A New Metaphor

A New Metaphor

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A New Metaphor

Abstract

Pummeled by aggressive pressure from the private sector, scholars of organization activity have researched on new methods of tackling the increasingly complicated organizations. Creativity has emerged as one of the methods and any approach that has adopted creativity has attracted a lot of attention. In this discussion of metaphors of organizations, a similar approach is investigated where the use of metaphors is employed to improve the comprehension of organizational structure and boost creativity. In order to answer the question of whether the metaphorical model can deliver a new and productive method for understanding within organizations, the writings of Gareth Morgan offer a deep insight into the significance of metaphors within the organization.

Introduction

All doctrines of management and organization are grounded on implied metaphors or perceptions that convince people to see, comprehend, and visualize circumstances in fractional ways. Therefore, metaphors develop insight. However, they also misrepresent the same managers, clients and workers in an organization (Smith, 2011). Metaphors may have their strong points but they also have confines. Metaphors can create ways of perceiving something and create ways of hiding the same thing (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). Therefore, no single organizational metaphor or theory can provide a universal standpoint. No single theory can be considered correct or applicable for guiding all the activities in the organization (Morgan, 2007). Through the metaphors, Morgan intended to tackle different organizational problems. Gareth Morgan asserted that the metaphor was a significant tool in offering solutions to complicated issues by offering non-literal descriptions to real situations.

The development of a corporate metaphor is an effort that has been attempted by several companies to no avail. The key to developing a unique and relevant organizational metaphor depends on collecting of the opinions of all the staff concerning their metaphors on the direction of the company and the firm itself (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). These opinions also included the relationship between the organization and employees as well as the vision of the workers. This step is succeeded by an incorporation process where all the personal metaphors and views are merged into one group metaphor depending on their respective departments. After this is accomplished, the leaders of these groups can engage in deliberations and comparisons to clear any overlapping and contentious issues and reach a consensus on the integrated metaphor (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). The result of this process is an increased understanding of the collective goals in the organization and a clear direction of how best to achieve these goals (Smith, 2011). This same process shall be administered in the development of a new organizational metaphor.

Impact of Metaphors on Organizational Functioning

Metaphors have a positive impact on the appropriate performance and growth of the organization. The expansion of the organization relies largely on the widespread interpretation of the organization metaphor. These organized patterns of behavior are articulated using language and signs that are developed when the employees continue interacting with each other (Smith, 2011). The patterns provide the foundation for a joint system of meaning that fosters collaboration and allows daily communication to occur effortlessly, without conciliation conducted by a common mediator having the knowledge of the vision and goals of the organization (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011: Jd, 2011). This, consecutively, leads to regularity and clarity. According to Morgan (2007), this is one of the features of a thriving organization. The permanence of the organization depends on how long the mutual understanding among its workers is maintained. According to Morgan (2007), the necessity for a common understanding among employees is significant in the current corporate environment. The contemporary world is transforming quickly, and this creates an urgent need for properly defined and approved values and goals (Smith, 2011). Defining it in such a way will assist the organization to handle the transformations without losing their company direction. A universal and long-term description of the targets is developed by vision, an understandable task, and a common viewpoint and metaphors (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011).

The Three-Ring Circus Metaphor in Organizations

The basic three-ring circus operates by having three adjacent rings where the performances are conducted concurrently. The ‘three-ring circus’ model provides an approach against which workers can establish the features of their own organizations or executive subsections and appreciate the general nature of their specific difficulties in handling organizational change. In summary, the three-ring approach works by synchronizing the three main tenets of any formal organization. The three rings are symbolic of marketing, manufacturing, research, and development within an organization with each of the rings trying to occupy the center position. The president or CEO represents the ringmaster who controls the activities in the ring while the ring represents the environment in which the organization operates. The analysis of the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor will provide more insight into its use and applicability within the organization.

Marketing and Its Role within the Organization

Within the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor of organization, the marketing department can be considered to be the tightrope walking act. Typically, walking on a tightrope is an act performed by stuntmen that involves an individual walking across a tightrope suspended at a great height in front of an audience. For tightrope walkers, it is a matter of life and death. The risk and rewards associated with tightrope walking can be adopted to illustrate the significance within the organization. Therefore, awarding the high wire act metaphor to the marketing department illustrates the risks that the organization faces on a daily basis. However, the tightrope walking also illustrates a diplomatic and subtle line of work that involves balancing the interests of several parties. These two elements will be addressed and elaborated later in the discussion with relevant examples of how they are applied in the real-life setting.

Balancing the numerous marketing avenues has turned out to be a relatively demanding task for most marketing departments (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). Several questions emerge that challenge the marketing departments such as which initiatives are most significant, what marketing alternatives are imperative to concentrate on for maximum revenue generation and other concerns (Smith, 2011). A common aspect of marketing is the collection and manipulation of consumer data for guiding the development of organization strategies. Currently, marketing departments use different avenues such as the social media and ratings to collect this information. However, walking the tightrope between using consumer data to develop company strategies and avoiding privacy intrusions and complications.

The subject of confidentiality frequently zeroes in on the fact that patrons know they have full jurisdiction of their information, making it imperative that organizations respect customers’ desires to keep an amount of control over the people who have access to their data, or else they could face charges of invasion of privacy (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). The ownership of information is a grey area, as clients willingly share their information publicly on the Internet. The discussion became gradually complicated with the clash between UK and EU over the General Data Protection Regulation policies (Smith, 2011). This has resulted in negative marketing for several companies as consumers find fault with the sensitive personal information that is posted on the Internet by demanding an exit system from the different marketing devices such as social media sites. In such a case, the balancing acts conducted by the different marketing sectors will determine how well their responses will save those customers (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). Customers will either trust the new and safer system of divulging information and increase their loyalty to the organization or distance themselves from the organization and instead serve them with charges of invasion of privacy. Therefore, in such a case, the applicability of the element of marketing within the three rings of circus metaphor is explained.

Research, Development, and Its Role in the Organization

In the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor of organizations, research and development activities represent the magic acts of the circus. The magic acts work by staging illusions or tricks that appear outwardly impossible to achieve. The ‘magic act’ metaphor in research and development points towards the perception that in the particular department, the creation and realization of apparently unattainable and difficult goals, products, realizations and services is done. These activities are referred to as ‘magic acts’ because they are produced by a team of intelligent and skilled specialists that use the existing resources to come up with methods and products that assist the organization realize its goals. Research and development (R&D) refers to a collection of activities taking place in an organization that are based on two main models (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). One model concentrates on inventing and refining new products (Smith, 2011; Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). The other model is concerned with finding out and developing fresh knowledge about technical and scientific topics with the intention of revealing and facilitating development of important new services, processes, and products. The two main actors in research and development include engineers and industrial scientists. The efforts of these two parties are complimented by corporate or state entities.

Research and development of new products is customarily a critical factor in the continued existence of an organization. In an industry that is highly dynamic, organizations continually modify their blueprints and assortment of products (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). This is essential because of the uninterrupted technology alterations and development as well as other rivals and the shifting preferences of the clientele. In the absence of an R&D program, an organization must depend on tactical alliances, purchase of other properties, and associations to get wind of the rate and direction of innovations (Smith, 2011). A system controlled by marketing places the consumers’ needs first and invests in manufacturing goods that have a high demand. R&D activities are performed by dedicated divisions or units that work under the same organization. However, in extremely sensitive cases, they are out-sourced to universities, contract organizations, or government agencies (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). In the business context, research and development usually refers to future-oriented, continuing activities in technology. While these activities apply scientific research techniques, they are directed toward yielding outcomes having commercial value. The metaphor ‘magic acts’ in this case refer to the innovations and developments that are produced by the research and development departments and will form the crux of this discussion. However, the focus will be on the relationship between the metaphor and the actual activities in an organization.

Manufacturing and Its Role within the Organization

The manufacturing or production department refers to the section of the responsible for converting raw materials into finished products and services through a sequence of production processes. The main sub-functions of the manufacturing department include the following. The planning and production sector deals with established goals of the organization that control the quality and duration taken to finish products (Morgan, 2007). The purchasing sector is awarded with the responsibility of availing the inputs needed to keep the process operational. The store section stocks the necessary equipment and other materials required for the manufacturing process. The technical support unit handles the research processes, modifications and experimentation with new techniques. Lastly, the works center deals with the actual manufacturing of the products (Morgan, 2007). Using the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor, the manufacturing department can be perceived as the main show in the circus. Frequently, these are the elephants that perform the actual tricks and feats that attract a large audience. Manufacturing is also considered the ‘main show’ because it is responsible for producing the service or product that is consumed by many clients. Therefore, they engage with a particular organization mainly because of the products or services that they offer. The next section discusses the metaphorical significance of the manufacturing department in light of the ‘three-ring circus’ structure. The type of product or service developed by an organization is a very important decision that determines several other factors such as the profit margins, the growth of the organization and even the number and nature of customers. Therefore, manufacturing is at the core of the organization since from it springs the remaining offshoots such as advertising, research, and development. The quality and state of the product after the manufacturing process determines where and how the organization will market it (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011).

Other Elements of the ‘Three-Ring Circus’ Metaphor

Advertising

The advertising section within an organization can be compared to the ticket salespersons that operate outside the circus itself. Advertising is a crucial way of communicating to customers and informing them about the organization and its products (Smith, 2011). In a manner similar to the circus, an organization will also advertise their products and services to the consumers. A circus would place posters of all the major events and acts that would be performed in the event. Any offers and promotions would also be indicated using facilitators. There is no limit to the scope of advertising as it reaches the whole population and even focuses on specific profiles of consumers. Advertising is important within an organization as it play several roles. An organization might be trying out a new product and may require people to know about before it is launched. An organization may also want to establish a trend of consumption by constantly reminding consumers of the products. This second role is by far the most urgent role played by advertising in any company. The ‘ticket salesperson’ metaphor was well suited as it expounded on the role that the advertising department played in disseminating information on the products, their qualities and their benefits

Customers and Customer Support

Figuratively speaking, customers and customer support in the organization can be likened to the audience and the snack vendors in ‘three – ring circus’ representation. Within the circus, the audience is the final consumers that enjoy the products and services that are offered by the circus administration (organization). Consequently, the ‘snack vendors’ can be considered to be the customer support or the human resource staff in the organization. The two roles are closely related as they form the most significant aspect of the organization. Just like the audience, the consumers of various products have several tastes and preferences that they expect have to be taken care of. These consumers choose a particular product over another depending on the amount of information provided to them by the ‘ticket sales’ team (advertising team) as well as the kind of assistance they are given by the ‘snack vendors’ (customer support). ‘Clients’ (customers) have the choice of refusing to subscribe to any product or service that fails to meet their needs. This consumer privilege is quite similar in the contemporary business environment as well as the informal circus setting.

Field Engineers

In a circus setting, there are clowns that ensure all the shows are running smoothly by facilitating the setting up of equipment, clearing of waste or debris and assisting the performers. Field engineers or support staff plays the same role within the organization. From the earlier descriptions, the three rings in the metaphor symbolized the three major departments in most formal organizations. These departments require the support of a unique group of individuals to ensure the daily running of the organization. Some of the common functions performed by the support staff including standardized delegated tasks, administrative work and inter-departmental programs (Smith, 2011). The support staff plays a very important role in the organization that is hardly acknowledged. Just like the clowns who move between the rings and facilitate the availing of props, costumes and other artists, the support staff acts as the link between different departments and groups. In the event that conflict occurs as was described earlier, the support staff become even more significant as they are usually indifferent and take a neutral stand (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). In other words, they are administrative in nature and lack any political effect within the organization. Successful organizations have always handled the support staff wit great consideration as they hold the key to efficiency and growth by bringing together the activities of different departments that may have ideological differences interfering with their professionalism (Smith, 2011).

The Operational System

Any organization that desires to be successful has to learn how to combine all the efforts and traits of the three major departments in the formal structure efficiently. The marketing, manufacturing, research, and development departments must be integrated skillfully if any organizational efficiency is expected (Heracleous & Jacobs, 2011). If one or more of the components of the system is affected or omitted, the whole systems fails to achieve its objectives and collapses. The metaphor used in the introduction to describe the parts of the organization in finer detail can also be used to describe the system as a whole. It is imperative to note that systems work by depending on different sub-systems that in turn rely on smaller sub-systems. The success of an organization can be explained sing the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor where all the aspects of the circus work together to make it entertaining and successful. The grand finale happens only when the ticket sales (advertising) and the snack vendor (human resources) handle the product and employee issues. The magic act, the tightrope walking and the elephant performance represent the different activities undertaken by the organization. However, in the way that the circus needs all these employees and the resources, the organization also operates by depending on the contribution of different parts of the system (Smith, 2011).

Conflict between the Major Departments in an Organization

These different departmental entities are typified by several diverse expertise, capabilities and resources, working interdependently and having the ability to realize their own targets and take part in accomplishing the organization’s crucial goal. The administration of these inter-functional associations is a hotly debated issue. Morgan defines the phrase inter-functional as ‘the set consisting of two or more functional groups or departments’ (Morgan, 2007). This description exemplifies in a basic way, the connection that is created within the firm between units or departmental bodies. These relationships were illustrated in most publications as referring to specific entities for example accounting, sales, R & D, finance, information systems, production and marketing. With the aim of facilitating the comprehension of the idea of inter-functional groups, several clarifications concerning the availing of endogenous factors that affect the running of the organization. In this comparison and analysis, conflict came up as a surprising factor that promoted the cooperation among the different corporate entities.

As mentioned in the introduction, the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor of an organization is characterized by conflicts and struggles within the different departments of the organization. The three major groups within the organization: manufacturing (production), research and development and marketing are regularly awarded conflicting objectives that create clashes when the entities cross paths. The ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor referred to these three groups or departments within an organization as three rings having a competitive relationship. Each of the entities’ main goals is to occupy the center ring that can be perceived as the position of power and influence within the organization. In the process of pursuing supremacy, each department ends up creating a rivalry with the other groups. Keeping in mind that in circuses, the center ring is the most prominent, popular and possesses the main feature of the performance, it is relatively simple to understand where the struggle starts.

This center ring metaphor can be perceived as the dominant department within the organization that receives the lion share of the budgetary allocation, highly skilled employees and other benefits. The whole perception behind the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor is that an organization has approximately three centers of administration that perform different roles (Morgan, 2007). The relationships that arise between these parties create several conflicts among the employees, work groups and committees. The application of the metaphor in the organizational setting served to describe the nature of operations as well as the parties involved. In normal situations, there are preset descriptions for most organizations such as open system or closed system. However, using metaphors such as the ‘three-ring circus’ goes further and paints a more detailed picture of the happenings and structure of the organization than any formal definitions could. The next section deals with the conflict in detail and elaborates on the solutions that are unique to such a structure.

Since it is evident that acknowledging the ‘three-ring’ metaphor means accepting that the different aspects of the same organization are in conflict, it is imperative to understand that the conflict in itself can be beneficial in a way to the firm. The ‘three-ring circus’ system fosters a healthy form of rivalry and aggression that can be tapped to produce exemplary results among the departments and the employees. The existence of a nonconformist employee or department often ends up in more analysis and discussion of the common issue and more resourceful answers (Morgan, 2007). This is because discrepancies force the dissenting parties to deliberate more in their efforts to tackle all the valid objections to the widespread opinion. If the marketing department disagrees with the research and development wing, they would require another session to iron out their differences and come up with a solution that benefits both parties. However, the group must be prepared to tackle the emerging complications effectively or else the whole system collapses.

It is apparent that genuine interdependence among the different sections of the organization leads immediately to a solution within the parties. The ‘three-ring circus’ organizations will still need the service of all the three sections in equal measure. Interdependence acknowledges that differences will subsist and that they are useful. Therefore, members learn to take in proposals from dissenters without necessarily agreeing to them, they learn to promote openness, and they find out to develop a problem-sharing mindset. In such competitive environment as the one described above, the true nature of the ‘three-ring circus’ organization is revealed. Conflict is brought out as a normal occurrence and is instead embraced and transformed into a motivating factor that pits the different parties into an intellectual melting pot. From such a relationship, it can be deduced that a ‘three-ring circus’ organization demands highly skilled and experienced leadership that can coordinate the whole organization smoothly.

Three-Ring Circus Solution to Conflict

Coming to a workable solution concerning the problems of interdepartmental conflicts using the ‘three-ring circus’ approach, it is imperative that several prerequisites are outlined. The solution should be relevant to the employees themselves therefore; all the resolutions should be tailored to fit their workplace situations. By interviewing the workers, the different metaphors within different departments (rings) can be established through collecting and integrating the opinions. During the interrogation process, the workers also expose areas that exhibit weaknesses and this helps in solving interdepartmental conflicts faster (Fox, 2004). However, using the ‘three-ring circus’ metaphor, the employees can see the opportunity to start the change from within their own departments instead of waiting for external intervention. The interview and analysis process that will reveal the common metaphor for the organization will be administered using the Clean Language technique (Sullivan & Rees, 2008). The clean language is a technique of inquiry and discussion that is dedicated for finding out, investigating and working with employee’s individual metaphors. Through clean language, the consultant can sift through the simple metaphors expressed by the employees and come up with the hidden meaning of their thought processes. While the employee speaks, clean language allows the analyst to bring out thoughts that people were unconscious of to awareness of the speaker where they can be understood easily. Clean language can even help in determining symbols and metaphors that are unusual or confusing (Sullivan & Rees, 2008). In implementing this process practically, the following steps can be taken to realize positive outcomes concerning the genuine organizational metaphor.

Typically conducted by a consultant, the initial study involves interviewing the employees within their particular departments. All the members of one department are asked to express their most accurate metaphor that represents the organization. After this process, the consultant can start to build on the common metaphors that appear in the questionnaires. This enables the raw information to be transformed into meaningful data concerning the metaphor of the organization. Nonetheless, it is imperative to know that metaphors are abstract in nature and may fail to offer quantitative outcomes. However, they offer an avenue for the consultant to move from the unknown to the known.

Conclusion

Many players in the corporate sector possess a metaphor that precisely portrays their opinion of the organization where they work or associate themselves. The metaphor is vital in determining how employees distinguish, memorize, and evaluate information they encounter (Morgan, 2007). Conversely, any distinct metaphor restricts people’s viewpoints by jamming and misrepresenting the information received. A larger number of the conflicts among departments in the organization are triggered by the different metaphors held by different employees. These workers are unaware that their behaviors are closely influenced by the metaphors they hold.

References

Fox, R., & Fox, J. (2004). Organizational discourse: A language-ideology-power perspective. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Heracleous, L. T., & Jacobs, C. D. (2011). Crafting strategy: Embodied metaphors in practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jd, Robert. (2011). Navigating Organizations through the 21st Century: A Metaphor for Leadership. Xlibris Corp.

Morgan, G. (2007). Images of organization. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Smith, B. D. (2011). Turf wars: what the intraorganisational conflict literature may contribute to our understanding of marketing strategy implementation. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 19, 1, 25-42.

Sullivan, W., & Rees, J. (2008). Clean language: Revealing metaphors and opening minds. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House.