TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization

By Philip Selznick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE FUNCTIONS AND DILEMMAS OF OFFICIAL DOCTRINE

The grass-roots policy is merely a rationalization. It is absurd to have a federal agency trying to work through organizations which place it at a second remove from the people.

A TVA STAFF MEMBER ( 1943): AN EXTREME VIEW

THE PARAPHRASE of official doctrine, briefly stated in the preceding chapter is not, of course, complete. Ideas sincerely held and highly prized are not likely to be acceptably presented by a mind alien or even detached. The leadership of the TVA would be quick to point to subtleties unnoticed, ramifications ignored, and meanings crudely put. Such an attitude, if expressed, would be readily understandable. For this is a doctrine to which the TVA leadership is deeply committed. The idea of a grass-roots administration is, as we have already noted, no casual or minor element in the consciousness of the Authority's staff. It is, on the contrary, one of the symbols most frequently referred to inside the organization. Speeches to new employees, letters to information seekers, a popular book written by the chairman, memoranda discussing projects and procedures, all attest to the importance of the grass-roots idea in TVA. The systematic promulgation of these ideas helps to define the character of TVA as an organization and serves to shape the outlook of its staff. Open though it is to various interpretations, there can hardly be any question that, at least in the regional development departments, the grass-roots approach is accepted without question as official policy and for the most part is warmly endorsed as effective administrative procedure.


SOURCES AND FUNCTIONS

Among the many and pressing responsibilities of leadership, there arises the need to develop a Weltanschauung, a general view of the organization's position and role among its contemporaries. For organizations are not unlike personalities: the search for stability and meaning, for security, is unremitting. It is a search which seems to find a natural conclusion in the achievement of a set of morally sustaining ideas, ideas which lend support to decisions which must rest on compromise and restraint. Organizations, like men, are at crucial times involved in an attempt to close the gap between what they wish to do and what they can do. It is natural that, in due course, the struggle should be resolved in favor

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