Four Frames: As Near as Your Local Bookstore Imagine a harried executive browsing online or at her local bookseller on a brisk winter day in 2017. She worries about her company’s “agging performance and wonders if her own job might soon disappear. She spots the black cover of How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business. Flipping through the pages, she notes topics like measuring the value of information and the need for better risk analysis. She is drawn to phrases such as “A key step in the process is the calculation of the economic value of information . . . [A] proven formula from the !eld of decision theory allows us to compute a monetary value for a given amount of uncertainty reduction”4 (p. 35). “This stuff may be good,” the executive tells herself, “but it seems a little too stiff and numbers-driven.”
Next, she !nds Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success. Glancing inside, she reads, “Many of our of!cers handwrite several thousand notes each year. Besides being loving, we know this is meaningful to our People because we hear from them if we miss something signi!cant in their lives like the high school graduation of one of their kids. We just believe in accentuating the positive and celebrating People’s successes”5 (p. 7). “Sounds nice,” she mumbles, “but a little too touchy-feely. Let’s look for something more down to earth.”
Continuing her search, she looks at Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t. She reads, “You can compete and triumph in organizations of all types . . . if you understand the principles of power and are willing to use them. Your task is to know how to prevail in the political battles you will face”6 (p. 5). She wonders, “Does it really all come down to politics? It seems so cynical and scheming. How about something more uplifting?”
She spots Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organiza- tion. She ponders its message: “Tribal leaders focus their efforts on building the tribe, or, more precisely, upgrading the tribal culture. If they are successful, the tribe recognizes them
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as leaders, giving them top effort, cult-like loyalty, and a track record of success”7 (p. 4). “Fascinating,” she concludes, “but seems a little too primitive for modern organizations.”
In her book excursion, our worried executive has rediscovered the four perspectives at the heart of this book. Four distinct metaphors capture the essence of each of the books she examined: organizations as factories, families, jungles, and temples or carnivals. But she leaves more confused than ever. Some titles seemed to register with her way of thinking. Others fell outside her zone of comfort. Where should she go next? How can she put it all together?
Factories The !rst book she stumbled across, How to Measure Anything, provides counsel on how to think clearly and make rational decisions, extending a long tradition that treats an organization as a factory. Drawing from sociology, economics, and management science, the structural frame depicts a rational world and emphasizes organizational architecture, including planning, strategy, goals, structure, technology, specialized roles, coordination, formal relationships, metrics, and rubrics. Structures—commonly depicted by organization charts—are designed to !t an organization’s environment and technology. Organizations allocate responsibilities (“division of labor”). They then create rules, policies, procedures, systems, and hierarchies to coordinate diverse activities into a uni!ed effort. Objective indicators measure progress. Problems arise when structure doesn’t line up well with current circumstances or when performance sags. At that point, some form of reorganization or redesign is needed to remedy the mismatch.
Families Our executive next encountered Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success, with its focus on people and relationships. The human resource perspective, rooted in psychology, sees an organization as an extended family, made up of individuals with needs, feelings, prejudices, skills, and limitations. From a human resource view, the key challenge is to tailor organizations to individuals—!nding ways for people to get the job done while feeling good about themselves and their work. When basic needs for security and trust are unful!lled, people withdraw from an organization, join unions, go on strike, sabotage, or quit. Psychologically healthy organizations provide adequate wages and bene!ts and make sure employees have the skills, support, and resources to do their jobs.
Jungles Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t is a contemporary application of the political frame, rooted in the work of political scientists. This view sees organizations as
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arenas, contests, or jungles. Parochial interests compete for power and scarce resources. Con”ict is rampant because of enduring differences in needs, perspectives, and lifestyles among contending individuals and groups. Bargaining, negotiation, coercion, and com- promise are a normal part of everyday life. Coalitions form around speci!c interests and change as issues come and go. Problems arise when power is concentrated in the wrong places or is so widely dispersed that nothing gets done. Solutions arise from political skill and acumen—as Machiavelli suggested 500 years ago in The Prince (1961).
Temples and Carnivals Finally, our executive encountered Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, with its emphasis on culture, symbols, and spirit as keys to organizational success. The symbolic lens, drawing on social and cultural anthropology, treats organizations as temples, tribes, theaters, or carnivals. It tempers the assumptions of rationality prominent in other frames and depicts organizations as cultures, propelled by rituals, ceremonies, stories, heroes, history, and myths rather than by rules, policies, and managerial authority. Organization is also theater: actors play their roles in an ongoing drama while audiences form impressions from what they see on stage. Problems arise when actors blow their parts, symbols lose their meaning, or ceremonies and rituals lose their potency. We rekindle the expressive or spiritual side of organizations through the use of symbol, myth, and magic.
The FBI and the CIA: A Four-Frame Story A saga of two squabbling agencies illustrates how the four frames provide different views of the same situation. Riebling (2002) documents the long history of head-butting between America’s two major intelligence agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. Both are charged with combating espionage and terrorism, but the FBI’s authority is valid primarily within the United States, while the CIA’s mandate covers everywhere else. Structurally, the two agencies have always been disconnected. The FBI is housed in the Department of Justice and reports to the attorney general. The CIA reported through the director of central intelligence to the president until 2004, when reorganization put it under a new director of national intelligence.
At a number of major junctures in American history (including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks), each agency held pieces of a larger puzzle, but coordination snafus made it hard for anyone to see all the pieces, much less put them together. After 9/11, both agencies came under heavy criticism, and each blamed the other for lapses. The FBI complained that the CIA had failed
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to tell them that two of the terrorists had entered the United States and had been living in California since 2000 (Seper, 2005). But an internal Justice Department investigation also concluded that the FBI didn’t do very well with the information it did have. Key signals were never “documented by the bureau or placed in any system from which they could be retrieved by agents investigating terrorist threats” (Seper, 2005, p. 1).
Structural barriers between the FBI and the CIA were exacerbated by the enmity between the two agencies’ patron saints, J. Edgar Hoover and “Wild Bill” Donovan. When Hoover !rst became FBI director in the 1920s, he reported to Donovan, who didn’t trust him and tried unsuccessfully to get him !red. When World War II broke out, Hoover lobbied to get the FBI identi!ed as the nation’s worldwide intelligence agency. He fumed when President Franklin D. Roosevelt instead created a new agency and made Donovan its director. As often happens, cooperation between two units was chronically hampered by a rocky personal relationship between two top dogs who never liked one another