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R&R: Reading and Reviews

Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th ed. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, California, 2008, 527 pages.

Over 70 years ago, Luther Gulick coined the acronym POSDCORB (planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting) to describe the generic management processes. This concept of management seeks to structure organizations so that the effects of these processes are both efficient and effective. This structural framework dominates the Department of the Army’s wholesale logistics management philosophy as evidenced by the adoption of process improvement technologies such as Lean and Six Sigma. However, an Army logistician supporting full-spectrum operations might find this structured approach tied to an overly mechanistic paradigm that lacks other promising perspectives necessary to manage the ever-changing needs of the land force.

Over the last two decades, several management researchers have attempted to integrate seemingly incommensurate theories and approaches to organizational effectiveness, with the idea that multiple views are superior to a single perspective. They include Gareth Morgan in his 1986 book, Images of Organization; Robert E. Quinn, in the many books and articles, including his 1988 book, Beyond Rational Management: Mastering the Paradoxes and Competing Demands of High Performance; Henry Mintzberg in his 1989 work, Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations; and Mary Jo Hatch in her Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives of 1997. However, if I were to recommend a single book for managers, it would be Bolman and Deal’s 2008 edition of Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership.

The book presents an array of academic and popular management literature and provides up-to-date illustrations from the business sector, the public sector, and the military. The authors’ guiding thesis explains how multiple framing, reframing, and “frame breaking” can work to help managers decipher and work within the inherent paradoxes of organizational life. Bolman and Deal present four “frames”—structural, human resources, political, and symbolic—that together help managers appreciate organizational effectiveness in a more complex, multiperspective way.

The purpose of the first frame, the structural frame, should be familiar and obvious to military logistics managers. Organizations need clear, well-understood goals, roles, relationships, resources, and coordination. All of these elements prevent confusion, ineffectiveness, apathy, and hostility in the workplace. Managers equate problems in the organization with structural deficiencies; hence, they reengineer them.

The authors postulate that the second frame, human resources (based on the idea that if managers take care of and develop the workforce, they enhance the synergy of an ethical and committed people who openly participate and collaborate for the effectiveness of the organization), is equally important. This perspective should be familiar to those who subscribe to both the Army’s espoused leadership model (Field Manual 6–22, Army Leadership) and the prominent goal in “The Army Plan” to “maintain the quality and viability of the All-Volunteer Force, the heart and soul of this Army.” Lately, the Department of the Army has emphasized that the human resources frame applies not just to Soldiers but also to the civilian workforce. The recent establishment of the Army Civilian University, designed to enhance multidisciplinary education and leader development, exemplifies this.

The third frame, perhaps the most ignored in the Army’s arguably naïve doctrinal view of organizational leadership, is the political frame. The authors argue that managers should never underestimate the power of the organizational “lowerarchy.” They highlight those who mistakenly tend to frame challenges in terms of structured hierarchical arrangements (top-down directives, policies, and so forth). Our logistics officer basic and career course classes hardly address the value of organizational conflict arenas and powerful coalitions within the Army (not to mention furthering political savvy associated with Department of Defense, joint, intergovernmental, interagency, and multinational realms). The Army logistics manager must be preeminently skilled in setting agendas, mapping power structures, networking to build coalitions, and negotiating and bargaining. 

The fourth frame—the symbolic—is perhaps most daunting. The authors stress that managers have to address the cultural, historical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of organizational life. Managers must inquire into these often hidden aspects of organizations by addressing these questions—

  • How does one become a member?
  • What types of rituals and ceremonies contribute to a feeling of membership?
  • Is there a specialized language or set of dominant values in an organizational subunit that signifies a subculture?
  • What stories are told to outsiders?
  • How do irreverence, humor, and play at work reduce tension and encourage creativity?

Metaphors are important considerations in framing organizational effectiveness. While the structural frame may demand a machine-like metaphor, the symbolic frame calls for the manager to understand the organization as if it had a “soul.” Army logisticians do not have to search far to discover symbolic aspects of their organizations. Bolman and Deal provide new ways for managers to recognize the importance of symbolism and new ways to consider replacing, managing, and creating new organizational meaning through symbolism.

Bolman and Deal tie all of these frames under their multiperspective concept of leadership. In these chapters, insights include examining a case study involving a school principal just appointed to an inner-city middle school in the midst of near-chaos. The authors offer practical examples of how the principal can make sense of the seemingly hopeless situation and come up with a complex strategy, involving all of the frames, to match the problem's complexity. Although the organizational setting is in a public school, the leadership insights are valuable to any student of management.

Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership is interdisciplinary enough to provide great insight to Army logistics managers whether they are dealing with the industrial base or the realm of tactical logistics on the battlefield. The chapter summaries and charts concisely review major points and are exceptionally user-friendly. Army logistics professionals can gain much from investing their time in this well-written, well-illustrated, hybrid book on how to appreciate the complexities of achieving organizational effectiveness. The 21st century Army logistician will require multiple frames of reference, certainly beyond the structural view of POSDCORB.

Dr. Christopher R. Paparone, is an associate professor in the Army Command and General Staff College’s Department of Logistics and Resource Operations at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—And Why They Fall. Amy Chua, Doubleday, New York, 2007, 396 pages.

Amy Chua’s Day of Empire is an intriguing look at the rise and fall of “hyperpowers.” According to Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, hyperpowers are “remarkable societies, barely more than a handful in history that amassed such extraordinary military and economic might that they essentially dominated the world.” She further describes a world-dominating country as possessing power that surpasses all other rivals, clearly superior economically or militarily to any other power, and capable of projecting its power to an immense part of the globe. Chua says, “To be dominant a society must be at the forefront of the world’s technological, military and economic development.”

Ethnic tolerance is the most important characteristic of a great hyperpower. From the conquest of Alexander the Great to the rise of the United States, Chua uses historical examples to support her premise. She cites Genghis Khan’s assimilation of Chinese engineers into the Mongol army and notes that Khan’s response to a Muslim envoy’s complaints about Christian persecution in the city of Balasgun was to kill the Christian leader and incorporate Balasgun into his empire. Likewise, Chua describes how the Ottoman Empire’s tolerance of non-Muslims led to an “immense economic expansion” of the empire.

Chua also points out that lack of ethnic tolerance has led to the collapse of hyperpowers. In 1905, the policies of British viceroy Lord Curzon marginalized Hindus in the India Civil Service. Those policies backfired. Although India remained under British rule for another 43 years, the seeds of dissension were sown, and eventually Britain’s intolerance led to large-scale demonstrations against the Crown.

Intolerance was also present in the Japanese empire during World War II. Before Japan’s invasion of Singapore in 1942, Singapore was a major international trade center. Chua wrote, “As soon as they invaded, monopolies were awarded to large Japanese corporations. Hyperinflation, price gouging and corruption soon led to economic collapse.”

Chua concludes her book with a chapter titled, “The Day of Empire,” where she points out that widespread anti-Americanism has replaced the world’s democratic movement seen at the end of the Cold War. She contends that championing American enterprise does not “Americanize” other nations and that “wearing a Yankee’s cap and drinking Coca-Cola does not turn a Palestinian into an American.”

Day of Empire is a fascinating look at hyperpowers. Chua has carefully researched her subject, and her level of scholarship makes Day of Empire well worth the read. Whether you agree or disagree with the thesis of her work, Day of Empire is an interesting account of world history.

Michael E. Weaver, a retired Marine, is an assistant professor for logistics and resource operations at the Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.