Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 3rd Edition / Edition 3

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In this third edition of their best-selling classic, authors Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal explain the powerful tool of "reframing." The authors have distilled the organizational literature into a comprehensive approach for looking at situations from more than one angle. Their four frames view organizations as factories, families, jungles, and theaters or temples:
  • The Structural Frame: how to organize and structure groups and teams to get results
  • The Human Resource Frame: how to tailor organizations to satisfy human needs, improve human resource management, and build positive interpersonal and group dynamics
  • The Political Frame: how to cope with power and conflict, build coalitions, hone political skills, and deal with internal and external politics
  • The Symbolic Frame: how to shape a culture that gives purpose and meaning to work, stage organizational drama for internal and external audiences, and build team spirit through ritual, ceremony, and story
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787964269
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/25/2003
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal are the best-selling authors of Leading with Soul. Bolman holds the Marion Bloch Chair in Leadership at the Bloch School of Business, University of Missouri—Kansas City. He consults worldwide to corporations, public agencies, universities, and schools. Deal is the Irving R. Melbo Professor of Education at the Rossier School, University of Southern California, and an international consultant to business, health care, military, educational, and religious organizations.
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Table of Contents

The Authors
Pt. 1 Making Sense of Organizations 1
Ch. 1 Introduction: The Power of Reframing 3
Ch. 2 Simple Ideas, Complex Organizations 20
Pt. 2 The Structural Frame 41
Ch. 3 Getting Organized 43
Ch. 4 Structure and Restructuring 68
Ch. 5 Organizing Groups and Teams 93
Pt. 3 The Human Resource Frame 111
Ch. 6 People and Organizations 113
Ch. 7 Improving Human Resource Management 133
Ch. 8 Interpersonal and Group Dynamics 160
Pt. 4 The Political Frame 181
Ch. 9 Power, Conflict, and Coalition 183
Ch. 10 The Manager as Politician 202
Ch. 11 Organizations as Political Arenas and Political Agents 221
Pt. 5 The Symbolic Frame 239
Ch. 12 Organizational Culture and Symbols 241
Ch. 13 Organization as Theater 270
Ch. 14 Organizational Culture in Action 287
Pt. 6 Improving Leadership Practice 301
Ch. 15 Integrating Frames for Effective Practice 303
Ch. 16 Reframing in Action: Opportunities and Perils 320
Ch. 17 Reframing Leadership 334
Ch. 18 Reframing Change: Training, Realigning, Negotiating, Grieving, and Moving On 367
Ch. 19 Reframing Ethics and Spirit 394
Ch. 20 Bringing It All Together: Change and Leadership in Action 409
Ch. 21 Epilogue 431
App The Best of Organizational Studies: Scholars' Hits and Popular Best-Sellers 435
References 439
Name Index 459
Subject Index 471
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First Chapter

Reframing Organizations

Artistry, Choice, and Leadership
By Lee G. Bolman Terrence E. Deal

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-6426-3

Chapter One


The Power of Reframing

"The World's Leading Company," the lobby banner proclaimed in the gleaming corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas. With some justification. For six years running, Enron had been voted the most innovative of Fortune's "Most Admired Companies" (McLean, 2001, p. 60). In September 2001, with reported earnings of over $1 billion a year and an annual growth rate of 68 percent, it ranked thirtieth on Fortune's list of America's hundred fastest growing companies. Small wonder that CEO Kenneth W. Lay was one of America's most powerful business leaders, sometimes mentioned in the same breath with Jack Welch, GE's legendary CEO. Lay had the added advantage of a long-term friendship with President George W. Bush. He cemented this personal tie by giving more than half a million dollars to Bush's presidential campaign (the biggest individual donor). What could be better than a big, innovative, fast-growing, profitable, politically connected company?

The trouble was the books had been cooked, and external auditors were asleep at the switch. In December 2001, Enron collapsed in what was at the time history's largest corporate bankruptcy. Its stock plunged from eighty dollars to eighty cents a share in the space of a year. Tens of billions of dollars in shareholder wealth evaporated. Many jobs and most of the retirement funds of Enron's employees disappeared.

What went wrong? After the collapse, critics offered plenty of plausible explanations. Yet Enron's leadership seemed baffled by the abrupt free fall. Former CEO Jeffrey K. Skilling, regarded as the primary architect of Enron's high-flying, take-no-prisoners culture, was among those caught off-guard. Associates described him as "the ultimate control freak. The sort of hands-on corporate leader who kept his fingers on all the pieces of the puzzle" (Schwartz, 2002, p. C-1). Skilling resigned for unexplained "personal reasons" only three months before Enron imploded; many wondered if he had jumped ship because he foresaw the iceberg dead ahead. But when asked about Enron's crash, he claimed, "I had no idea the company was in anything but excellent shape" (p. C-1).

Skilling and his boss, Lay, were both viewed as brilliant men, yet both found refuge in cluelessness. They insisted that they either didn't know about, or didn't understand, the financial maneuvers and management misjudgments that led to Enron's fall. The chief executive of Enron's auditor, Andersen Worldwide, made the same claim, even though Andersen partners in Chicago had debated whether to drop Enron as a client because the company's accounting was so aggressively pushing acceptable boundaries. Carl Bass, a senior partner sent in to monitor the Enron audit, strongly objected to some of the company's high-risk accounting practices. Andersen moved him off the case. Andersen's top executive, Joseph F. Berardino, claimed he didn't know about any of this, even though he had visited Enron's headquarters a few weeks before Bass was reassigned (Byrne, 2002b).

Berardino, Lay, and Skilling weren't the first or last corporate leaders seemingly clueless about a looming disaster. A decade earlier, following General Motors's market-share dive in the 1980s, GM's CEO, Roger Smith, was asked what had gone wrong. The only response he could muster was, "I don't know. It's a mysterious thing" (Loomis, 1993, p. 41). Smith had once been hailed as a bold visionary leader; down the road he admitted ruefully, "I'm not as smart as people said a few years ago, and not as dumb as they say now" (Smith, 1987, p. 26).

The stories of Skilling, Lay, Berardino, and Smith are only a few examples of a ubiquitous leadership challenge: How do you know if you are seeing the real picture? It is a test that managers and leaders often fail. Cluelessness is an everyday fact of life, even for very smart people. The problem is not insufficient intellectual wattage but a lack of understanding of what they are up against and what remedies might work. If it was difficult to decipher clues and read signs in the past, it's even tougher now. The world is more turbulent and complex than it was fifty years ago; the stakes are higher, and challenges often outpace a leader's cognitive capabilities.

In the discussion that follows, we explore the origins and symptoms of cluelessness in organizations. Then we turn to "reframing"-the conceptual core of the book. Reframing requires an ability to understand and use multiple perspectives, to think about the same thing in more than one way. We introduce four frames: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. Each is distinctive, each coherent and powerful in its own right. Together, they help capture a comprehensive picture of what's wrong and what might be done.


The first humanlike primates appeared on earth about twelve million years ago. During most of human evolution, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. Only the last ten or fifteen thousand years have seen the emergence of institutions more complex than small, simple, nomadic communities. Large organizations emerged to dominate the social landscape even more recently.

There was little need for professional managers when individuals managed their own affairs. Today, things are very different. The challenge of finding the right way to frame our world has become overwhelming in the twenty-first century's turbulent and roiling times. Forms of management and organization effective a few years ago are obsolete today. Sérieyx (1993) calls it the organizational big bang: "The information revolution, the globalization of economies, the proliferation of events that undermine all our certainties, the collapse of the grand ideologies, the arrival of the CNN society which transforms us into an immense, planetary village-all these shocks have overturned the rules of the game and suddenly turned yesterday's organizations into antiques" (pp. 14-15).

The proliferation of complex organizations has made most human activities collective endeavors. We grow up in and start families. We work in and rely on organizations for goods and services. We learn in schools and universities. We play sports in teams. We join clubs and associations. Many of us will grow old and die in hospitals or nursing homes. We build these human enterprises because of what they can do for us. They produce consumer goods, offer entertainment, provide social services and health care, and deliver the mail.

All too often, however, we experience the darker side. Organizations can frustrate and exploit people. Too often, products are flawed, families are dysfunctional, students fail to learn, patients stay sick, and policies make things worse instead of better. Many organizations infuse work with so little meaning that jobs have hardly any value beyond a paycheck. It's hard to find a company these days that doesn't aim officially to delight its customers, but a national survey found that customer satisfaction across industries mostly went downhill between 1995 and 2001 (American Customer Satisfaction Index, 2002). NASA, the same organization that put a man on the moon, launched America's ill-fated space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Around the world, schools are blamed for social ills, universities are said to close more minds than they open, and government agencies are criticized for red tape and rigidity. The sarcastic phrase "good enough for government work" reflects widespread cynicism about the performance of public agencies. The private sector has its own problems. Automakers recall faulty cars, baby food producers apologize for adulterated fruit juice, and software companies deliver bugs and "vaporware." Industrial accidents dump chemicals, oil, toxic gas, and radioactive materials into the air and water. Too often, corporate greed and insensitivity create havoc for lives and communities. The bottom line: we are hard pressed to manage organizations so that benefits regularly exceed costs. The big question: Why should this be?


Year after year, the best and brightest managers maneuver or meander their way to the apex of great enterprises. Then they do really dumb things. How do bright people turn out so dim? One theory is that they're too smart for their own good. Feinberg and Tarrant (1995) label it the "self-destructive intelligence syndrome." They argue smart people act stupid because of personality flaws-things like pride, arrogance, and unconscious needs to fail. Lundin and Lundin (1998) came to a similar conclusion: "[Bosses'] dumb behavior is motivated by self-love and ego, which block the capacity for empathy."

It's true that psychic flaws have been apparent in such brilliantly self-destructive individuals as Adolph Hitler, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. But on the whole, intellectually challenged people have as many psychological problems as the best and brightest. The real source of cluelessness is not personality or IQ. It's in how we think and make sense of the world around us. Regardless of intellectual wattage, we're out to lunch if we use the wrong ideas for the situation at hand. When you see a distorted picture, you react the wrong way. But you'll probably stick with erroneous ideas if they're all you have. The problem is they lead you into trouble and mask their flaws at the same time. You may be confident that everything is humming along. If not, at least it's not your fault.

Vaughan (1995), in trying to explain the Challenger space shuttle disaster, underscored how hard it is for people to surrender their ingrained mental models: "They puzzle over contradictory evidence, but usually succeed in pushing it aside-until they come across a piece of evidence too fascinating to ignore, too clear to misperceive, too painful to deny, which makes vivid still other signals they do not want to see, forcing them to alter and surrender the world-view they have so meticulously constructed" (p. 235).

Charan and Useem (2002) found that this tendency to see no evil is a common problem in organizational disasters. Cisco Systems, for example, had one of the most sophisticated forecasting systems in the business. The system worked superbly during ten years of phenomenal growth in the 1990s but misfired once demand started going downhill. Cisco's leadership had trouble believing that the bottom was really falling out.

Customers began going bankrupt. Suppliers warned of a coming drop in demand. Even Wall Street wondered if the Internet equipment market was coming apart. "I have never been more optimistic about the future of our industry as a whole or of Cisco," CEO John Chambers declared in December 2000, still projecting 50 percent growth. For the perpetually sunny Chambers, [the critical piece of evidence] did not come until April 2001, when cratering sales forced Cisco to write down $2.5 billion in excess inventory and lay off 8,500 employees. Chambers may have been operating in real time, but he wasn't operating in the real world. (Charan and Useem, 2002, p. 54)

Floyd Norris wrote about Enron's former CEO: "There were no problems at Enron while Jeffrey K. Skilling was running the company. Or at least, none that he noticed: [in his testimony to Congress] Mr. Skilling may not have persuaded many listeners. But he did make it clear to those who are investigating Enron at the Justice Department and the S.E.C. that they will have to work to prove he was aware of anything at all during the period he was running one of America's largest companies" (Norris, 2002, p. C-1). Too often, psychic prisons prevent managers and leaders from seeing old problems in a new light or finding more promising ways to work on perennial challenges. When they don't know what to do, they do more of what they know. This helps explain a number of unsettling reports from the managerial front lines:

In 2000, the United States was again the world's strongest economy, yet corporate America set a new record for failure: 176 public companies with $95 billion in assets went bankrupt. Aided by a business downturn, it got worse the following year, as 257 companies with $258 billion in assets went under (Charan and Useem, 2002). Charan and Useem traced all that failure back to a single source: "Most companies founder for one reason: managerial error" (p. 52).

The annual value of corporate mergers grew a hundredfold between 1980 and 2000 (Renner, 2000), even though a recent study found that "83 percent of mergers were unsuccessful in producing any business benefit as regards shareholder value" (KPMG, 2000). Mergers typically benefit shareholders of the acquired firm but harm almost everyone else-customers, employees, and the acquiring firm (Tichy, forthcoming). Despite this dismal record, the vast majority of the managers who engineered mergers believed they were successful (KPMG, 2000).

Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan (1994) estimate that one-half to three-quarters of all American managers are incompetent. The authors didn't study managers in other countries, but, given America's comparative economic success, the results are probably no better elsewhere.

A study by CSC Index (cited in Gertz and Baptista, 1995) found that fewer than one-third of reengineering initiatives met or exceeded their goals. The same could be said for almost any other popular business improvement scheme, including total quality management and strategic planning.

Small wonder that so many corporate veterans nod assent to Scott Adams's admittedly unscientific "Dilbert principle": "the most ineffective workers are systematically moved the place where they can do the least damage-management" (1996, p. 14).


We have certainly tried to improve organizations. Legions of managers go to work every day with that hope in mind. Authors and consultants spin out a steady flow of new answers and promising solutions. Policy makers develop laws and regulations to guide organizations on a more correct path.

The most common strategy aims at improving management. Modern mythology promises organizations will work splendidly if well managed. Managers are supposed to have the big picture and look out for their organization's overall health and productivity. Unfortunately, they have not always been equal to the task, even when armed with computers, information systems, flowcharts, quality programs, and a panoply of other tools and techniques. They go forth with this rational arsenal to try to tame our wild and primitive workplace. Yet in the end, irrational forces most often prevail.

When managers cannot solve problems, they hire consultants. Today, the number and variety of advice givers is overwhelming.


Excerpted from Reframing Organizations by Lee G. Bolman Terrence E. Deal Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2006

    Beyond the fads this book is about business with a capitol B

    For every book that promises a fix to business' organizational problems by oversimplyfying and 'Dr. Philling' their are real books on modern business problems that take a look from the perspective of business as seen through the eyes of someone with true business accumen. This book breaks the problems of business into 4 areas The Structural Frame The Human Resource Frame The Political Frame The Symbolic Frame. Regardless of what hat you wear all of these should be of importance to the serious business student. Too many bight, astute business people can't see past their MBA's. Reading this book can help open the eyes of those who need to lead modern organizations into the new century's world of instant and ubiquitous information and global marketplace.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Good to get things moving The 4-frames of business are so pheno

    Good to get things moving

    The 4-frames of business are so phenomenally clear in this book. It has been fine-tuned over the last 30-years with relevant stories of success and failure to help the reader look at an organization from different angles to find the most effective strategy for solving a problem or advancing. If you are looking to move beyond the status-quot, this is not a silly book of quick-fixes but a quality textbook for students and practitioners alike. My professor recommended this reading along with Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay .

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