Understanding Complex Organizations

A leader’s guide understanding complex organizations: An expanded “7-S” perspective Large organizations are complex in nature. According to Weber ( 1998:1), ‘ one of the most useful frameworks ever developed for understanding an entire organization is the classic “7-S Framework” ‘ which states that ‘an organization could be understood in terms of a dynamic relationship among seven key elements: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Superordinate goals, Style, Staff(people), and Skills. It is argued that practicing managers who are committed to developing a broadened ‘leadership point of view’, have a ‘responsibility to understand the larger organization’ as they may eventually perform in or offer professional services to one. (Weber, 1998:2) The “7-S Framework” is a tool used for analyzing performance issues of an organization. It is used by organizational leaders and consultants to determine how well their organizations are performing and why.

According to Weber (1998:9), strategy is ‘choosing among alternative paths for translating the superordinate goals into action in ways that create a competitive advantage. ’ There are business strategy, corporate strategy, functional strategy, and work group or individual strategy types in existence. It is essential to note that a strategic perspective is reflected at every level of analysis whether business, corporate, functional, work group or individual strategy type.

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It has been said that, ‘in most larger organizations, a person doesn’t really join the “organization”, but rather a particular division, business unit, or function’ and that ‘business leaders’ are ‘to proactively generate structural change that will help facilitate strategic change and / or changes in structure that more clearly help the organization realize its superordinate goals and shared values. ’ (Weber, 1998:12) An organizational structure is the way in which job tasks are formally divided, grouped and coordinated. (Robbins and Judge, 2009:553).

Six elements are popularly used to address the design of an organization’s structure. They are Work Specialization, Departmentalization, Chain of command, Span of control, Centralization and Decentralization, and Formalization. There are, however, three common organizational designs in us: the Simple Structure, the Bureaucracy and the Matrix Structure. New design options that are gaining grounds in recent times include the virtual organization and the boundaryless organization. Broadly speaking, organizational designs range from the ‘highly structured and standardized bureaucracy to the loose and amorphous boundaryless organization. (Robbins and Judge, 2009:568). In this regard, two extreme model s of organizational design are in existence – the mechanistic model and the organic model. Systems refer to ‘all the procedures and processes, both formal and informal, that reflect things that managers attend to or sources of competitive advantage. ’(Weber, 1998:12) In the 7-S framework, systems also include information systems and other systems such as strategic planning, capital budgeting, financial planning and reporting, recruiting and selection, sales quota and so on.

Superordinate goals, according to Jack Weber, constitute ‘an aspirational envisioned future and the core values/purpose of the organization. ’ ( Weber, 1998:4) In other words, superordinate goals are made up of visions and values. The vision is the ‘central organizing principle for a firm’, while values including core purpose are ‘an organization’s reason for being that reflects idealistic motivations for doing the company’s work. ’ (Weber, 1998:8) It is interesting to note that everyone has the ‘ongoing responsibility to try to understand their organization’s superordinate goals.

And find ways to express relevant aspects of that vision among those people within one’s area of influence and/or to attempt to clarify or reshape aspects of the superordinate vision which are inconsistent with one’s personal values or sense of what is really appropriate for the firm. ’ (Weber, 1998:7) It is informative to note that ‘a critical challenge facing all leaders is to build organization that “enable people at all levels of the enterprise to transcend the frustrations of organizational life and achieve a sense of purpose through their work and to align people throughout the enterprise on a set of shared values. (Weber, 1998:9) There is the ‘Hard Triangle’ made up of Structure, Strategy, and Systems, which are ‘typically conceptual, quantifiable and derived’ … ‘from rational analytic process’ and ‘Soft Square’ namely superordinate and style, staff and skills, and shared values which are more qualitative and difficult to qualify or measure, but more important determinant of organizational performance’ according to Tony Athos, one of the architect of the 7-S model. Weber, 1998:13) In the 7-S model, skill is defined as the ‘distinctive capabilities or dominating attributes that distinguish a company from its competitors. ’ (Weber, 1998:13). A large organization has a large reservoir of individual skills that make up the set of skills that set it apart. The staff notion in the 7-S model is essentially the people, their attitude, motivations, socialization processes, and commitment.

The style, in the model, which is strongly influenced by its shared values, staff and other Ss, is the ‘patterns of actions among organizational participants, especially managers, about how people choose to spend their time. ’ (Weber, 1998:14) Using the expanded 7-S perspective, in systematic analysis of organizations can help organizational designers anticipate ways in which changes in one dimension will require changes in other parts and to properly align the Ss.

My take from this articulation is as follows: 1. Realize that there are aspects of the organizational Ss that are within my area of control, others within my area of influence and certain aspects outside my area of control 2. Endeavor to exercise influence in the direction of positive change and thus a. Continually update my understanding of the external situation facing the firm I work for, and the shifting demands, constraints, and opportunities b.

Analyze and understand each of the Ss of the firm I work for and ways in which they might be misaligned and c. Be sensitive to changes in relevant measures of success, including financial and operating performance as well as the satisfaction, growth and learning of my team. Bibliography Weber, J. (1998) A leader’s guide to understanding complex organizations:An expanded “7-S” perspective. Charlotteville, VA:Darden. Robbins, S & Judge, T (2009) Organizational Behavior. 13th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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