The character of an organisation is not necessarily determined by what its purpose is today. It is more strongly determined by what its purpose was yesterday. If an organisation's sole purpose is to survive (a Weberian premise), and its character does not evolve, then an organisation risks being purposeless.

A good example is the military. Its regimented character reflects the traditional need to ensure that large numbers of uneducated men can work together obeying dangerous or morally questionable orders passed down a strict chain of command. This still persists today even when military operations are more likely to involve smaller groups of literate men and women peacekeeping rather than fighting.

When an organisation is first formed, its processes, work culture, symbols, management structures, governance mechanisms and other attributes are shaped to serve the purposes of the organisation at the time of its inception. They are also reflected by the socio-political environment in which the organisation is supposed to operate (e.g.: the level of education in the community, the amount of accountability demanded, the existence of natural monopolies etc). Over time, both the goals of an organisation and the external environment may change, but its internal structures are likely to be less fluid. As change is inevitable, unless a wholesale restructuring takes place or its more daring employees take the initiative to make piece-meal ad hoc changes, the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of an organisation is likely to falter over time.

Many institutions - factories, schools, the military and the bureaucracy in general, were conceived in an era (effectively anytime before the middle of the twentieth century) where the classical paradigm was paramount. On the premise of applying science to management principles, power structures in organisations influenced by the classical school are clearly defined along hierarchical tiers, allowing for labour resources to be more productive by specialisation and division of labour. Workers were not required to contribute much resourcefulness; just follow the rules. There is therefore considerable use of regulation in organising its production functions.

Yet it is this regulation can make organisations resistant to change. Max Weber regarded bureaucracy as being the most optimal method for organising production, but he noted that a bureaucracy could become an institution serving its own needs - its prime goal being to sustain and expand, not to modify itself to reflect changes in its business objectives. Even if its senior managers have a clear understanding of the need to reorganise in order to better meet shifting goals, bureaucracies may be cemented to an inflexible structures. This is endorsed by both the power school and the culture school. The power school identifies that within an organisation are other contending interests who can exert power beyond their station in the hierarchy. And the culture school considers how workers identify their role and responsibilities within an organisation, and this may determine how much initiative should be displayed, or if management can be trusted to respect the employee’s interests if a restructure takes place.

Quite often change is a difficult process because the existing management may have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. As increased efficiency means more is produced with fewer resources (such as reduced staffing budgets), managers can rightfully be concerned that reform will be disadvantageous to their interests. It is relatively easy for an organisation to create a position, determine its remuneration and allocate it responsibilities and subordinates, especially in the hierarchy-centred classical model. Abolishing the position becomes much harder once entrenched managers subtly coerce its clients or employers (such as by not sharing vital knowledge needed for a smooth transfer of power) my DBA at work is a good example.

Instead reforms are more likely to succeed after organisations are rearranged on structuralist lines. The structuralist school pays homage to classical traditions like hierarchy and regulations, but by acknowledging the tenets of neo-classicism: that irrational, human forces exist and interact within the rational framework of an organisation. To the structuralist, the root of poor performance is an inappropriate management structure, and thus organisations committed to optimal functioning should be prepared to make necessary structural adjustments use these words in your next adverse performance assessment. Reform is easier when management hierarchies are flatter - managers are restricted to controlling only the people and resources needed to carry out assigned tasks, and thus they can be more quickly repositioned or replaced. They are also easier in organisations where the work culture emphasises the paramount need to respond to customer demand overrides continuity, and the employees can be won over by appealing to the human desire for self-actualisation.

Colonel Blimps can be found in all organisations who see reform as adiluting the ‘character’ of their discipline - from Korean steelworkers to Australian music professors. Quite often ‘character’ is merely a list of subjective attributes about an activity that the incumbent management define (conveninetly often they happen to have a monopoly over these attributes), which under closer examination turn out to be irrelevant to how well an organisation can perform its role. And if an organisation defines itself on a subjective attribute that really is without meaning, then the organisation itself serves no purpose.

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