The organizational issue chosen to discuss through the four-frame model (structural, political, human resources, and symbolic) is the one I have experienced in the Army: namely, the massive layoff within the military during the Obama administration.
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The key players of the U.S. Armed Forces are: the President of the United States (who is the official head of the military), the U.S. Department of Defense, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard – all operating in collaboration in order to ensure the protection of the country from outer hazards. The new desired outcomes of the Forces set forward when Mark Milley became the U.S. Army’s chief of staff, were readiness, modernization of the force, and provision of due care to soldiers. Yet, the later aspect of concern could not align with the major goal set by the administration: to shred the size of the army due to technology not being at “war.”
It was expected to get down to an initial 490,000 (Army) level from 517,000 in 2014. This decision had a huge impact on both home operations, and outer conflicts resolution since “size and age affect structural shape and character. Problems crop up if growth (or downsizing) occurs without fine-tuning roles and relationships” (Bolman & Deal, 2013, p. 60). More than 40,000 soldiers and app. 17,000 civilian employees working for the Army were laid off due to mandatory spending cuts.
As a result of these measures (besides their destructive influence on thousands of military families and communities), recruiting declined; however, the Army lost so many people that it wants to increase the number of its soldiers once again. The government, in its striving to cut costs simply neglected the fact that layoffs could negatively affect “perceptions of organizational trust, organizational morale, employee coping and job commitment, and their effect on job satisfaction” (Reinardy, 2010, p. 3).
Theoretical framework is necessary to help scholars ensure that their studies are consistent, coherent, and pursue a clearly defined set of objectives in order to achieve the ultimate goal. According to some new approaches to research, a theoretical framework is not obligatory for study design (for example, if the inductive method is implemented). However, this contradicts the accepted wisdom that any researcher must define an underlying theory he/she is going to prove by conducting practical research (Green, 2014).
Indeed, frame analysis is useful for an organization as it allows its leaders to estimate any situation from a number of different perspectives in order to perform a thorough analysis and solve even the most complex problems. Bolman and Deal (2013) singled out four major frames (structural, human resource, political, and symbolic) and demonstrated how the use of multiple frames could assist in addressing various organizational issues (even those that failed to be resolved using a single frame) thereby boosting organizational performance.
Mainly, this is explained by the fact that organizations of today have to deal with far more complex problems than in the past as they are generated by the modern world of fast-paced business development, interconnectivity, technological advance, and social progress. Thus, the success of this or that company is largely predetermined by its ability to view and analyze business processes through multiple frames and synthesize the results obtained (Bolman & Deal, 2014).
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According to the authors of the model, a frame should be understood as a mental model comprised of ideas and assumptions that a person applies for understanding an issue and deciding what can be done about it. Seemingly complex problems can be solved with the help of frame analysis as it relies on a creative approach to discern underlying causes and eliminate them. This analysis is often equated to a kind of art: the analogy is built on its ability to complement and enhance traditional problem-solving models (just as art complements science) but not to replace them. The best possible course of action can be chosen only if the frame is used in combination with other methods and techniques (Bolman & Deal, 2014).
The first frame that the authors of the model elaborated was the structural frame. The structural point of view emphasizes the idea that formal structure is able to enhance employee morale and improve organizational performance. It was proven by numerous studies that educational institutions with looser structures tend to demonstrate lower morale of students than in well-structured bodies.
However, the structure works only under the condition that it is chosen to suit a particular organization and manages to satisfy its needs. Neither can it be called effective if it becomes inflexible and full of red tape (which can happen if the only thing the organization relies upon is the structural frame) (Bolman & Deal, 2013).
Moreover, when companies rely exclusively on structure, they run the risk of forgetting organizational interests: Their leaders shift the stress to personal profits, which can result in the formation of tyranny within the company. Although the structural frame is often effective, it does not manage to deal with anything lying outside the accepted structure, daily tasks, and previously applied policies. This implies that it discourages innovation, making organizations more conservative and inflexible. It is necessary for managers to know potential threats of the structural frame to be able to discern problems (Bolman & Deal, 2014).
The second frame described by Bolman and Deal is the human resources frame, which derives from the assumption that employees themselves are primarily interested to perform their job well to improve the performance of their organization. The key value of this frame is that it attaches a lot of significance to job satisfaction aligning the personal interests of employees with organizational values, goals, and strategies. For the human resource frame to be effective, it needs strong and committed leadership. If the leader is not good at decision-making and cannot satisfy basic needs of employees (including safety needs), employees will not stay loyal to the organization.
One of the major disadvantages of the model is that it perceives human nature as something naturally good whereas in reality not all employees strive for collaboration and company development. This means that the frame does not attach enough significance to power since it relies on people who are deeply committed to the organization. Nevertheless, the frame has an undoubtful advantage: It takes care of employees as a driving force determining profitability. Indeed, a motivated worker, who receives both financial and non-financial incentives, is likely to contribute a lot to the success of his/her company and does not need to be closely monitored (Bolman & Deal, 2014).
The third frame under discussion is the political frame, closely connected with power and the way it affects interactions. It is concentrated on the inner policy of an organization: Basically, it implies identifying who is responsible for what and who has power to control actions of others. In such organizations, senior managers should understand what expectations stakeholders have and try to manage a wide variety of demands to make priorities aligned.
Hence, this frame requires strong leaders (good negotiators and problem solvers), just like the structural model. The weak point of the political approach is that it does not foster cooperation focusing on conflicts and misunderstandings instead: As a result, it shows general mistrust to all stakeholders and, unlike the previous frame, never believes in the natural desire of people to be committed to the company (Bolman & Deal, 2013).
The last frame the researchers single out is the symbolic frame. It emphasizes the fact that brand image is equally important as actual performance of an organization. That is why they usually have corporate symbolic frames (traditions, rituals, and ceremonies) that are believed to reinforce common values and make employees feel as a part of one whole. Leaders of such organizations must be charismatic and eloquent to successfully communicate their message.
A company operating within this framework runs the risk of falling into extremes: It can be either perceived as a strong manipulator or as a bundle of fanatics that disguise their failures. In its most successful version, the symbolic frame creates a strong unity in an organization (Bolman & Deal, 2013).
Evidently, each of the frames gives its unique insight into an organizational process and each features its own benefits and drawbacks. The entire model can be summarized as follows (Bolman & Deal, 2013):
Table 1. The Four Frame Model.
|Central Ideas||Objectives, regulations, policies, technological development||Human needs, interactions, common goals, satisfaction||Power, conflict resolution, competition, decision-making||Traditions, rituals, ceremonies, collaboration, implications|
|Leadership||Social architecture||Empowerment and shared leadership||Advocacy||Inspiration|
|Challenges||Make the structure meet required goals||Align employee satisfaction with company goals||Meet needs of all stakeholders and develop power base||Create faith and commitment|
|Strengths||Well-organized structure, division of powers||Trust, mutual respect, and motivation||Strong leaders and conflict resolution skills||Significance of the working process|
|Weaknesses||Inflexibility||Too much belief in human nature||Inability to cooperate, mistrust||Risk of manipulation|
Application of Theory
All the four frames can be applied in order to address the problem of the massive layoff within the military. However, each frame will give quite different outcomes.
If we implement the structural approach to the problem, the desired outcome would be not to lay off soldiers but to come out with the ideal structure of the forces that would allow clear division of responsibilities leaving no one redundant.
One of the other major goals would be to improve technical provision and strategic planning. Thus, application of the structural frame would find drawbacks not in the number of people servicing in the Forces but in the way their service is organized: The Army must come out with a new direction, restructure, upgrade, and invest in new priorities in order to ensure stability of defense. An integrated approach is required to coordinate all the agencies responsible for domestic and foreign operations (Dueck, 2015).
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However, there is still one obvious negative impact of the frame: The U.S. Army is notorious for its resistance to change and reluctance to move in a new direction, which means that the structural approach would make it even more inflexible.
The human resource frame, on the contrary, would change the situation drastically as this approach would never permit layoffs that would lead to deplorable consequences for soldiers, civilian employees of the Army, and families of both. The human dimension concept would become central: The Army would concentrate on the process of selection, education, support, and professional development of the military and civilians.
The application of the frame would encompass physical, financial, cognitive, social, mental, moral, and other constituents focusing on aspects that have to be addressed specifically to ensure commitment of people to their service in the Forces. The leaders would have to admit that powerful Army consists of people who are satisfied with the conditions of their service and therefore show strong commitment to it. In addition, the military would choose a more peaceful direction: Reconstruction and stability missions would be undertaken to restore regions struck by terrorist attacks; the Army would seek alleviate human sufferings, not to add more (Dueck, 2015).
The drawback of the model is that it is likely to fail in leadership issues. Lack of control is disastrous in the Forces as it leads to quick degradation. This means that the frame can be implemented only in combination with another.
The political frame, in its turn, would concentrate its attention on enforcing control from the top: The major problem of the Forces is the lack of cohesion in the government and the Department of Defense. During Obama administration, it was the DoD that insisted upon layoffs, while the House argued that the Army should grow by at least 5,000 soldiers. The political frame would never allow such discrepancies as control would be exercised by the only leader, who would find a way to align priorities. Moreover, the approach would solve the problem of inadequate resource distribution (Fallows, 2015).
Yet, application of this frame would threaten with even more massive layoffs if the government decided that it would be the most effective solution. People’s interests would be totally ignored.
Finally, the symbolic framework would address the problem from a completely different perspective as it would concentrate not on what happens but on what it implies. The government would find a way to account for layoffs and create inspiration to resolve confusion. It would dwell upon the uniqueness of a soldier and his ability to break through hardships taking pride in the fact that even being laid off he can serve the global purposes of the “Army Strong”. Just like the Army influences recruits encouraging them to become physically, emotionally, and mentally strong, it could influence victims of downsizing making them believe that their sacrifice is inevitable.
This frame would probably ease tensions but it would definitely be helpless in providing solutions to the problem.
The application of the four frames to the situation would give the following results:
Table 2. Model Application.
|Frames||Positive Outcomes||Negative Outcomes|
|Structural||Well-defined structure, improved technical provision and strategic planning||Aggravation of inflexibility of the Army|
|Human-Resource||Prevention of layoffs, improved conditions of service||Loose control|
|Political||Cohesion and consistency of the authorities, alignment of interests||Neglect of soldiers’ interests|
|Symbolic||Relief of tensions though creation of meaning underlying downsizing||No real improvements of the situation|
The analysis reveals that neither of the frames is efficient enough to be applied solely. They would all improve the situation with layoffs in a certain aspect leaving other problems unresolved. The Forces need a comprehensive approach. The best combination would be to implement the political frame (to achieve consistency of policies) supported by the human resource frame (that would allow to make the Army more human-oriented). Coordinated policies together with service satisfaction would create unprecedented commitment of both soldiers and civilians.
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2013). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Brand.
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2014). How great leaders think: The art of reframing. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Dueck, C. (2015). The Obama doctrine: American grand strategy today. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Fallows, J. (2015). The tragedy of the American military. The Atlantic, 315(1), 72-90.
Green, H. E. (2014). Use of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in qualitative research. Nurse Researcher, 21(6), 34-38.
Reinardy, S. (2010). Downsizing effects on personnel: The case of layoff survivors in U.S. newspapers. Journal of Media Business Studies, 7(4), 1-19.