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WEBC11 05/26/2017 2:21:32 Page 233

Fishman frames both sides of this issue in the case of Walmart:

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The easiest response to the Walmart critics comes from people who shrug and� say, the United States economy is capitalistic and market-based. Walmart is� large and ubiquitous—and powerful—because it does what it does so well.� Walmart is winning for no other reason than personal choice: Customers vote� for Walmart with their wallets; suppliers vote for Walmart with their products.� Any consumer, any businessperson who doesn’t care for the way Walmart does� business is free to buy and sell products somewhere else.�

Theproblemis that this free choicehasbecomean illusion. Inmanycategories� of products it sells,Walmart is now30percent ormore of the entiremarket. It sells� 31percentof thepet foodused in theUnitedStates, 37percentof the freshmeat, 45� percent of the of”ce and school supplies bought by consumers, and 24 percent of� the bottled water. That kind of dominance at both ends of the spectrum—

dominance across a huge range of merchandise and dominance of geographic� consumer markets—means that market capitalism is being strangled with the� kind of slow inexorability of a boa constrictor. It’s not free-market capitalism;� Walmart is running themarket. ThenewlymergedProcter&Gamble andGillette� has sales in excess of $64 billion a year—not only bigger by far than any other� consumer products company, but bigger than all but 20 public companies of any� kind in the United States. But remember: Walmart isn’t just P&G’s number-one� customer; it’s P&G’s business.Walmart is bigger than P&G’s next nine customers� combined. That’s why businesspeople are scared of Walmart. They should be.� And if a corporation with the scale, vigor, and independence of P&Gmust bend� to Walmart’s will, it’s easy to imagine the kind of in!uence Walmart wields� over the operators of small factories in developing nations, factories that just� want work and have almost no leverage with Walmart or Walmart’s vendors � (Fishman, 2006, p. 20. Copyright ! 2006. Academy of Management).�

Walmart’s clout remains formidable, but its future is less clear. After years of embattled, slow growth, in 2016 Walmart’s sales and pro”ts declined for the “rst time in decades. Will it grow and prosper in the future? Or will it follow companies like Sears into a long downhill slide from the pinnacle it now commands? Whatever happens to Walmart, the battle over corporate power will continue on a global scale.

In recent years, across industries and around the globe, wealth and power have been increasingly concentrated in a shrinking number of very large “superstar” “rms. This is not

Organizations as Political Arenas and Political Agents 233

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always good news for workers because as industries becomemore concentrated, the share of the economic pie that goes to labor shrinks (Autor et al., 2017). The power of large multinational companies has continued to grow, but they must still cope with the demands of other powerful players: governments, labor unions, investors, and consumers. In a cacophonous global village, this is the biggest political contest of all.

CONCLUSION Organizations are both arenas for internal politics and political agents with their own agendas, resources, and strategies. As arenas, they house competition and offer a setting for the ongoing interplay of divergent interests and agendas. An arena’s rules and parameters shape the game to be played, the players on the “eld, and the interests to be pursued. From this perspective, every signi”cant organizational process is inherently political.

As agents, organizations are tools, often very powerful tools, for achieving the purposes of whoever controls them. But they are also inevitably dependent on their environment for needed support and resources. They exist, compete, and coevolve in business or political ecosystems with clusters of organizations, each pursuing its own interests and seeking a viable niche. As in nature, relationships within and between ecosystems are sometimes “ercely competitive, sometimes collaborative and symbiotic.

A particularly urgent and controversial question is the relative power of organizations and society. Giant multinational corporations have achieved scale and resources unprecedented in human history. Critics worry that they are dominating and distorting politics, society, and the environment. Optimists argue that organizations retain their clout only by adapting to larger social forces and responding to the needs and demands of customers and constituents.

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WEBP05 05/26/2017 3:14:27 Page 235

PART F I V E

The Symbolic Frame

When the Catholic Church changed the liturgy from Latin to English many parishioners rebelled even though the change made sacred tenets more accessible. For many it was the !rst time that they could grasp and grapple with the sacred values of their faith. InHunger of Memory, one parishioner describes vividly his reaction to the change:

But now that I no longer live as a Catholic in a Catholic world, I cannot expect the liturgy—which re”ects and cultivates my faith—to remain what it was. I will continue to go to the English mass. I will go because it is my liturgy. I will, however, often recall with nostalgia the faith I have lost . . . The church is no longer mine (Rodriguez, 1997, p. 107).

In 1995 The Coca-Cola Company changed its 99-year-old recipe for its “agship soft drink. Pepsi, the company’s chief competitor, was making inroads into Coke’s market share; and in a series of blind taste tests, the new recipe was consistently preferred over Pepsi. This gave the company executives con!dence that a new product would corner the market. The New Coke was launched with an elaborate advertising campaign.

Public reaction was swift and unanticipated. Some consumers !lled their basements with the original Coke. Protest groups popped up across the country. Songs were written to

Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Sixth Edition. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. ! 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by Jossey-Bass.

 

 

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honor the old taste. Protestors at an event in Atlanta carried placards: “We want the real thing,” “Our children will never know refreshment.” Other reactions carried the same sentiment.

Both the Latin liturgy and Coca-Cola are laden with symbolism. Symbols carry powerful intellectual and emotional messages; they speak to the heart and the soul. They are embedded in myths which are truer than true. “It is through myths that men are lifted above their capacity in the ordinary, attain powerful visions of the future, and realize such visions” (Berger, 1974, p. 26).

The symbolic frame focuses on how myth and symbols help humans make sense of the chaotic, ambiguous world in which they live. Meaning, belief, and faith are its central concerns. Meaning is not given to us; we create it. There are, for example, many who revere the American “ag and many others who burn it. The “ag is symbolically powerful for both groups but for different reasons. It represents patriotism for one group, oppression or imperialism for the other. Symbols are the basic materials of the meaning systems, or cultures, we inhabit. Leaders are bricoleurs, people who survey and use the materials at hand to help construct meaning systems. We experience our way of life in the same way that !sh live in water. Many contemporary leaders highlight the critical role culture plays in organizations:

• Lou Gerstner (IBM): “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture is not just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

• Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

• Jim Sinegal (Costco): “What else have we got besides stories? It’s what brings meaning to the work we do.”

• Howard Schultz (Starbucks): “A company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven not by pro!ts but by values and people.”

• John Mackey (Whole Foods): “Culture is no less than ‘how we do things around here.’ Less tangible than other physical assets on a company balance sheet, it is nonetheless the most valuable asset a company has—for it stitches people together in common beliefs, values and purpose and represents the basis for authenticity of experience for both team members and customers.”

Chapter 12 explores the many forms cultural symbols take in social life, including myth, vision, story, heroes and heroines, ritual, and ceremony. It then uses a variety of examples to demonstrate what culture is and why it is so important.

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