Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chapter Two: Organization as Machine

Frederick Taylor's classic work on organizations was published in 1911. He died in 1915. Max Weber wrote around the turn of the 20th century and passed away in 1920. Other important writers in the machine metaphor wrote in the early 20th century. There can be little doubt that the notion that organizations are like machines was well established a century ago. Nevertheless, the machine metaphor remains one of the strongest metaphors to this day. What experience do you have with the machine metaphor? What is your reaction to the material in the chapter and in class discussion ?

27 comments:

kelsey k said...

In my past work experience, I think the place I saw the machine metaphor in was when I worked as a sales associate at Bath & Body Works. My boss was very strict that we all did our daily tasks at the same time and in the same order and manner every day. We had to follow certain company-approved scripts to various customer situations. We were like robots repeating programmed blurbs. Luckily, our boss was hovering over us just in case we forgot to mention one of the sale items or pitches to the customer...even though we were "not on commission". While I was not able to make class to participate in the discussion, I can still comment on the chapter. I found it very interesting when they were saying how this mechanistic type of viewpoint works well for companies like McDonald's. It made me wonder a few things: does this type of style work well for all fast food places, or just McD's? If another type of style were applied to McD's, would it have near the success it does? Is it accepted into the company culture to work with this style, or is it the mgt?

jennad said...

While reading this chapter...I was also in the process of watching 'Grey's Anatomy' reruns and they happened to use the machine metaphor twice in one of the episodes...they made comments about how they were functioning parts of a well-oiled machine...I think it's interesting and neat when things you are learning about are referenced in your daily life and in things that you like. In my current job at Victoria's secret we often do things that seem almost machine-like...we do tasks that we are told to by our manager and do them in the ways that we were trained to do...we also follow scripts...as in the appropriate things to say to customers...and we are evaluated on how well we do our jobs. The chapter really gave a good understanding of classical management theory and scientific management. I can see how today...the mechanical approach might not be the best approach to take and am interested in hearing other options to this.

Liz E. said...

The machine metaphor is still widely used in the business world today. I think this is because it has proven to be successful in the past. However, as organizations evolve and new problems arise in the workplace this metaphor has proven to be ineffective. Organizations using the machine metaphor have manuals and procedures for everything, thus not allowing them to adapt to new problems. The separation of the people making the procedures and those carrying them out is wide. The employees are just told what to do and their input is not asked for or wanted. Therefore, when the employees are faced with a new problem that is not in the "manual" they are unable to think about the problem and solve it themselves, they simply give up and wait for a manager to solve the problem. I saw this in my everyday life when I wanted to get a new debit card at my bank. I had called the bank several times about it because the person that I needed to talk to wasn't in and the people I did talk to explained to me that this "wasn't their job" and couldn't help me. This showed how mechanistic the bank operated,when there was only one person in one department who could help me. In class, we are starting an analysis of making the Cellar on campus "McDonaldized" and the positive and negative effects this could have. Well, in my prediction the Cellar would probably become more efficient if it was more like McDonald's, but at what cost? Would the students that work there still enjoy their jobs? Would the segregation of work make the productivity worse? Having people say "that's not my job." I think it will be interesting to hear the debates for and against the "McDonaldization" of the Cellar.

LizC452 said...

I had my experience with the Machine metaphor when I worked at Sears.I would go in on Sunday mornings at 7am, and take down the past Sale signs and replace them with the new ones for the week. We were expected to go through the racks in the same order every week and there was a certain process that everyone was expected to follow so that the entire store looked the same. After my section was done, my supervisor would come over with the store catalog and make sure that every sign was up and in the right place. Just as others have said, it was like we were robots, expected to get our job done and to do it right the same way every week. After reading chapter two and then having our class discussion on the machine metaphor I do realize why, even though it is still a strong metaphor today, it makes sense to me why it would not work for every organization. Looking at employees as parts of a machine is efficient and not efficient for certain organizations, because there is no room for anything but the details, structure, and the control over the organization and employees.

JGrab said...

In my previous work experiences I haven't come across too many instances of the machine metaphor. The one instance I can think of was when I spent time as a Menards employee. We were all told to wear the same type of clothing, always have our blue vest on, and carry a pen and paper at all times. We were told how to greet and how not to greet customers as well. I had fun during our class discussion recently when dealing with metaphors. The class in general seemed to get a lot more from the activity than by just taking notes, and the reference of 'goodwill' as a 'whore' made for some great laughs. This chapter was also pretty interesting. Hearing about Ford and how he designed his company to be more efficient was pretty interesting, especially the short amounts of time the workers had to complete their tasks. Overall another good chapter and and interesting book.

courtneyb said...

I think that in any successful workplace there are going to be several characteristics that would make the machine metaphor work. Every time I think of this metaphor I just picture some assembly line in a dark factory somewhere, I don't know why its weird. So I started thinking about how it really sucked working open until close both Saturday and Sunday, and realized that my whole day at work is filled with different scripts and things to do that make sure that I am doing my job as efficiently as possible. I work in a unique type of retail where we buy and sell gently used kids stuff. From the minute people walk into the door to sell to us, we go into a script to save the customers and ourselves time so we don't have to answer a million questions and just cover everything right away at the beginning. In saying the same thing to everybody every time they come in makes my job a lot less stressful because then people can't come back and try to tell me that they didn't know our policy because I know I've already told everyone (but still, so many people STILL argue, and its really annoying). Even in answering the phone the same way saves time, because if someone's got the wrong number they'll just hang up right away instead of playing the whole "who is this?" game (which is also really annoying when you're really busy at work and people are trying to figure out where they went wrong in dialing someone else's number when i have a million and ten other things to be doing). It was really helpful relating the things in the chapter to my everyday life because it made the concepts a lot easier to comprehend that way. The chapter was good, except for the fact it made me think of work. Where i've been all weekend. So I think that's why this blog has turned into a mini-therapy session for me. Looks like its time for bed.

heathstip said...

While reading through the chapter, there were a few things that I found related well to things that I see on a daily basis in other people's jobs and my own. Currently, I work at the front desk at the Radisson hotel downtown. A great example of our mechanistic ways at the Radisson is in our telephone etiquette. We have very scripted (almost machine-like) way of talking on the phone to guests/customers. Varying from our script has consequences because we have secret shoppers who call and "judge" us on our conversation with them...making sure that we are hitting all the key components of trying to sell a room or make a reservation. Sounds kind of ridiculous...yes- but at the same time, one could argue that it does help with efficency and our "signature" calls can make the reservation process much easier on both ends of the phone line - especially when it gets busy. The problem that I find is that this mechanistic way of doing business can make things much less personal which people often don't like. I think that looking at the Mcdonalds style of management is interesting and our class debate should bring about some insightful pros and cons to the idea.

mtn4105 said...

I experienced the machine metaphor when I worked at Johnsonville. I worked in three different departments and in all of them there was set instructions how to a job. Everyone had a job they needed to do and had to do if over and over and over again. If one person were to fail at their job then the whole process (machine) had to stop. Each person played their part to make sure that the machine worked the best it could. Our class discussion really got me thinking about metaphors. Before doing that group activity I had not thought as much about metaphors. It takes a lot of work to find a metaphor that fits correctly. I also thought the book did a good job at looking at organizations as machines.

mtn4105 said...
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melbakker said...

I liked this chapter largely because I feel like it points out the frustrations with the mechanistic approach, which I feel I have encountered in more than one job. Two summers ago I worked at Victoria's Secret and Olive Garden. Both of the places are prime examples of machines. We were given scripts, and exact step by step ways of doing our jobs. I felt like I didn't have a personality and thus grew to resent both jobs and what I did. I understand the benefits of the approach, in that is is efficient and productive, but I feel like there's a big price that is paid. I worked at another restaurant where we were given little training, and basically could say and do as we saw fit, and the benefits were clear. I had an easier time relating to my customers and actually had fun, and the tips were MUCH better. I guess the key is in trying to find a happy medium between the two.

jen c said...

In response to the first question, in my past work experience, I have dealt very little with mechanistic approaches. I have had quite lenient managers in my waitressing jobs (good?bad?). The time I have experienced more of a mechanistic approach is during this last summer in my internship at Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin Dells. There was a time period through this internship where I was asked to go to a few departments and learn the job duties, just as a "backup employee" on a need be basis, if someone were to call in and the department was short on staff. The department where I felt reflected the mechanistic approach the most was front desk/reservations. We were literally given a script to read for answering phones and greeting customers. Because of the importance stressed, we had to follow code and had to follow all procedures/policies. Mt. Olympus wanted the guarantee the same level of service to each and every customer that stayed.
In response to the second question, I believe that there is no "one best way" like the early pioneers of management state. Rather, I feel that the key to being successful is being flexible, reading the organization without any blinders on, adequately addressing the needs of the organization and lose all biases that may interfere with being efficient and effective. There are numerous approaches to organizations, and I wonder why someone would limit their success by believing there is only one way.

jessie S said...

I find this metaphor of "an organization is like a machine" to be very relevant to the time period in which we are living. Machines are handy because they save time and money; however some disadvantages may arise. In my life, I have seen the use of a machine ever since I started school. The schedule at school was always very structured and there were guidelines for everything. This can be advantageous because it maintains productivity in the classrom and throughout the day; however, I believe that some individual creativity is lost for the students and the teacher. Balance is definitely needed in this situation as well as the organizational world. Many businesses follow this McDonaldlized approach with success, but taking it to the extreme could cause a tremendous amount of turnover within the company. This is because there is a loss of personalized relationships when upper management is primarily concerned about saving time. This leds to employees just feeling like another number. Viewing an organization like a machine can be risky, but if proper measures are taken to meet the needs of the employees this method could probably be seen as a good fit.

amandamc said...

I think the time when I experienced the machine metaphor the most was over the summer when I worked at a spa front desk. Everything we said and did was very scripted. We had a specific thing to say when answering the phone. We were also given a list of certain words that we were not allowed to say when talking with guests because they didn't sound professional enough. We also had to give tours of the facility, which were all the same. Everybody was required to say the same thing and go through all the same information in the same order every time. I didn't like it because it didn't seem personal. It seemed like each employee was a replica of the next. However I can see how that metaphor would work for some organizations to make things more efficient.

cstmajor08 said...

As an employee and student about to graduate and enter the modern workforce, I think what is most important about chapter 2 is learning how not to treat employees in a machine-like way. My personal experience working at a restaurant has not necessarily been machine-like in terms of doing the same thing at the same time everytime I work. However, it is a procedure that is repeated over many times throughout the work shift and one that I rarely change the order in which I complete tasks. The job can become monotonous and uninteresting, but because I am constantly interacting with new people I am saved from feeling like a cog in the machine.
Chapter 2 gives an in-depth historic view of the material and what the theories stem from. The information on military formation with Frederick the Great was interesting to me as that is our current form of military.

Molly S said...

Even though the machine metaphor may not be the most glamorous (ps- is that bad sign that I needed to sing the "Fergie" song out loud to spell glamorous?) or interpersonal type of working environment, I know that it is present in my life. I know this metaphor should be used to discuss organizational instances, but in my house the machine metaphor can be seen. I live with three other girls in a house and whether we like it or not we have to work together to live and maintain a clean and happy house. We have a system of doing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom (yes one bathroom for 4 girls) and getting the mail. I also see this machine metaphor at my job. I am a waitress and I am instructed and encouraged to do and say the same thing to each table I wait on; and much like a well-oiled machine I often times have a very machine/robotic way of how I deal with my tables. Every aspect of my restaurant is run like a machine with appropriate steps on how to function each part of the restaurant. Effective? yes, but there is often lots of grey area and annoyances that come along with it.

Teri said...

Like many of the people who have already commented, it seems that my experience working in businesses that worked like machines is not rare. The best example I have from a past job is from when I worked at Hobby Lobby. It seemed that just about everything was mechanized, down to the shifts you were schedlued to work. In other jobs, I have provided availability and then gotten shifts that worked with that the differed at least to some extent each week. However, at Hobby Lobby, everyone had their days/nights and times rarely changed. There was also serious mechanization when it came to thte tasks that had to be done. Boys cleaned and swept the store and occasionally took a large purchase out to a customers car. Girls worked at the registers and unpacked new product-methodically I might add. Even after the store closed, there were mechanizations everywhere. One person was in charge of refilling bags, one in charge of vacuuming the rugs, etc. and very rarely did you ever have a different job. It was like I was a specialist in vacuuming and no one else could handle the job. So, needless to say, I can relate extremely well to this chapter as I have a lot of previous experience with this type of organization.

MelissaF said...

For three summers I have worked in the factory of a major corporation. I have definitely seen how organizations are like machines. I really have enjoyed the people and even the work, but more so, I really like the opportunity it has allowed me. As a communication major it is rather fun and entertaining to dissect the company, the management, and different situations that have reared their head while I've worked there.

It's funny to read Courtney's blog and read how she can't help but think of an assembly line in a dark factory somewhere because that assembly line in a factory is my experience. Obviously a factory is one area that a mechanistic approach can be appropriate. Without a thoroughly organized structure, production cannot be met. I work in a patio door plant in the Frenchwood glider door division. Within this cost center there are a few different lines. These lines function differently but without everyone having a specific task and responsibility, things just do not get done efficiently.

I have also seen the negatives of a mechanistic approach. The associates really do, at times, feel like machines. I have family members that have worked in the factory of this plant their entire careers and they all criticize, at some point, how the company disregards their needs as humans.

I think every company has characteristics of a machine but I do not think that is a bad thing.

dkieck said...

My past experience with the machine metaphor was not at a former job but in sports. A sports team, lets take football for example I think is a good example of a well oiled machine. A football team has different parts that make up the whole team. Different players such as the kicker and the quarterback have very different jobs but without either of them the team can not succeed.
I thought that our discussion was very insightful on how useful a metaphor can be. The way a metaphor brings out a totally different side of a subject that you have never thought about before is very interesting. Overall I thought it was a very good class with good conversation.

Nick T said...

Now that I think about it, I've had lots of different jobs since I've entered the world of work. Most of the organizations I have worked for weren't mechanistic at all. At one of my jobs, at my high school weight room, my boss wanted everyone to be adhere to a very strict set of guidelines. He wanted a very procedural greeting, a systematic schedule for cleaning and a orderly system for dealing with cardio machine sign ups. Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately, he wasn't very effective at dealing with those of us who didn't adhere to his standards. Because of this the weight room wasn't run very well.

The other mechanistic experience I have had at work was when I was working at a car wash. I don't think there is any other way to run a car wash than to have it mechanistic. There is a best, most efficient way to clean the interior and exterior of a car and to then dry it. The job was very monotonous but we moved through hundreds of cars through there every day.

lsenz said...

I believe the machine metaphor is very easy to recognize in any type of "chain" organization. Usually the bigger the "chain" the more policies and procedures there are to follow. Since typically they tend to be more experienced, they have developed very specific rules and ways of doing things. This then creates the well-oiled machine. I have worked at both a chain and also a family owned, small business. I can definitely say that the experience with working with a smaller business was by far more laid-back and casual. I felt as though I could be myself more and that I was much more valued as a person.

BrookeM said...

While reading this I was contemplating my different work experiences and I found myself thinking I had never been in a situation like this. After reading the 5 negatives and positives to mechanistic organizations I found that I had very similar experiences in my newest job. For about a year and a half I was manager at Bath and Body Works. This work environment was very flexible, there were a range of jobs given to employees and with constant change you had to learn to adapt. Now I work at Macy's and I have realized that among all of the negatives I am experiencing the "unanticipated and undesirable consequences when interest of workers take precedence over organizational goals." Unconsciously I never realized that the difference between my two jobs was that I cared tremendously about Bath and Body Works as a whole and the direction they were going, but at Macy's I am there to earn extra money to pay my bills and that's it. there are no incentives, so i do things like leave a few minutes early or call in sick when something important comes up, things I never ever would imagine myself ever doing.

colep said...

The machine metaphor is past, present and future of America

colep said...

I just wanted to have a post by 9pm......My "real-life" example of the Machine was when I worked at United Steel Products in small town Montgomery, MN. I did this the first two years during the summer after H.S. The fact that steel products are in the name itself should give you somekind of a hint that it is a factory and therefore "survives and thrives on the Machine Metaphor. Produce, Produce and when you doing do that.......MAKE MORE STEEL PRODUCTS!

I enjoyed the debate today in class....I thought like most debates it started out slow.....and then moved rapidly as it got going.

Rick, you did a nice job of poking and proding "the fire" to keep it going as always!

Overall, great interaction and discussion today!

TracyMachtan said...

I've worked several places where I've experienced the "organization as a machine" metaphor. This seems to be especially true with food service jobs, even if they're not fast food. I remember working a place where innovation was frowned upon. There was a way to do everything, and you were expected to always adhere. I remember getting caught trying to do things a different way and being reprimanded for it.

I thought it was interesting how the book shared the McDonald's ordering process. I'm surprised they have everything so planned out. Don't they think that would look artificial to customers?

However, I've seen many benefits to scientific management. For example, the system usually works and appears to be pretty simple. Well, at least you can say that "we did all we can" if it doesn't work. (This sounds like a good thing, but can go horribly wrong.)

JKD2485 said...

In the past I worked at Mc Donald's. There was a very machine like environment there, where people were assigned tasks to do and they had to carry out the task over and over again. There was an assembly line that acted much like a machine that just kept making the sandwiches over and over again. We also had to act the same way to each customer, which is very machine like. Overall the environment was very much like a machine. I guess throughout the chapter, there was a good review of classical management and scientific management. This is interesting. I am glad that we got a refresher on this.

KimBarrett said...

Embarassingly enough, I used to work at an amusement park... for 6 summers in a row. This place was probably the best place I have experienced the machine metaphor. In this case though, it was almost a necessity. When I would operate rides, we had to follow a certain order and way to do things. This mechanistic way to operate things was very necessary not only for the riders safety, but also to make sure the rides would not break down. It also ensured safety for the ride operators. If I had strayed from our particular script someone could have gotten hurt. In the concession area of the amusement park we had some more freedom to find a way to get the food out in the most efficient manner possible, but this shows how an organization can have some areas that are highly mechanistic and others that don't need to be so strict.

dano said...

The machine metaphor is a classic, but in the same way, i believe it is a little outdated. Everyone working as machines, or to make the machine run efficiently is fine when your employees are motivated and satisfied with where they are. Yet, as employees grow unsatisfied, the machine starts to slow. Change and adaptation are what keep people interested in their job. Couple those two things with the possibility of promotion and I believe the organization will move away from the machine metaphor to something that will supply them with a more efficient way to run their organization.