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Ritual to con”rm values and provide opportunities for bonding

Reorganizing Realign roles and responsi- bilities to “t tasks and environment

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Improve balance between human needs and formal roles

Redistribute power and form new coalitions

Maintain an image of accountability and responsiveness; negotiate a new social order

Evaluating Way to distribute rewards or penalties and control

Feedback for helping individuals grow and improve

Opportunity to exercise power

Occasion to play roles in shared ritual


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Exhibit 15.1. (continued)

Human Structural Resource Political Symbolic

Process Frame Frame Frame Frame

Approaching� Authorities con!ict� maintain

organizational goals by resolving con!ict

Goal setting� Keep organization headed in the right direction

Communication� Transmit facts and information

Meetings� Formal occasions for making decisions

Motivation� Economic incentives

Individuals confront con!ict to develop relationships

Open communications and keep people committed to goals

Exchange information, needs, and feelings

Informal occasions for involvement, sharing feelings

Growth and self- actualization

Use power to defeat opponents and achieve goals

Provide opportunity for individuals and groups to express interests

In!uence or manipulate others

Competitive occasions to win points

Coercion, manipulation, and seduction

Use con!ict to negotiate meaning and develop shared values

Develop symbols and shared values

Tell stories

Sacred occasions to celebrate and transform the culture

Symbols and celebrations

Multiple realities produce confusion and con”ict as individuals see the same event through different lenses. A hospital administrator once called a meeting to make an important decision. The chief technician viewed it as a chance to express feelings and build relationships. The director of nursing hoped to gain power vis-à-vis physicians. The medical director saw it as an occasion for reaf!rming the hospital’s distinctive approach to medical care. The meeting became a cacophonous jumble, like a group of musicians each playing from a different score.

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The confusion that can result when people view the world through different lenses is illustrated in this classic case:

Doctor Fights Order to Quit Maine Island

Dr. Gregory O’Keefe found himself the focus of a !erce battle between 1,200 year-round residents of Vinalhaven, Maine (an island !shing community), and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which paid his salary and insisted he take a promotion to an administrator’s desk in Rockville, Maryland. He didn’t want to go, and his patients felt the same way. The islanders were so distressed they lobbied Senator William Cohen (R-Maine) to keep him there:

It’s certainly not the prestige or glamour of the job that is holding O’Keefe, who drives the town’s only ambulance and, as often as twice a week, takes critically ill patients to mainland hospitals via an emergency ferry run or a Coast Guard cutter, private plane, or even a lobster boat.

Apparently unyielding in their insistence that O’Keefe accept the promotion or resign, NHSC of!cials seemed startled last week by the spate of protests from angry islanders, which prompted nationwide media attention and inquiries from the Maine congressional delegation. NHSC says it probably would not replace O’Keefe on the island, which, in the agency’s view, is now able to support a private medical practice.

Cohen described himself as “frustrated by the lack of responsiveness of lower-level bureaucrats.” But to the NHSC, O’Keefe is a foot soldier in a military organization of more than 1,600 physicians assigned to isolated, medically needy communities. And he’s had the audacity to question the orders of a superior of!cer.

“It’s like a soldier who wanted to stay at Ft. Myers and jumped on TV and called the defense secretary a rat for wanting him to move,” Shirley Barth, press of!cer for the federal Public Health Service, said in a telephone interview Thursday (Goodman, 1983, p. 1).

The NHSC of!cials had trouble seeing beyond the structural frame; they had a job to do and a structure for getting it done. O’Keefe’s resistance was illegitimate. O’Keefe saw the situation in human resource terms. He felt the work he was doing was meaningful and satisfying, and the islanders needed him. For Senator Cohen, it was a political issue; could minor bureaucrats be allowed to harm his constituents through mindless abuse of power? For the hardy residents of Vinalhaven, O’Keefe was a heroic !gure of mythic proportions: “If he gets one night’s sleep out of 20, he’s lucky, but he’s always up there smiling and working.” The islanders were full of stories about O’Keefe’s humility, skill, humaneness, dedication, wit, con!dence, and caring.

With so many people peering through different !lters, confusion, and con”ict were predictable. The inability of NHSC of!cials to understand and acknowledge the existence of other perspectives illustrates the risks of clinging to a single view of a situation. Whenever someone’s actions seem to make no sense, it is worth asking whether you and they are seeing contrasting realities. You know better what you’re up against when you understand their perspective, even if you’re sure they’re wrong. Their mind-set—not yours—determines how they act.

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MATCHING FRAMES TO SITUATIONS In a given situation, one lens may be more helpful than others. At a strategic crossroads, a rational process focused on gathering and analyzing information may be exactly what is needed. At other times, developing commitment or building a power base may be more critical. In times of great stress, decision processes may become a form of ritual that brings comfort and support. Choosing a frame to size things up or understanding others’ perspectives involves a combination of analysis, intuition, and artistry. Exhibit 15.2 poses questions to facilitate analysis and stimulate intuition. It also suggests conditions under which each way of thinking is most likely to be effective.

• Are commitment and motivation essential to success? The human resource and symbolic approaches need to be considered whenever issues of individual dedication, energy, and skill are vital to success. A new curriculum launched by a school district will fail without teacher support. Support might be strengthened by human resource approaches, such as participation and self-managing teams or through symbolic approaches linking the innovation to values and symbols teachers cherish.

Exhibit 15.2. Choosing a Frame.

Question If Yes: If No:

Are individual commitment and� Human� Structural motivation essential to success?� resource�

Symbolic� Political

Is the technical quality of the decision� Structural� Human resource important?� Political


Are there high levels of ambiguity and� Political� Structural uncertainty?� Symbolic� Human resource

Are con!ict and scarce resources signi”cant?� Political� Structural Symbolic� Human resource

Are you working from the bottom up?� Political� Structural Symbolic� Human resource

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• Is the technical quality important?When a good decision needs to be technically sound, the structural frame’s emphasis on data and logic is essential. But if a decision must be acceptable to major constituents, then human resource, political, or symbolic issues loom larger. Could the technical quality of a decision ever be unimportant? A college found itself embroiled in a three-month battle over the choice of a commencement speaker. The faculty pushed for a great scholar, the students for a movie star. The president was more than willing to invite anyone acceptable to both groups; she saw no technical criterion for judging that one choice was better than the other.

• Are ambiguity and uncertainty high? If goals are clear, technology well understood, and behavior reasonably predictable, the structural and human resource approaches are likely to apply. As ambiguity increases, the political and symbolic perspectives become more relevant. The political frame expects that the pursuit of self-interest will often produce confused and chaotic contests that require political intervention. The symbolic lens sees symbols as a way of !nding order, meaning, and “truth” in situations too complex, uncertain, or mysterious for rational or political analysis.

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