Analysing Organisations

Analysing Organisations

In this chapter we will explore:

  • What we mean by organisation
  • How, and why, organisations differ
  • Ways of seeing organisations
  • What can happen as organisations evolve
  • Where leadership sits in the organisational context

6.1 Introduction

Organisation is how groups achieve more than the sum of the individuals. It has been the foundry of human civilisation from the prehistory of family and tribe, to present times of globalisation and beyond.

At any one time, and throughout our lives, we belong in, contribute to, and take from, many different organisations. In the veterinary context, these may include the professions, business organisations, academic institutions, collaborations, special‐interest and social media groups, and other more‐or‐less formal shared endeavours. These organisations will have different expectations, processes, systems, rules (written or unwritten), objectives, values, and cultures. That we can negotiate this complexity is a remarkable testament to our capacity as social animals.

Whilst leadership in veterinary medicine takes place in the broad context of the veterinary professions, individual organisations will vary significantly. There will be marked differences between government agencies, charities, and private practices, for example, but also between specific examples within each area. Leadership is socially constructed with others and context specific. It is important, therefore, to have some conception and model of the organisational context in which it is being enacted.

Organisational dynamics is a vast and complex social science, and this short chapter only begins to highlight some of the perspectives that can be taken. The small number of published works which examine veterinary organisations are cited where relevant. I have chosen an approach which, I hope, gives you some tools with which to look at organisations, rather than attempt to characterise veterinary organisations per se.

In this chapter we will look at different ways organisations may be understood, attempting to give frameworks for analysis, and consider the implications for leadership and how this might influence how leadership repertoires are applicable.

6.2 Why Do Organisations Differ?

Organisations come together into an identifiable entity in myriad ways and achieve, for a period at least, an output that is intended to be greater than the effort of their creation and maintenance. Whilst the primary (which may not be the overtly stated) purpose will, to a large extent, dictate the shape, development, and duration of the organisation to a large extent, there are many sizes and shapes of veterinary organisations which function in their own way. As complex systems, with human participants, rather than as machines with finely honed gears, even the smallest will differ one from another.

In Chapter 2 we looked at the anxieties, which may be unconscious and unspoken, in veterinary practice. Unconscious drivers and the task anxieties may also shape the culture and will vary according to the role; the job of someone who is client facing, front of house, in a veterinary practice carries different challenges and concerns compared with, for example, a technician in a diagnostic laboratory. The organisation of which they form a part will differ accordingly.

As we shall examine, many other considerations may influence the intertwined why, and how, of organisational complexity.

6.3 How Organisations Differ

Organisations can be examined in a number of ways. As Laloux (2014) says, ‘Every model might look at one side of the mountain… but it is the same mountain’. Here we will explore some of the tools available to look at and help understand organisations.

6.3.1 Organisations and Their Parts

In Understanding Organisations, first published in 1976, Charles Handy brings the subject of organisational dynamics into a form which is accessible to those of us who live and work in the everyday of organisations, and takes firmly into account the humanity that underpins society (Handy 1999). He considers the following factors that might influence organisational effectiveness, and that can be examined to facilitate understanding aspects of organisation:

  • Individuals

    • Who are the people that form the organisation?
    • How might they be categorised, e.g. by age, gender, ethnicity, culture, values, needs, aspirations, capabilities, roles?

  • Motivations

    • What drives the organisation?
    • What is it there to do?
    • What is the output that is greater than the sum of the parts?

  • Relationships

    • What size is the organisation?
    • What are the relationships within the organisation?
    • How do those relationships manifest?
    • How is communication achieved and maintained?

  • Systems and Structures

    • How is the organisation administered?
    • What (if any) are the systems for exercise of power, reward, and control?
    • How is safety and wellbeing attended to?
    • How do people join and leave the organisation?

  • Environment

    • What is the physical environment of the organisation?
    • Where does the organisation fit in the economic environment (micro‐ and macro‐)?
    • What is the technological environment?

  • Leadership

    • Who performs leadership?
    • Who is responsible?
    • Who is accountable?
    • How is leadership achieved?
    • How is leadership perceived?

  • Power and influence

    • Who has influence and how is it manifest?
    • Who has what sort of power?

Handy (1999) delves deeper into these areas and, throughout this book, I touch on different aspects relating to the areas above. In Chapter 4, types of power are discussed, and, in Chapter 5, I look at the individuals that comprise an organisation and consider motivations and drivers. In Chapter 7, I examine strategy in more detail and consider the importance, and associated constraints, of available resources. And in Chapter 8, I look at ‘Communication and Engagement’. The rest of this chapter covers other factors in Handy’s schematic.

6.3.2 Organisations and Professional Work

In professional services the nature of the work influences the organisational structure (Table 6.1). This stratification and segmentation may be applied to veterinary organisations. Taking commercial clinical practice as an example, at the standardised (also known as commoditised) end of the spectrum we might include vaccination clinics where professional (regulated) work is offered at a competitive price as opposed to the ‘rocket science’ of advanced referral/specialist clinics. Leverage refers to the ratio of experienced professionally qualified (to perform the primary task) versus less experienced or non‐professionally qualified colleagues in the organisation and typically reduces as the level of task complexity increases.

Because professionals generally have a high need for achievement and are constantly wanting to better themselves and gain skills and expertise, there is a drive for innovative procedures to become commoditised over time. Organisations at the rocket science end of the spectrum must accordingly innovate and find new ways of solving old problems, or even new problems to solve, in order to maintain a market for their services. Research and development are a significant feature of, and cost to, these organisations. The differing needs and expectations that come from working in these contrasting service segments, mean that it can be very difficult to hold organisations together that try to cover too wide a market, other than by careful delineation and structuring of systems, people and processes.

Table 6.1 Organisational differences according to segmentation of professional services; the ‘client’ is the group or individual to whom services are provided and/or who pays fees.

Source: Adapted from Delong, T. J., Gabarro, J. J., & Lees, R. J., (2007), When Professionals Have to Lead: A New Model for High Performance, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Standardised Customised Expertise‐driven Rocket science
Client needs: Client needs: Client needs: Client needs:
Efficient solutions to common problems Help in making an informed choice from a variety of options and guidance through the process A major, complex, ill‐defined issue of which the client has little or no experience A ‘high stakes’ issue, and the client has never experienced anything like it
Key skill: Key skill: Key skill: Key skill:
Efficient, low‐cost delivery of established methodologies, models, and processes Providing user‐friendly advice that reduces anxiety in the selection process and thereafter Real‐time diagnosis and judgement Providing innovative and novel solutions
Critical factors: Critical factors: Critical factors: Critical factors:

  • Established methodologies, models, and processes
  • Efficient and low‐cost delivery systems
  • Highly effective training practices

  • Established methodologies, models, and processes
  • Efficient and low‐cost delivery systems
  • Interpersonal/
    relationship skills
  • Managing the ‘sales’ costs

  • Experience with similar problems
  • In‐depth technical skill and/or functional knowledge
  • Strong relationship skills

  • Highest‐level diagnostic skills
  • Creativity
  • State‐of‐the‐art knowledge
  • Pioneering concepts
Profit drivers: Profit drivers: Profit drivers: Profit drivers:

  • High volume
  • High leverage

  • Above‐average fees
  • Good leverage

  • High fees
  • Low leverage

  • Premium fees
  • Very low leverage
  • May refer work to other providers
Selling proposition: Selling proposition: Selling proposition: Selling proposition:
‘Better, faster, cheaper.’ ‘Use us – we’ll help you make a better choice and provide you with ongoing support.’ ‘We’ve seen similar problems before. Trust us, we’ll help you with your problems.’ ‘Smartest brains around.’

Although the model outlined in Table 6.1 is considering professional service firms selling to corporate clients, the principals may be applied to veterinary professionals practicing in any number of circumstances and using professional services for organisational goals. In this respect, the model offers another way of thinking about how, and why, we do what we do.

6.3.3 Organisations and Interconnectedness

The McKinsey 7S model (Figure 6.1) was developed in the 1980s as a tool for assessment and diagnosis of organisational dynamics so that consultants might advise on how to facilitate change. It recognises that organisations are far more than sets of simple linear structures and begins to bring into focus the complexity and interconnectedness of organisations; one factor does not operate in isolation to, or override, others (Waterman et al. 1980). It is a useful framework for analysis of even small organisations and considering how different facets are interconnected and impossible to change in isolation. The 7S’s are somewhat arbitrary and considered ‘hard’ (strategy, structure, systems) and ‘soft’ (staff, skills, style, and shared values). We can look at each these in turn in veterinary contexts and consider how changes might manifest:

  • Strategy is the what of what we do. It is the overall direction of travel, the place in the ‘market’, the point of differentiation, and it will have a major impact on the look and feel of an organisation (see 6.3.2). When the strategic direction changes then other factors must re‐align to make the change successful. An animal health company, for example, which decides to bring new products to market as a change from its previous strategy of re‐labelling of generic products, might have to employ people with new skill sets, create systems for R&D, and take a longer‐term view of its anticipate return on investment, for example, all of which will have profound impact across the entirety of the organisation. Strategy is considered in more detail in Chapter 7.
  • Structure references the classic organisation chart. Who reports to whom, who occupies which role, etc.? Veterinary professionals might occupy any number of positions in an organisational chart and their influence on the organisation will vary accordingly. Changing the structure, e.g. by adding, removing, or reassigning roles will alter communication structures, transfer of information, relationships, and any number of potentially unpredictable variables.
  • Systems refers to the how of getting things done. In a veterinary practice, it might include information technology (IT) and practice management systems, how records are maintained and accessed, means of communication, how clients interact with the organisation, rotas, backup, and how information is accessed. Changing a system (e.g. updating a practice management system or adopting a new way of assigning work) can have a profound impact on individuals, the work they do, and the overall activity of an organisation.
  • Staff looks at the people in the organisation. Who are they, how are they bought into the organisation and ‘socialised’ to the community, and how are they developed? Whilst this suggests, perhaps, that a formal structure is in play, in many circumstances integration into, and development within, organisations will happen informally, in relationship to others and as a result of both implicit and explicit expectations and examples of how to be and to behave. This is not necessarily healthy or positive for either the individual or the organisation. In the veterinary context, it can occur, for example, in meetings, at the stables, in the car, across the laboratory, in the seminar room, or in theatre. It will be influenced by what is acknowledged and rewarded. The ‘Hidden Curriculum’ in veterinary education fits into this category (Mossop et al. 2013; Roder and May 2017). Rewards may be material (e.g. salary or promotion) or might include access to sources of power and influence, to rank, status, or recognition. Uncovering, acknowledging, and modifying the ‘hidden’ dynamics around human relationships in organisations is by no means soft!
  • Skills are the capabilities and attributes available to an organisation. These will include the base skill sets assumed for veterinary professionals, but these will be modified by further training, development, and experience, as well as the non‐veterinary skill sets that are present. These might include financial management, epidemiology, IT, etc. Undoubtedly, a veterinary charity delivering general practice support to underprivileged members of society and their animal companions will have a different (but most likely overlapping) skill profile to a racing camel practice in the Middle East. Changing the skill profile available to an organisation will potentially change its focus and direction, and to effect change then it might be necessary to utilise different skillsets.
  • Style reflects the way things are done. It could include how members of the organisation dress, communicate, adhere to rules (or not), ask for help and spend time. The style of an organisation is a reflection of what is considered important and what is attended to. Consider the differences you might notice between the styles of a veterinary organisation, which is part of the military and a start‐up that is bringing virtual technology to clinical practice. Culture, another aspect of style, is considered below.
  • Shared values (or superordinate goals, as it was originally conceived) reflect the underlying purpose of the organisation. What is it there to do? It would be naïve to assume that, for many organisations and their stakeholders, the purpose the organisation serves aligns completely (or even at all) with what is stated in the marketing material or in the company’s mission statement. As has been explored elsewhere (see Chapter 2), there are many conscious and unconscious factors at play that define an organisation’s purposes.
Schematic illustration of the McKinsey 7S Model for assessing and describing an organisation.

Figure 6.1 The McKinsey 7S Model for assessing and describing an organisation.

Source: Adapted from Waterman, R. H., Peters, T. J., & Phillips, J. R., (1980), Structure is not organization, Business Horizons 23 (3): 14–26.‐6813(80)90027‐0.

The 7S model is deliberately laid out in a non‐hierarchical pattern (Figure 6.1) emphasising that no one aspect overrides any other and that there are myriad threads of interconnectedness and complexity. It is a useful tool and successful alignment of the areas in an organisation is likely to promote strength and stability. Until, at least, the external environment changes, in which case it might be necessarily to realign all the areas to avoid catastrophe.

6.3.4 Organisations and Metaphor

As complex, interconnected entities, organisations can sometimes defy easy description and categorisation with linear, logical thinking, and language. The use of metaphor can add to our understanding of an organisation (Figure 6.2); creating an artistic representation of an organisation can, for example, perhaps with the necessary facilitation and support (e.g. with a coach or organisational consultant), reveals insight which had previously escaped attention.

In Images of Organisations, Gareth Morgan examines organisations from differing metaphorical perspectives (Morgan 2006). Organisations as Machines

Systems, processes, workflows. The production line. Pull lever A to create effect B. The conception of organisations as machines where there are specified relationships and defined outcomes from specific actions infuses the early years of management science, before recognition that humans were not rational, predictable, replaceable cogs. Nevertheless, looking at an organisation as a machine with input, output, energy, design, and moving parts might be useful. Classic management theory emphasises examination of structure, creation of centralised bureaucracy, and ‘scientific’ management. Managing and leading organisations as if they were machines has limitations of lack of agility/adaptability, creation of an unquestioning bureaucracy, can create conflict between the organisational and individual goals and can be dehumanising.

Schematic illustration of different metaphors can be used to conceive and describe an organisation.

Figure 6.2 Different metaphors can be used to conceive and describe an organisation.

Source: Adapted from Adapted from Morgan, G. (2006), Images of Organisations. London: Sage Publications, explanation in text.

Nov 6, 2022 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Analysing Organisations

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