INFORMATION SYSTEMS APPROACH

 

INFORMATION SYSTEMS APPROACH TO ORGANIZATIONS KARL WEICK

Many theorists regard the image of a living organism as an appropriate metaphor to apply to all organizations. One model fits all. Even though insects, mammals and fish all have systems to provide nourishment, respiration, reproduction and elimination of bodily wastes.

Weick uncomfortable with comparing organizations as live bodies but he definitely regards organizing as a lively process. Difference between organization (noun) and organizing as a (verb).

Weick equates organizing with information processing which is the common raw material that all organizations possess. Weick’s model of organizing describes how people make sense out of these confusing verbal inputs.

THE GOAL OF ORGANIZING: MAKING SENSE OUT OF EQUIVOCAL INFORMATION:

Weick’s idea of organizing as a way to make sense out of equivocal information is conceptually close to:

Shannon and Weaver definition of information which is the reduction of uncertainty and

Berger’s assumption that increasing predictability is our primary concern when meeting someone new.

Uncertainty denotes a lack of information. People who are uncertain look for more facts as a way to interpret them.

E quivocality refers to ambiguity. The problem is one of confusion. Too much information running through my head. Information overload. Not a problem of ignorance, but too many possible meanings, options to make a decision. Need a context or framework to help sort through the data to make interpretations and decisions.

Weick’s model of organizing is a systems approach to process equivocal information.

 

THE UNIVERSITY AS A LOOSELY COUPLED SYSTEM:

Weick sees university organizations that have goals that are inconsistent, ill defined, and loosely coupled, technology that no one understands and participants who vary in how much time and energy they put into the university.

Weick believes that the degree of complexity and diversity within the organization needs to match the level of ambiguity of the data it processes. He calls this ‘requisite variety". Since university students and faculty are dealing with vast amounts of confusing information, Weick is convinced that in order to accomplish the tasks demanded of each, they must make sense by organizing into a complicated array of interpersonal networks. E.g. Hierarchy at the university and different departments

www.acs.ucalgary.ca/VPA/AdminOrgChart00.pdf

Most organizations function quite well though no one person knows for sure what is going on. Mechanistic approach employees are cogs in the corporate machine. Rather than using a mechanistic model or machine metaphor, Weick uses a biological metaphor.

E.g. the ear, the eye, the arm, the heart, the brain all work independently yet together

Weick regards this interconnectedness as the primary feature of organizing life. He describes the basic unit of interconnectedness as the double interact, which consists of three elements.

  1. Act-to do something
  2. Response- act of reacting
  3. Adjustment- fix or set right

Weick believes that these double interact loops are the communication cycles that build or maintain an organization. Not so much the individual’s talent or performance.

Loose coupling refers to the fact that feedback loops in the communication department have little in common with the double interacts occurring in the business faculty. Neither is tightly linked with the cycles of information. Weick sees this as a strength loose coupling allows the university to absorb shocks, scandals and stupidity without destroying the system.

Look at the new technologies. networking, interconnectedness basis of the Internet

Taste of the Future www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~bdnelson/main.html

Taste of the Future www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~jha

THE UNIVERSITY AS A SYSTEM OPEN TO THE ENVIRONMENT:

Weick takes on a survival of the fittest position. Organizations live in a harsh environment and those that are not well suited to survive will die. Same in business.

Weick applies Darwin’s theory to organizations where socio/cultural/economic and technological problems causes a type of business jungle where the ultimate goals of organizations are to survive rather to meet goals or mission statements.

Weick believes some people organize in a way better adapted to survive than others.

Look at the animal kingdom, mutation and adaptation. Organizations have to change also, but can only do so when the members or employees of the organization change.

Colorado economist Kenneth Boulding labels adaptation through change "survival of the fitting".

Productivity Tools www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~Edhoward/studewebs/hitech/index.html

Productivity Tools www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~dhoward/studwebs/bitsbytes/

 

THREE STAGE PROCESS OF SOCIAL-CULTURAL EVOLUTION

  1. Enactment
  2. Selection
  3. Retention

ENACTMENT: JUST DON’T SIT THERE. DO SOMETHING

Universities as ivory towers. Aloof and separate from the world that surrounds them. Weick believes that organizations create their own environment

In terms of open systems theory, the environment is as much an output as an input. Through the process of enactment, people organizing together invent their environment rather than discover it. As we are doing here, learning and discussing communication theory.

As soon as you act, tangible outcomes are generated in a social context. Then you can look back and decide what is really happening and what needs to be done next. It is like taking this course and having a final exam rather than having an exam on the first day of class before we have studied anything.

Weick also believes that talking is really processing information and is the essence of organizing. When managers give orders they are actually creating a new environment. That is why Weick believes organizations should have more meetings instead of fewer.

 

 

 

SELECTION: RETROSPECTIVE SENSE MAKING

Weick defines selection as "retrospective sensemaking". We can only interpret actions we’ve already taken so any kind of action, even chaotic action is better than inaction.

Planning does not come before but after enactment. Two organizational tools:

Rules are stock responses that have served well in the past and have become standard operating procedure. Either oral or written in a manual. Weick believe that rules are fine when equivocality is low but fail to remove uncertainty in a situation where many conflicting interpretations are possible.

Cycle is the second tool for selection or decision making. The act-response-adjustment cycle of the double interact are verbal loops that take the form of interviews, meetings, phone calls, discussions, chats over the watercooler that help to process information.

Each communication cycle squeezes equivocality out of the situation.

Weick believes the more equivocal the information that an organization must process, the more communication cycles it requires to reduce ambiguity and to process the information. He postulates an inverse relationship between rules and cycles. As cycles increase to handle complex data, reliance on rules go down.

 

 

 

Studies have confirmed that organizational members employ

rules to process unambiguous data and

cycles to process highly equivocal information

and as predicted equivocal proposals generated more double interacts

RETENTION: TREAT MEMORY AS A PAST:

Retention in organizations is like biological reproduction in nature. It is the way organizations remember.

Weick believes that to much retention creates a network of rules that reduces a person’s flexibility to respond to complex information. However, collective memory produces stability for people who are working together.

Corporate image is a record of interpersonal relationships, causal maps of how things are done in the organization and successful penetrations into the outside environment. That is why a new member or someone new to a job has so much to learn. Need to acquire a type of organizational memory passed on by older employees.

However, the weight of tradition can cause stifle the flexibility needed to survive an uncertain future. An on going tension between stability and innovation

Should treat memory as a pest such as in the case of corporate giants like IBM, Sears, General Motors and Consumers Distributing.

Need to doubt, argue, discredit, question and challenge.

Organizations fail because they loose flexibility by relying on rules, manuals and relying on the past instead of striving to be flexible.

 

 

 

 

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SOURCES:

Wood, Julia. (1997) Communication Theories in Action: An Introduction Wadsworth Publishing Company.

McClish, Glen. (1997). Instructor's Manual to Accompany EM Griffin's A First Look at Communication Theory McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Griffin, EM. (1997) A First Look at Communication Theory. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

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