Organizational Paradigm

In his book Organizational Culture (van Wely, P.C., 2002, “Organisatiecultuur” (Dutch), Lemma) Van Wely describes 9 organizational paradigms in which the value focus – amongst others – is completely different amongst organizations belonging to one paradigm or another.

In his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) Thomas Kuhn, points to the fact that a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, leads to a shift of the ruling theory of science. According to Kuhn, "A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share" (The Essential Tension, 1977).

The Organizational Paradigm is a paradigm in Kuhn’s sense for the science of organizations. According to Van Wely, nowadays organizations are moving from the “Machine Paradigm”, based on the concepts and theories of Taylor and Ford, to the “Process Paradigm”, based on – initially – on socio-technics and later business reengineering and business process management. Some organizations are already moving their operating model towards the concepts of the “Organic Paradigm” in which case the value focus changes towards adaptability.

Radical changes are quite seldom in the life of an organization. However, they are described in many cases. Radical change implies a Paradigm-shift in thinking how the organization must be culturally structured as we have seen when discussing Organization Philosophy. If we want a radical change to successful turn the company from the Process Paradigm into a company operating under the Organic Paradigm, together with an optimal alignment to the organization strategy, we will have to be conscious of the differences between the two. Generally speaking we already discussed the differences of the task composition vectors. But what does this organizationally really mean?

If we want to have a clear view of the necessary changes within a company that is shifting its paradigms, it is necessary to distinguish which subjects are relevant in the optimization of organizations. Of course, anyone has to be able to do what is asked from him or her. Therefore the necessary core competences of the organization must be translated to the competences of the employees. Not all employees need to manage all core competences, but a good distribution is essential. To enable a good distribution it is necessary that the governance of the new organization is right: who or which element of the organization is allowed to do what, with what responsibility and to whom should one justify the actions and decisions taken.

Two important issue concerning competences and capacities are relevant: the potential to look at one’s own work and that of others with a critical notion (Argyris, 1992, On Organizational Learning: double and triple look learning) in which way anomalies or failures in work relations and systems can be distinguished (Senge, 1990, The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization) and the capacity to pick up the knowledge at individual level, or to register, spread and reuse the knowledge at group, organization or system level (Knowledge Management).

We are discussing the capacity of organizational learning, because not only the individualt hat discovers these anomalies should have this competence, but also the organization that receives the comments should have the capacity and competence to solve the problem and not attack the messenger …

Managers should keep up a certain style that suits the paradigm. Practicing a “sergeant major” management style within a knowledge organization is unsuited. Also, central individuals within any organization should fulfill leadership roles. This is applicable for daily operations as well as with transformation processes. So besides the three mentioned issues, one should also look at leadership roles and management styles when pursuing optimization in another organizational paradigm.

Finally, the way with which the results are approached is important. In the case that the organization is based on the Process Paradigm, performance indicators will be determined for each process and Performance Control is often seen as managing the creation of value of the output of processes: reduction of waste, minimizing throughput time, etc. within methods as Lean and Six Sigma show this. However, the performance control of an organization striving for the optimization within the Organic Paradigm will focus on completely different matters.

For an organization with a lot of knowledge workers such a quantitative performance control is less suitable. Many business processes of this type of organizations within the organic paradigm will be designed around managing cases, in which way the creation of value is dependent on the outcome of each process step and the process as a whole. The value will be measured in terms of quality rather than quantity. This change in quality is directly related to the object or case that is subject to the process. As an example a patient with health problems in a hospital would be applicable.

Regarding the content, Performance Control can also be totally different within processes in the organization paradigm. The content within processes of the process paradigm are highly structured, while the content within processes of the organization paradigm are highly unstructured. 

The seven mentioned issues are elements that should be dealt with when structuring the organization. More important however, are these issues regarding behavioral and cultural aspects of the organization. The seven form what is called the Management Charter. Based on the paradigm and the Management Charter the organization structure and culture as it should be, can be realized. The seating policy based on this, and considering the different capabilities and competences necessary for the different job types will become much easier.

The Organizational Paradigm is imperative for the Value Creation Approach. It points to the fact that, major changes do happen, and some of these major changes imply that an organizational paradigm switch is sometimes inevitable, or failure is at hand. Within each Organizational Paradigm the Value Creation focus differs from the other.