This essay will critically compare the machine and culture metaphors described by Morgan in Images of organization (1996). Metaphors allow you to understand an experience in terms of another looking at identity between two things. This is particularly useful in management as all managers try to behave in a specific way in order to achieve a desirable outcome, so managers have to connect their actions and activities to that outcome through some model or representation of the organizational context in which they work. Therefore metaphors of organization are often used as the theory is based on implicit images or metaphors that lead us to understand and manage organizations in a particular way.
Machines are often used to help to accomplish certain tasks, such as how cars are made to transport us from one location to another. Machinery has revolutionized our way of life, as it possess attractive qualities such as producing high volumes of output in shorter time frames and increased predictability. People can also control the operations and adjust conditions so that machines run at their most efficient levels. All these qualities have people wonder if organizations can be managed in the same way as machines. This train of thought has lead to the development of the “Machine Metaphor”, this metaphor was developed during the 1800s as part of the industrial revolution when many new business emerged that were based on new technologies and drew people away from the traditional farming and agriculture which was the main producing sector of the economy.
These “machine organizations” all usually share a common characteristic in their theory of management. And it is the clear define work tasks and long lists of rules, which employees must follow that distinguish this from other metaphors. The employees are trained to work just like any constructed machine, each of the tasks are carefully programmed into workers so that they know the exact sequence of their tasks.
This machine like approach aims to maximize the efficiency of the organization, so each independent worker can collaborate in a specifically defined sequence. Machine organisations also looked at conditions that would increase productivity and identify reasons for workers to breakdown in much the same way as you would when trying to improve the efficiency of machinery. By breaking each task into small operations, it minimizes the likelihood of error since every individual knows exactly what their tasks are.
The organisation itself is a resemblance of a machine, and the workers are the parts of the machine, made of managers who are the engineers who invented it. The managers are described, as engineers because the workers every step is well thought out by the management team, so there are guidelines on how, when, and why the workers are doing a specific task. A good example of how managers are compared to engineers often occurs in the fast food industry. The industry requires strict regulations in order to achieve consistency through out each outlet, so even the smallest action like their smile, eye contact, and greeting are programmed to the workers.
However, the main problem with the machine approach is that there is no room for individual creativity. This can often demoralize workers, as it is difficult for them to feel like they are part of the organization as they have hardly any decision-making opportunity. The management does the thinking so workers have no say in how they want to carry out these tasks even if they may have solutions to improve the efficiency of certain tasks.
Many studies have been carried out by management theorists on organizations that work like machines. And Frederick W. Taylor is one of the most recognized theorists as he introduced the scientific methods of management, and just like the theories used by the “machine metaphors” it tried to discover the most efficient working techniques for the work force. This scientific management approach shares the same idea as any machine like organizations as it tries to maximize the efficiency of specialized labour through close supervision. Management would also define the tasks that workers performed and how they would perform it. Firms believed that managers should do all the thinking relating to the planning and design of work, leaving workers only to implementation.