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Effective and successful management strategies. Certainty and structure against flexibility and innovation

von J. Vincent (Autor)

Akademische Arbeit 2014 7 Seiten

BWL - Unternehmensführung, Management, Organisation



What are the most effective philosophies to apply to management and business operations - modernist views that seek out certainty and rigid structure, or postmodernist views that look to flexibility, creativity and innovation to find success? There was a time one could say, "the best approach is somewhere in the middle”, and for that time it was a good answer. But, that was a time before the effects of globalisation and the need for localisation, a time before rapid shifts in marketplace needs and the proliferation of consumer power, a time before entire industries existed in a state of flux owing to mercurial external environments. The business environment has changed dramatically since the incorporation of modernist and postmodernist philosophies into organisational theory and, owing to this, both approaches now fall short. With a full deconstruction of these two ideals and all that they have to offer, this work exposes the existing shortcomings of these two opposing dispositions. It places them among the organisation and explores new ways in which they can be used, in tandem, to find more fruitful modi operandi for the modern-day business. Contrary to the assumption that a business can only have one true devotion to either modernism or postmodernism, this work uses varied and trusted thinking from a wide range of sources to build a framework for the marriage of modern and postmodern management theory. Through organisational segmentation alongside and an analytical approach to subjectively choosing to place both modernist and postmodernist ideals within selected areas of an organisation, this text puts forward a case for a harmonious and symbiotic existence of both modernism and postmodernism within organisational culture.

KEY WORDS: management theory, modernism, postmodernism, strategy, structure, innovation, creativity

1. Introduction

(Boisot & McKelvey, 2008, ii) on the verge of something called a post-modern world, or even of a post-managerial age? (Thomas, 2003, p. 209)

This work aims to address one of the key issues within the contemporary business environment illuminated by the previous quotes; the increasing need for organisations to incorporate seemingly conflicting methods of operation - those of modernism which focus on stability, bureaucracy, rationalisation and creating systematic cultures alongside those of postmodernism that seek exploitable uncertainty, creativity, ingenuity, and evolutionary cultures. The overlying purpose of this article is to present the argument that, for contemporary organisations, sustainable success can be found once the conventional boundaries of modernist and postmodernist management have been blurred.

This proposal does not revolve around a complete integration of modernist and postmodernist devices or characteristics within organisational management. Instead, it focuses upon a poststructuralist approach to management theory whereby an organisation and its managerial disposition is deconstructed, therefore enabling particular elements to be analysed separate to other components and subsequently approached in the most desirable manner for that explicit component of management - as opposed to approaching all components (i.e. leadership, control, structure etc.) within the boundaries set by the organizations predetermined philosophy (modernism or postmodernism). The rationale behind this argument stems from wide research along with the analysis of various characteristics of both modernism and postmodernism, which showed that they are falling short in today's business environment - evidence of which shall be presented later. When looking at critiques such as those of Grice (1997), who believes postmodernism is formed out of the weaknesses of modernism, one can deduce that postmodernism was formed out of what is essentially a reflective practice - more specifically a practice of ‘double­loop learning' and critical reflection (Argyris, 1976) where the accepted norms and assumptions (i.e. the foundations of modernism) were questioned. Boje (1995) alludes to how ‘contemporary organisations demonstrate the active- reactive struggle' of aligning with one singular philosophy when elements of the modern business world require more varied and broader philosophies to succeed.

With such critiques in mind, one can see that due to such extensive advances and changes that have occurred in the collective external business environment since their respective inception; both modernism and postmodernism within the organizational environment are now long overdue a reflective process. This is evident as the norms and assumptions upon which both of these concepts were originally either based upon or challenging against have changed - largely due to the subsequent revolution of the business environment and the birth of what theorists today term the Information Age. Though more specific factors of both modernism and postmodernism will be introduced later; in order to allow a greater understanding of the argument which is being presented; this work will now briefly introduce the background and defining concepts of modernism and postmodernism in the business world as well as identifying the boundaries which each philosophy sets itself - highlighting the differences, the advantages and disadvantages along with how they could complement each other.

2. Modernism in Business

Modernism was born out of the introduction of science, rationale and logic into society in the late 18th century, theorists such as Frederic Taylor and Max Weber latterly applied the philosophy of modernism to business in order to maximize organisational efficiency through rationalisation and the standardisation of organisational structures and operations; distributing power and control solely to upper management. According to McAuley et al. (2007, p. 54); ‘underpinning modernism is the notion of the ordered world, the idea that chaos and disorder can be maintained through human will and intent'; a characteristic referring to modernist organisation's preference to seek control and remove uncertainty.

Given that the business world is no longer as ordered and much more chaotic; McAuley's assessment of modernism aids in elucidating its inaptness within the realms of today's business environment. Perspectives like McAuley's encourage organisations to adopt bureaucratic tendencies and make detailed, scientific analyses with the goal of finding the ‘one best way' to solve an issue and the ‘one best way' to run an organisation - a key theory of Taylorism referred to and elaborated on by Weber (1947). Since its incorporation into the business environment; many theorists such as Naylor (2004, p. 392) and Osman et al. (2006) have argued that the most influential upshot of modernism is ‘scientific management'. This follows the notion that ‘knowledge is discovered by scientific methods of observation' (Fatkin, 2012) and that organizations should seek more Taylorism-based methods that are centred around finding the ‘one best way' of operating with all focus on maximising productivity (Osman et al., p. 7).

Consequently, and also due to the changes within the business environment in more recent history; postmodernism challenged the modernist assumptions by speculating that such intense focus on continuous improvement based around a singular, fixed strategy left an organisation vulnerable to obsolescence and supersession. Critiques such as that by Ivanko (2012) have also alluded to modernisms flaws revolving around the fact that the philosophy has ‘very few experiments and supervisory observations for testing the practicability of the principles and suggestions being proposed.' In essence, Ivanko is referring to modernisms lack of reflection as its principal downfall. This issue was essentially solved by postmodernism, in the short term, as the movement itself evolved out of reflection upon the modernist philosophies and was specifically designed to counter them. To contrast the two further; this text concurs with Fatkin's (2012) opinion that ‘the modernist's ontology is objectivism' and would further decree that postmodernism's ontology would certainly revolve around subjectivism - in particular, as referred to by Spiro (2008), in relation to the ‘human factors'.

3. Postmodernism in Business

It would also beneficial to provide a contextual ization and clarification of postmodernism at this point as ‘any discussion of post-modernism is hindered by a lack of a clear definition of the concept itself' (Adcroft & Willis, 2006, p. 45). Postmodernism was conceived as a concept towards the end of the 19th Century and its philosophies were subsequently integrated into the organizational environment on a large scale during the 1950s. As previously referred to, the movement was designed to address negative aspects of modernism and introduce a more holistic methodology in relation to operational and internal issues (Osman et al., 2006). The postmodern paradigm within business is further categorized by Engholm (2001) as being ‘almost a complete rejection of modernist assumptions' as it contradicts many of the staples of modernism such as the restriction of empowerment, the standardisation of operations as well as the differentiation and demarcation of jobs. However, perhaps the most significant factor introduced by postmodernism is the reduction in the ‘limits' placed upon creativity and innovation (Romero, 2012) - this subsequently allowed for the mass-proliferation of marketing and commercialism in the second half of the 20th century - an action with significant repercussions that shall be referred later in this work.

During the era where postmodernism first became a key cornerstone of business theory; globalisation was in its infancy, markets were less saturated or developed, the rates of technological advances were slower, and the business environment was much less dynamic or complex. With this in mind, one can easily discern why postmodernism was championed by many theorists and implemented on a global scale. It enabled organisations to take advantage of the relative stability of their respective external environments and capitalise on the opportunities provided by the freedom, innovation and creativity born out of a postmodern era.

However, given the capricious nature of today's economies along with the increasing competition in today's markets and the external issues that add to the complexity of modern organizations; this work argues that there is an ever­increasing call for postmodern organisations to revert, to a measured degree, toward the stability and solidarity first introduced by modernism. However, the saturation of modern markets and eradication of entry barriers has exponentially increased levels of competition for organisations in today's business world. As a result of these factors, there is now - existing in tandem alongside the aforesaid necessity of stability - the contrasting requirement to be increasingly innovative, creative and evolutionary in order to be ahead of the market norms and achieve sustainable success. In essence; the developments in the global business environment since the inception of postmodernism have exposed its fragility whilst the potency of the traditional modernist approach has been further depleted by the same developments - herein lies the issue that the ideas and recommendations presented throughout this work are focused upon addressing. To elaborate further; by taking into account these divergent and varied critical success factors that organisations are faced with today; this work will argue that such an unstable yet exploitable business environment calls for an amalgamation of the key concepts within modernism and postmodernism to be applied subjectively within instances of organisational management. The justification for this thesis will be presented using interpretation and analysis of selected theories and concepts alongside evaluations of case examples. Ultimately, this work will state how, and why, the aforementioned thesis could be the preferable philosophy for organisations in the future.

4. The Battle Outside is Raging: Effects of the External Environment

Moving on from introducing the concepts that this work will be drawing from; the focus will now move to analysing the issues at hand in today's business environment that this work will seek to address.

The rapid growth in interdependencies and interconnections that has occurred as a result of globalization has created vast opportunities . . . and simultaneously introduced new risks.

Trzeciak-Duval & van Veen (2012)

As further described by Thomas (2003, pp. 210-216); globalisation has brought about many complexities for organisations and is one of the critical factors in today's business world. Dicken (1998) echoes this by stating that the ‘the most significant development . . . during the past few decades has been the increasing internationalisation - and arguably the increasing globalisation of [organisational] activities.' This significance put upon globalisation in turn uncovers specific downfalls of modernism and postmodernism. Engholm (2001) points out such failures in modernism by arguing that ‘modernist principles never aimed to be universal' and were developed solely with a western civilisation in mind - ultimately declaring that organisations following modernist philosophies cannot function successfully under globalisation. However, Thomas (2003) references the struggles that the coexistence of postmodernism under globalisation will bring about in the future whilst theorists such as Kellner (1998) and Lizardo & Strand (2009, p. 62-69) point out further difficulties which exist now for organisations using postmodern approaches to management as globalisation becomes more influential. Lizardo & Strand (2009, p. 68) specifically state how ‘globalisation challenges traditional postmodern theory by removing the spatial bases of the contrast that undergirded the modernity/tradition binary'; alluding to the argument that postmodernism is inferior to a modernist approach when set amongst the pressures and complexities of globalisation.

Such rejection of certain aspects of postmodern philosophies amongst globalisation and today's business environment could lead one to believe that modernism is a more apt alternative. However, as previously alluded to and as argued by Amabile et al. (2002) and Fielden & Malcolm (2006); modernist philosophies continuously breed a lack of creativity. This becomes an evidently clear issue for modernist organisations when taking into account the information provided by research such as that carried out by IBM, which declared creativity as the most important competency for the successful enterprise of the future (Dubois & Gardoni, 2013). Ammabile (1996, p. 9) further contextualises how the philosophies and strategies of organisations can affect creativity and innovation; citing management practices, organisational motivation and the allocation of resources as the key barriers - all of which are modified under modernist philosophies to focus away from creativity. Taking this notion into account as well as the aforementioned expected augmentation in the prominence of globalisation; views such as those of Hlavacek & Thompson (1973) elucidate why absolute modernist organisational management is undesirable as ‘in rapidly changing technology industries, new product innovation is a condition of success'.

The evidence and rationale presented thus far has provided reason to determine that - given the nature of today's organizational environment, and moreover, the direction in which it is heading - modernism or postmodernism cannot separately provide all the answers. In order to demonstrate how blurring the lines and boundaries set out by these two opposing conceptual positions (Burrell & Cooper, 1988) can provide better solutions; this work will now look to case examples to exhibit the application of said philosophies. In the 20th century few organisations have utilised the theories and philosophies of modernism greater than fast-food giant McDonalds (Ritzer, 2009). Whilst remembering, as aforesaid, modernisms preference for rationality; Turner (2012) further reinforces McDonald's modernist characteristics by stating that ‘McDonaldization is the most prominent and powerful instance of rationalisation in contemporary societies.' With reference to the downfalls of modernism which have been presented so far; one could expect that as well as the strengths that have allowed the organisation to be so prolific, the predominantly modernist approach of McDonald's has also exposed the weaknesses of the organization within the modern business world. This is very much the case as; alluded to by Morrison (2012) whom blames the companies ‘decelerating' sales and performance upon its ‘lack of innovation' whilst Foley (2012) declares that McDonald's ‘innovation pipeline' is restricted by its organisational structure. This echoes the evidence presented thus far and simultaneously provides an issue to be addressed.

In continuation, yet before seeking to offer an example of how such an issue could be addressed and also in order to remain true to the overall purpose of this work; a case will now be presented highlighting the problems of what is deemed a primarily postmodern organization. Nike, Inc. (Nike) is seen as an organisation that symbolises both the opportunities and the risks which globalisation can bring to what is a predominantly postmodern organisation (Locke, 2002, p. 2). Despite its more recent postmodern affiliation; Nike was initially (pre-1975) an organisation that applied various concepts associated with modernist organisations such as a strong emphasis on central control (Gereffi & Korzeniewicz, 1994, p. 261) and an unvarying, focused strategy (Brenner, p. 2). However, after analysing the changes that were set to occur in the business environment and by recognising the opportunities on the horizon; the organisation sought to alter their strategy and structure (from 1976-1984) via a ‘major reorientation' of their typically modernist strategy (Gereffi & Korzeniewicz, p. 257). This entailed incorporating postmodernist preferences such as ‘drastic product innovation' and ‘drastic changes . . . in strategies' (ibid., p. 259) whilst also redesigning their traditional organisational structure with the specific intent of allowing for more innovation (ibid., p. 261).

Nike represents a postmodern cultural institution that has triggered the dramatic acceleration of the reshaping of structures of experiences precipitated by the extremely rapid advances in information technologies. (Venkatesh, 1999, p. 17)

They subsequently achieved unparalleled levels of success in their industry (1985 onwards) through the application of more postmodern ploys including further alteration of their organisational structure to allow for diversity, flexibility and expertise as well as an ever-increasing focus on exploiting innovation. Such intense focus on creativity as well as aggressive and exploitative market practices labelled Nike a ‘postmodern organisation with a dark side' (Thompson, 1999). Moreover, their strategies gained recognition as the ‘Nike model'; a template based upon postmodern characteristics including irrational ‘no-limit spending' on branding, allocating great value to innovation and adopting a neoliberal approach to dealing with globalisation (Ivanko, p. 193). However, the previously referred to changes, developments and revolutions in today's corporate environment have now elucidated - similar to the manner in which McDonald's weaknesses caused by modernist tendencies were exposed - the weaknesses of Nike that were born out of, and developed from, the very reasons that made them a ‘postmodern corporation' (Veseth, 2006, p. 65). First and foremost; critiques of the organisation's structure provided by Gereffi & Korzeniewicz (1994, p. 257) highlight how Nike's innovation- focused setup meant that the ‘decentralization of . . . arrangements [was] constrained by marketing requirements'. This refers to the structure of Nike as an organisation, which was designed, as aforementioned, with factors such as flexibility and innovation in mind as opposed to more operational and traditionally functional factors. With reference to the problems caused by the increase in global activity that intensified Nike's internal pressures; ‘communication and interaction from team to team became complicated' whilst ‘innovation was hindered by lack of risk taking' as the company's ‘values were starting to misalign' (Anonymous, 2012). To interpret this; the critical success factors that the organization was designed to nurture (i.e. innovation, creativity and expertise) were actually being hindered as the postmodern and innovation-focused structures and strategies that Nike had adopted could not function efficiently enough amongst the varying issues caused by globalisation.

Continued globalization will not homogenize cultural norms and expectations companies such as Nike will need to become even more proactive and dynamic to cope effectively. (Melcrum, 2013) theory, analysis of case examples and knowledge application has been provided to offer the opinion that, though competition between modernism and postmodernism will not breed success; a compliance and alignment between the two could produce the most comprehensive and effective strategies and philosophies for organizations to utilise against the issues brought about by the contemporary business environment of both today and the future.

5. Conclusion

These examples have highlighted - along with the theoretical perspectives provided - the underlying purpose of this report; the identification of the need for contemporary organisations to adopt selected characteristics from what Burrell & Cooper (1988) deem as ‘opposing conceptual positions'. However, simply explicating the need for the adoption of such varied philosophies does not hold enough value. Therefore, this report will now attempt to offer valid and real recommendations - founded in the theory which has been discussed thus far - in order to address the issue. What is obvious from the theory presented up to now, is that neither modernism nor postmodernism satisfy all of the success factors required amidst increasing globalisation. One foundation for a solution can be extrapolated from theory such as that provided Clegg (1989) who refers to the need for ‘subjectification' of the ‘micro-practices' of an organisation alongside Jacques Derrida's decon structive methods (Varney, 2008, pp. 116-117) focused on breaking down pre­existing boundaries and, in turn, the practices and processes of management. These actions can then be complemented by methods such as those supported by Jameson (1983) whom refers to the restructuration of elements (ibid., p. 123) focused on achieving the predetermined requirements of an organisations desired method of operation whilst simultaneously succumbing to, and accounting for, what needs to be the main focus of this process; satisfying the stipulations for success determined by a business environment shaped by globalisation. Essentially, this follows the verdict that globalisation has now become such a decisive factor with regard to the way in which an organisation must be shaped; that no longer should an organisation look internally to the stipulations of their previously adopted philosophy (i.e. modernism or postmodernism) or even their own raison d'etre to determine their structures and strategies. Conversely, they must, as described by Macdonald (1997, p. 3); ‘develop appropriate strategies to respond effectively to the challenges' of globalisation which, this report argues, need to revolve around the blurring of the boundaries between modernism and postmodernism.

Finally, to further align the purpose of this paper with what has been discussed and ultimately propounded; one can refer back to a quote from Boisot and McKelvey who confirmed that ‘competition between modernism and postmodernism seems ever present and has not been fruitful'. This work has used the increasing pressures of globalisation as a tool to highlight the truth within this quote. Furthermore, extensive


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Institution / Hochschule
Birmingham City University
management theory modernism postmodernism strategy structure innovation creativity


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    J. Vincent (Autor)


Titel: Effective and successful management strategies. Certainty and structure against flexibility and innovation