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Three Perspectives of Organizational Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Management
Wordcount: 2797 words Published: 20th Sep 2021

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Organizational theory is based on its three perspectives, which are the modern, symbolic-interpretive and the post-modern. The perspectives each have different approaches when it comes to the management of an organization. Modernists are objectivists who focus on reality of knowledge which is build based upon the conceptualization and the theorization. An Example would be that a company earns profits based on the CEO’s ability to make right decisions while investing the money of an organization. The results of the actions can be measured in profit and loss and can be directly measured. The data which modernists recognize are from the five senses, through what they see, heard, touch, smell and tasted. Modern Perspective builds a set of rules that can be used in organization so that all employees will be able to follow, perform and function, ensuring the entire process in the organization runs smoothly. Modernists do not take into account the symbolic perspective of looking outside of the five senses and looking at emotion and intuition (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).

Modern Perspective

Modernists support the rationalization of organizational practices, as reflected in management research since the writings of early pioneers such as Max Weber and Frederick Taylor (Miller 2009). Modernists tend to deal with results or organized states rather than complex social processes (Chia 1995).The focus of modernist is always for effectiveness and efficiency. The rational modern mind is trained for ‘progress’, both scientifically and productively. (Mills, Terry, Boylstein, Craig & Lorean, S 2001). Modernists assume that behavior of individual at work is significantly determined by values, or attitudes, or beliefs, that the worker holds, and that they can share it with others. Thus behavior of the workforce can therefore be changed to managerial ends by changing their underpinning shared attitudes. Modernist believes that there is a positive correlation between organizational performance and the strength of corporate culture. Modernists have a strong organizational culture and it is about getting people to agree. Modernists believe that corporate culture can influence performance within an organization. Modernist organizations form culture where individual share the same goal. Modernists argue that external factors can either help organization to improve performance once they adapt the new transformation or reduce the effectiveness once they could not catch up with the change. The modernists assume that workers have to have structure to be able to accomplish the goals of the organization (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).

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An example of modernist perspective organization would be the author’s current organization. The workers have a clear job description and even specific sales scripts in the stores on the retail side. The clear job functions and descriptions are aimed to build a set of rules that can be used in organization so that all workers should be able to follow perform and function so that the entire process in the organization works smoothly Modernist focus a lot on leader’s power and on understanding the culture in the organization so the organizational efficiency and effectiveness can be maximized (Sedtke, D 2009).

Symbolic Interpretive Perspective

Symbolic interpretive organizations look at experiences that are outside the reach of the five senses like intuition and emotion. The findings of symbolic interpretive perspective cannot be easily replicated by others and this is why modernists disregard symbolic interpretive findings. The commitment the researchers make is to be true to the personal experience and to honor the accounts and explanations made by others. Symbolic interpretive perspective focuses on meaning and understanding and the results should not be generalized beyond the context in which they were produced. Symbolic interpretive organizations feel that if workers understand culture and the cultural meaning of behaviors, verbal communication, nonverbal communication, symbols and objects that workers will begin to understand themselves (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).

Symbolic interpretive perspective defines reality through what is experienced by having emotions and feelings towards what had happened. This knowledge can enable organization to engage more effectively with diverse cultures within an external to organizations (Lundberg 2008). Symbolic interpretive perspective defines organization structure contribute to work which is meaningful to them by reconstructing structure through observation and participation. Symbolic interpretive identifies the reason why work is produced in a certain way by having stable routines in work through knowledge and human interactions to accomplish organizational goals (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006).

Symbolic interpretive organizations see the organization like a community. The symbolic interpretive organization does not look at testing and experimentation to get hard evidence like a modernist organization would. The organization is flexible and reacts well to an unstable external environment as opposed to the modernist organization which does well in a stable environment but is less productive in an unstable environment due to the lack of flexibility. Member characteristics constitute significant symbols whose importance is derived from a socially constructed process (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). Member characteristics affect both individual group members’ behavior and a group’s collective behavior. Groups may take on personality and communication traits from the composition of their members. Tasks that demand more symbolic behavior tend to benefit from diverse member backgrounds (Frey, 2004).

Postmodern Perspective

Postmodernism diverges from the other two perspectives in its unwillingness to seek Truth or to make permanent ontological or epistemological commitments such as those that give rise to modernist forms of scientific endeavor or to symbolic-interpretive descriptions of meaning and human meaning making activity. Seen from these other perspectives, postmodernists seem to flit between philosophical positions. They often refuse to take even a temporary philosophical stand because they believe that doing so privileges some forms of knowledge over others and this violates postmodern ethics. (Hatch 2006). Whereas modernist philosophers had invoked skepticism in a way that ultimately served to bolster knowledge claims, postmodernists surfaced and criticized unchallenged assumptions within the modernist approach, rejecting aspirations to objectivity and certainty in knowledge and rationality. . (Miller 2009). (see appendix B for modern versus postmodern principles of management).

In common with organizational symbolism, post-modernism is associated with the introduction into organizational culture studies of disciplines such as linguistics, psychoanalysis, anthropology, literary criticism, and history. Foucault’s (1972) influence underlines the realization that concepts such as ‘organization’ and ‘culture’ refer not to objects but to linguistic constructs. Attention to discourse suggests that even if researchers who are interested in ‘culture’ do not appear to ‘have very much in common. organizational culture studies can still be considered as part of the same ‘discursive formation’. (Michael & Stephen 1999).Two of the major influences on post-modernism in history has been White and Foucault (Munslow 1997). White is associated with the stream in postmodernism that ‘is informed by a programmatic, if ironic, commitment to the return to narrative as one of its enabling presuppositions’ (1987: xi). Post-modernism has shifted the emphasis away from seeing archival research as the historian’s craft towards a view that it is the conventions and customs of writing that constitute the craft of history (White 1995: 243). However, it is to believe that organizations are entities that take every possible aspect to reinforce power with their knowledge. The relationship between concepts is always changing as there is no clear definition of a word or concept can be fully verified. Basically, these theories are developed on the basis of critically analyzing the assumptions of major theories that attempts to establish the totality of human existence. Post-modernism seeks to rebuke the notion that history repeats itself in a consistent form of logic through ‘social progress’ and ‘rationalization’.

The three perspectives can be compare and contrast by using the organization structure which is the social and physical structure. Social structure is defined as connection and interaction among individual within each department in an organization whereas physical structure refers to the layout or geographical design of organization (Lecture notes 3, 2009, slide 9).The social structure concept is developed by Max Webber. It is called a systematic study of bureaucracy which refers by modern theorist for developing the division of labour, hierarchy of authority and corporate rules and procedures. (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2009, p.103). From a modernist point of view, structure differentiates through characteristic for having flat or tall organization structure. Tall organization structure has division of labour by having many vertical hierarchy level from top to bottom with fewer departments whereas flat organization structure has more divisions but less hierarchical level (Lecture notes 3, 2009, slide 10). Modernists presume that social structure has a strong correlation between performance, roles and human behaviour. They focus on rules to make sure work performance can be carried out effectively and efficiently.

Unlike modernist, symbolic-interpretivist define organization structure, where human could create things and contribute to work which is meaningful to them by reconstructing structure through observation and participation. It is a focus on how to organize rather than having a structure such as level or hierarchy as compare to modernism. A symbolic interpretivist identifies the reason why work is produced in a certain way by having stable routines in work through knowledge and human interactions to accomplish organization goals. In order to carry out a set of routine activities, it is assumed that members interact using existing scheme. Improvisation is another main concept in symbolic organization where emergency happens, interactions and system will work in a different way to establish another performance.

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As different individual have different experiences and feelings, even some of the routine remain the same but they applied in another way. Sometimes, unpredicted situation will create ground-breaking improvision routine that later on widely used in the organization. Symbolic-interprevists sees organization as a community. Instead of testing and experimenting to get hard evidence like modernist, shared interest and understanding through interview and questionnaire are more likely to be the focus of symbolic-imterpretivist by emphasizing on interpretation of interacts.

Post-modernist does not accept the fact that organization has structure because they do not think that there is a boundary. Approaches such as de-differentiation, de-centralization and de-constructing are used by post-modernist. Modernist have actual system and method that are recognized by people within an organization and there are restrict on surpassing hierarchy level but post-modernism provide recourses and technology for people to set up their own ideological methods to accomplish their goal. Members of post-modernism organization have their own mindset on what need to be done instead of having a standard process among the members. They concern more about how to solve a problem through studying implications rather than trying to figure out the reason behind it like a modernist. Post-modernism are considered to be a feminist organization as every individual has equal rights.

Modernism physical structure is from Hawthorne studies where theorists analyze organization productivity through the layout, lighting and sound from the environment (Lecture note 3, 2009, slide 5). The investigation on distance shows that communication decreased when people are split into smaller division, varied hierarchy level or even different building. While symbolic-interpretivist would believe physical structures for a building symbolize meaning and space. The location of the building and structure of a building can express their organization values. For example, electricity company Origin has a logo ‘O’ with the word ‘origin’ below it. It gives out the message that this company provides natural gas that is environmental friendly (Origin, 2009, page 1) The RMIT university business school used the logo RMiT with the word ‘BUSINESS’ at the bottom to symbolize that it is information about business school. Physical structures for post-modernism will be distinguished by having legitimate authority over others. For example, the office of a CEO is at the top of the building. CEO of a company is the person who has the power to control everyone.

Organisation Culture

In general, organization culture is developed by having assumption what is happening and also the degree of awareness to participate to be part of the culture. According to Schein, there are three levels of culture which are artifacts, values, and assumptions (Schneider & Barsoux 1997, p. 21) Artifacts consists of organizations visible symbols, mark or logo which can represent the image of the organizations. Values of organization can be the beliefs which used to develop mission and vision statement which is referred by employees.

According to modernist, corporate culture can influenced performance within organization. Modernism organization form culture where individual shares same goal. They argue that external factors can either help organization to improve performance once they adapt the new transformation or reduce the effectiveness once they could not catch up with the change. Quantitative analysis method is used to measure the degree of how culture relate to organization adaption and performance. Kotter and Heskett used the financial analysis various company to evaluate the strength of the culture (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2006, p.189). Nowadays, research can by looking at corporation financial year review to see the performance of culture versus effectiveness.

From symbolic-interpretvists’ point of view, they recognized organizational culture as long as they understand and it is reasonable to them. They need interpretation and validation that are meaningful when looking at organizational culture. For example, stories within organizations can lead to an understanding of culture (Liam, 1989, p.3). Through story-telling, symbolic-interpretivist believes that people can be energized to create success or be more alert with the problem they are facing. This can be done through promoting a manager who has great achievement to inspire the rest of the staff. Social constructionist uses qualitative data gathering methods where observation will be carried out to narrow their perspective to investigate organization culture. They will examine through having interview with their focus group (Lecture 4, 2009, slide 19). Unlike modernism and symbolic-interpretive, post-modernist stress that organization culture is not real. They actually have ideological opinions towards cultural and serve it as an illusion. They advocate power and maintain power to make themselves privilege compares to the others within the organization. Both modern and symbolic-interpretive does not have power involved. Modernism focuses on effectiveness and helps to understand how culture fixes into corporation. Yet, symbolic-interpretive is about how to carry out the process of training people or to discover data. They used emotion to guide members in the process of reconstructing ideas. Post-modernist will struggle to gain power over each other.


It is clear that organization exist through different perspectives. Theory and concept used also differ when exploring factors from culture and organization structure as modernism focus on management labour, symbolic-interpretive give more attention on rational-emotion and post-modernist have significant awareness on professional-manual. It is complicated to fully define those perspectives as the culture and organization structure could change over time.


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