Readings of the Week:
Coombs et al – Culture, Control and Competition
Tarun Rattan – Critique on Studying IS in Organisations
Questions & Comments:
In Coombs et al (1992) paper, the NHS case study was interesting. Even though implementation of new IT could reduce medical errors, there was still some cultural resistance to implementing it. I recently worked with the NHS to implement video conferencing for their doctors – it allowed medical personnel to consult in large groups on cases without the need to travel to one location. There were definite similarities between this case in 1989 and my experience in 2013 with their ‘culture’, ‘control’ & ‘competition’ in certain parts of the NHS. With some teams, the resistance to change and anything new meant I did not get anywhere, but the teams that were culturally embracing new ideas, and saw that they were competing with their colleagues for the best & quickest results on consults, I had success. From there, more teams have taken it on. My observation would be that although an organisation’s culture may be less open to change, this may not be widespread across the organisation. Working with the one team/person who is ready for change will often lead to an entire change of culture in an org.
The Print Co case study at the start of chapter 3 of Walsham has all the hallmarks of a terribly planned IT project. A huge amount of those issues can be understood and explained by looking at it using the web models. The senior vice president was clearly very skilled at playing the social game between participants. But he did so, to his own ends, at the expense of the bigger picture and indeed at the expense of the greater good of the organisation. But I also think another aspect is appalling project management. To design, plan, estimate and schedule a project based on assumption that your team can learn and become proficient at an entirely new programming language, and also not have an adequate plan b, in terms of how and where to recruit skilled IT staff is plainly an appalling planning failure.
Minutes of the Class:
Power and Politics summary from previous session
· Foucault: Key point he makes about disciplinary power is rather than seeing it as a thing, he sees it as much more dissipated throughout the network and it’s insinuated in everyday practice. He is not saying the more knowledge you have equates to more power. Power relations always draw on some body of knowledge to legitimise them. He talks about discourses – his point is that how we subject ourselves plays a very significant role in the way we produce ourselves. He points to the subtlety of power and that it is often difficult to locate the centre of power.
· Giddens has been very influenced by Foucault’s perspective on power. He complements his position on power with a more strategic position. Giddens is very sensitive to how Foucault’s position on power shapes us, produces us and how we see the world. Giddens Quote– “Power may be defined as the capability to secure outcomes where the realisation of these outcomes depends on the agency of others.”
· Foucault and Giddens wanted to get away from the fact that we can’t define it. Power is not a thing. We should see it as a relationship – a relational concept of power.
· Power relations are always two way – even the most autonomous agent is dependent and even the most dependent always retains some autonomy. Giddens encapsulates this in the Dialectic of Control (to be discussed further in the module). Control can never be totalising. People always retain the ability to do otherwise. It always involves some form of mutual dependency no matter how small it may be. Example – Industrial relations established quickly the importance of the effort bargain (manager/subordinate) with a little bit of give and take. Assembly workers may exert their power by using their work to rule/unions.
· We have resources that can be drawn upon to help us. Every complex social system exhibits some degree of inequality. We need to look at power as something that can be enacted in every relationship. We should not just focus on access on resources but consider the skill needed to access those resources. Someone who has those skills might have the upper hand. This leads us away from the deterministic view of power – the haves and the have nots. This gives us the ability to resist power and to identify the spots of resistance which is a key aspect in management.
· Massaging of Metrics and Information Use: Examples given – Hospitals recording entry point later while people lay on trollies in the car park. Flaw here is that future budgets will not reflect the reality. Shoshana Zuboff – “The Age of the Smart Machine” – CEO of Brazilian bank desired a wall of screens so he could make decisions on his units from across the globe. It’s fantastical to think that you can bypass engagement and relationships in order to manage by just using figures to judge your next move.
· Walsham – Chapter 3 draws on work from Andrew Pettigrew and his ICI study. Pettigrew was trying to distil what he had learned from doing change. Pettigrew was advocating Contextualist Analysis. Key insight is the big problem with most changes is that they focus on the content of the change/usability/functionality etc. rather than key factors such as context and process. Content is pretty meaningless unless it is considered in relation to the context and process and we should think about how the content is shaped through context and process (Structuration theory essentially).
· We need to think about how processes unfold over time. We need to understand the vertical and horizontal analysis (Temporal Axis) and look at multiple levels of context and how they create and shape new realities.
· Walsham’s analysis of the SkyB case is a contextual analysis – it starts back in the 1960s. Look at the Economic and Political environment at the time. A key aspect in the late 70s/80s was the influence of Thatcherism & Reaganism (now neoliberalism). We should deregulate sectors where there was no competition. Let’s deregulate the banks, let’s open up the market. It emphasised entrepreneurial approaches and risk taking. Banking used to be a very comfortable job. Banking was transformed due to deregulation and was influenced by neoliberalism. In order to understand what happens at a given time, you have to understand how the current situation came to be. We must draw on the past to understand the present so that we can anticipate the future.
· How did this impact Sky Building Society? The first thing we need to look at when doing any implementation is to look at the historical context. The environment was created for Brown. Sky Building Society came from a comfortable niche – profit but no innovation and then Brown came in and took advantage of the current climate. He was able to take advantage of a good crisis. A key question here is, was there generally a crisis in Sky? Brown was able to convince people there was a crisis, unless they changed something and were radical, things would get worse. Brown was very skilled at convincing people like this. The central tenants of neoliberalism focuses on lack of market control, being entrepreneurial, taking risk, don’t get caught up in the bureaucracy. This was becoming the dominant discussion as how to we should manage business. We should cut out layers of committees. Brown took advantage of the environment to enact what he wanted and convinced people that they were in crisis.
· Walsham and Pettigrew would argue let’s not worry about whether there was actually a crisis or not. Brown created conditions of possibility. This particular context was crucial which allowed Brown to do the things he wanted to do i.e. come into a conservative building society and apply radical change. He was able to produce the context to allow him to do what he wanted to do. The power of the discourse of the entrepreneur – cut through the red tape and get it done. If you disagreed, you were stuck in the old way of thinking, a 60s banker. A key aspect in a lot of organisation management books is to how to create a crisis. In the news now, Tesco released news regarding their growth. They are being outflanked by Aldi, discount grocers etc. so this creates an environment where their business model has to be open to change.
· As Managers, if we want to understand change we have to understand the context and consider the influences that will shape change. When Taylor took over it was a very different context. Autocratic leadership dominated for a long time and it was successful. The actions that happened between 1982 and ‘87 changed the context and process. Context and process are two sides of the same coin. People’s actions and how those actions are sequenced contributed to changing the context. Taylor took over a completely different organisation. Context shapes what is possible and what is not possible.
· Not only do we need to consider context, we need to look carefully at the kinds of actions that Brown engaged in and his actions clearly contributed to context. The overarching item is how Sky Building Society changed because of Brown’s leadership. Taylor tried to change to a participatory approach and wondered will this work at all by 1989.
· Some CEOs are great at changing cultural aspects. Some are less skilled. The skills in one position might work well in one football club for example but might not work in another so this links leadership styles down to context. The organisation context might just not suit you. There is a danger that if you focus too much on context that you might neglect skill.
· Remember bringing about any change is a political process. The broad perspective is that it requires a great deal of skill to shape meanings in certain ways. Brown was successful in bringing about serious changes in the organisation. Is that the difference between management and leadership? Leadership is Management done well as argued by Mintzberg and not just admin. (Focus on this in next week’s readings.) Only since the 1970s has there been an upsurge in articles on Leadership. We need to connect Context and Process. Context shapes how we act. Context is action reproduced – Structuration Theory again.
· Power is drawing on the skills of the resources you have at your disposal. Most analysis of change looks at content only and ignores context and process. This is the key aspect of Structuration Theory. Coombs and Walsham are doing a very similar analysis – Coombs draws more on Foucault rather than Giddens. In Coombs example culture is reproduced through action and structure is formed by action.
· A more exploded version of the two circles i.e. Structuration theory – Context → Action, Culture → Action is depicted in Giddens duality of structure diagram (1984)
Structuration theory: analytical dimensions of duality of structure by Giddens (1984) (p41 of Interpreting Information Systems in Organisations. Walsham, G. 1993),
· Giddens point is that these things aren’t really separate and they are all linked.
Ø Signification – when we communicate, we have to draw on structures of signification. We are Masters Students so we should be able to go write that essay.
Ø Domination – Seamas by virtue of his position has particular resources he can draw on to get us to write the essay.
Ø Legitimation – what constitutes a good piece of work or a bad piece of work?
· When we are acting, we are never acting in a vacuum; we either reinforce them or subtly change them. This diagram above is essentially the two circles however don’t focus on it too much as this is quite an old version of Giddens interpretation.
· What we should focus on is that context is produced through action. When people try and change context, the political skill that is required to do that is specific. Brown was able to draw on resources from an economic context and institutionalise this way of thinking about things so that he could make the change.
· Foucault says that discourse is intimately connected with knowledge. Brown established his dominance pretty quickly. Brown was probably produced by this discourse. If Taylor had of started in 1982, maybe his participatory approach would work. Brown created a completely different context.
· If we want to understand change, we need to understand context and process. We need to understand that they are two sides of the same coin. It is a challenge to reinforce or challenge those structures of power.
· Structuration theory isn’t a conventional theory. It is a way for viewing the world. Another word for it is a social ontology. It informs us about the things we should be attending to. We should be looking at the actions that people do.
· Walsham in the Sky Building Society uses this way of seeing as a way of drawing attention to what was happening in Sky Building Society. We want you as Managers to be able to see, manage and spot things that can help you make sense of the climate.