and observances as tools that enable members of a firm to recognize their roles. The authors also define organizational culture and the role that it plays in shaping the performance of employees and the management. They also discuss the effect of organizational culture in developing the reputation of a firm.

The authors state that the development of an organization’s culture requires the collective effort of all the players in a company to grow as a means of ascertaining that everyone works towards a common goal. Some of the methods that the authors suggest as tools for the creation of a cohesive team include specialized language, humor, play, and involvement in outdoor activities. The authors express the importance of the dramaturgical and institutional and institutional theory in establishing the strengths and weaknesses of members of an organization.

Part six of the book, improving leadership practice, is the most extensive part of the book, as it comprises seven chapters. In this part, the authors combine various concepts that they discuss in the book to develop methods, which managers can apply in a bid to improve their leadership practices. Some of the elements that the authors mention include reframing ethics, reframing change, taking an integrative approach to administration, and use of flexible strategies.

Core ideas

Understanding the organization

One of the main ideas that Bolman and Deal convey in the book is that effective management requires managers to understand their organizations. Some of the elements that they note as essential in creating such understanding include knowledge of an organization’s culture, objectives, goals, responsibilities that various positions entail, and separation of personal interest from that of the company. An analysis of these elements reveals the plausibility of this concept as a main ingredient in effective management practices.

In expounding this point, the authors give an example of Bob Nardelli – an employee of General Electric whose aspiration was to succeed John Welch as CEO of the company. Although he did not get the CEO position, the company promoted Nardelli to CEO of the Home Depot. Within a week of his new position, Nardelli made significant changes in the depot’s operations, thus increasing the company’s profit margin and changing the overall organizational culture at the place. However, these changes also resulted in a fall of the company’s reputation in customer service and employee motivation (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

The authors explain that such example helps to illuminate some of the factors that managers need to consider in understanding organizations before making decisions on what they think is needed in order to meet the set goals. Some of the factors include the organization’s culture, leadership model, goals, objectives, and employee relations. The authors explain that in most cases, employees aspire for positions that they do not understand well. Lack of information on the operations of an organization and the various positions it offers lead to a degree of cluelessness that often plunges a firm into financial crises (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

An effective manager should take a critical look at the organization’s goals and objectives before applying his/her skills or making any changes. Additionally, managers should consider the interests of the company and separate the same from personal interests, and this way, they always act in the best interest of the companies (Bolman & Deal, 2008). In the above example, the authors mention that Nardelli gave himself a handsome allowance regardless of the company’s failing financial health. The fall of Enron around the year 2006 is reflective of the above example. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the authors included it as one of the situations to which readers can relate. The company went from being one of the most reputable firms in the United States to bankruptcy within a few years of adopting new management policies (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

According to management expert Gareth Morgan, Bolman and Deal present very valid points with regard to understanding the organization as a contributory factor to effective management. In his book, Images of Organization, Morgan (2006) explains that a manager cannot develop an effective and efficient strategy for the success of an organization without prior understanding of the goals and objectives that the firm aims to achieve. In his opinion, every organization is different, and thus it requires unique methods of dealing with its problems (Morgan, 2006).

An effective manager evaluates an organization’s problems and accomplishments and analyzes possible solutions before settling on the most appropriate option for each situation. S/he acknowledges that although most managers receive similar training in management, an individual’s skills are not enough to determine the success of a company under one’s leadership (Morgan, 2006). Although the authors mention most of the essential elements that a manager needs to understand about an organization before running it, their outlook omits the necessity of the manager to understand his or her personality, as Daniel Goleman suggests in his theory of emotional theory (Morgan, 2006). Despite this fact, Bolman and Deal cover most of the important components effectively.

Managing people

The authors dedicate an entire section of their book to creating a comprehensive understanding of the interactions amongst people working in an organization and ways in which such interaction affects a firm’s chances of success. In the section titled “the human resource frame”, the authors develop an interesting perspective of this concept by mentioning some of the complexities that overshadow the simplicity of the idea for most managers upon assuming their responsibilities. In their opinion, most managers subscribe to two perspectives regarding people. The first perspective entails a view of people as an asset, while the second entails exploiting people like any other resource available to a company (Bolman & Deal, 2008). The authors argue in favor of the first perspective, by noting that its benefits overlap its disadvantages.

They explain that by treating people as part of the company’s investment in terms of human capital, an organization adds personal value to its workers. Organizations that adopt this outlook assume that making employees feel valuable to the organization allows them to work towards the success of the company under minimum supervision. It also fosters the development of teamwork and generation of ideas that increase the output of the organization (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

The key component in this strategy is the willingness and zeal with which workers execute their duties. The second approach in which the organization treats its employees as one of the resources available for the company’s exploitation generates more disadvantages than merits, especially regarding the organization’s reputation. According to the authors, although employees may work hard to produce desirable financial results, their attitude towards work often leads to lousy customer relations, thus attracting negative reputation for the company. Such reputation often injures a company’s sales and subsequent dividends for investors, thus leading to a fall in investments and possible bankruptcy (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

On analysis, one of the advantages evident in the approach that the authors use is that it creates value for its employees. By making employees feel valuable, an organization benefits from their hard work and positive attitude towards the achievement of the set goals, regardless of the absence of any other form of motivation (Morgan, 2006). One of the ways that Morgan (2006) proposes to improve the value of employees is through sponsoring training. In his opinion, by training employees, an organization customizes the skill set of each individual to fit the requirements of the company regarding the specific responsibilities that each employee handles.

He adds that although this method may cost an organization more money in form of expenditure, the output of employees and subsequent revenue make up for the difference. He notes that employees are more willing to volunteer innovative solutions that are likely to generate additional income for the company when the management makes them feel as an integral part of the organization (Morgan, 2006). Some scholars argue that making an employee feel important often results in disrespect for management, shoddy work, and a false sense of entitlement to profits. However, Bolman and Deal (2008) respond to this issue by indicating that the adoption of “family” dynamics in a company ensures mutual respect and attendance to the needs of each individual regardless of his or her position in the organization.

In conclusion, apart from managing tasks in an organization, managers also should consider the way they manage employees as it has a huge impact on the company’s revenue generation.

Political nature of an organization

Bolman and Deal (2008) find it important to mention the political aspect of an organization, mainly due to the view that most managers do not consider its effect on the decision-making process. An analysis of their theory on political issues in the formation of organizational structures reveals the importance of such consideration regarding improvement of operations, maintenance of organizational culture, and restructuring important factors to suit changes in the environment and existent situations.

According to the authors, most managers concentrate on the economic element of organizations that they run at the expense of the political bit of the business, which is a mistake that often leads to financial detriment. Some of the elements that comprise organizational politics include networking, regard for existent legal provisions governing the operations of a business, formulation of policies that match the objectives, and goals of the organization and adherence to codes of ethics (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

The authors suggest the need for managers to understand some of these elements before taking up management positions in order to enable them see the big picture and not just what is plainly evident in terms of effects of their decision on long-term operations (Bolman & Deal, 2008). In the first practical example that the authors use in the book, they explain that even though using an authoritarian approach to management may lead to immediate rewards, the long-term effects of such a method are mainly negative for the organization’s progress.

Bolman and Deal (2008) suggest the application of the four frames approach in establishing decisions that result in long-term benefits for an organization. The four frames include the structural frame, the human resource frame, the symbolic frame, and the political frame. Essentially, managers need to know how to apply appropriately the power that their positions afford them, how to share power with other employees when necessary, how to resolve conflict amicably, and the need to create healthy coalitions with other organizations. In their opinion, effective managers should have the ability to weigh group interests against a company and personal interests and provide a balance that leads to the ultimate benefit of all players involved (Bolman & Deal, 2008). Although it may sometimes be impossible to please everyone at once, compromise is always possible in most situations.

Morgan (2006) presents sentiments similar to those of the authors by stating the importance of collaboration in an organization. He acknowledges the presence of factors that might make it difficult for a manager to make objective decisions including pressure from various stakeholders, the need to maintain the satisfaction of employees, consideration of consumer needs, personal interests, and ultimate goals that the a firm hopes to achieve. He notes that it is often difficult to keep all the above elements in check while operating against the competition from similar organizations (Morgan, 2006).

In his opinion, one of the most effective ways to handle such political dilemmas is engaging the help of every individual in the organization through allowing employees to apply their unique skill sets to solution generation for matters specific to their responsibilities. By trusting employees with the power to generate solutions and manage their tasks individually or in groups, a manager can evaluate his or her options effectively while reducing the amount of pressure that accompanies crucial decisions (Morgan, 2006). However, Morgan (2006) notes that even though this method creates room for objectivity by easing pressure on decision-making, a manager is still responsible for the decisions that his or her employees make, thus necessitating the need to assume a supervisory role in the workplace (Morgan, 2006).

Adapting to change

According to the authors, effective leadership involves the leaders’ ability to adapt to changes in different situations and environments and make appropriate decisions for the good of the organization. In order to adapt successfully, the authors suggest integration of most concepts discussed earlier including the four frames. They describe the process of adaptation to change as the reframing process.

The authors describe a frame as a state of mind regarding various matters concerning an organization. They define the process of framing to involve the application of a person’s perception of a situation to its external manifestation during the decision-making process. They state that the perception of a situation does not always have to be correct as the decision-making process provides an individual with a chance to evaluate various options and change his or her frame accordingly (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

Such change underscores what the authors refer as reframing. In their opinion, most managers operate from preconceived notions on what certain situations entail and decisions, which typically apply to such situations. However, effective and efficient leadership requires flexibility regarding changes to such framing especially after consideration of all the relevant factors in play. In their opinion, an effective manager should be ready to reframe his view of what the organization needs according to changes such as demand, legal provisions, environmental changes, and organizational changes (Bolman & Deal, 2008). They warn that resistance to change often leads to stagnation and eventual repugnancy of the organization in serving its purpose.

In his contribution to this discussion, Morgan (2008) states his agreement with the authors’ opinion by stating that an organization sometimes needs to make changes to its image in order to suit the needs of its target market. In his view, such changes need not be drastic as long as they accommodate periodic external conditions such as changes in modes of communication with consumers, consumer demand at particular times of the year, and provisions on taxes that local governments may consider appropriate for the business (Morgan, 2006).

However, he insists on the need for managers to ensure that such reframing embodies the ‘spirit’ of the organization so that it does not lose its identity and uniqueness in the market environment. Overall, the concept of adaptation to change is vital in the reframing process that Bolman and Deal (2008) describe in their book with support from sentiments by Morgan (2006) on maintenance of relevance of an organization in the market environment.


Bolman, L., & Deal, E. (2008). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Web.

Morgan, G. (2006). Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Web.

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