Academic journal article Communication Studies

Are We "Out of the Box" Yet? a Case Study and Critique of Managerial Metaphors of Change

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Are We "Out of the Box" Yet? a Case Study and Critique of Managerial Metaphors of Change

Article excerpt

A cultural-critical approach is used to explore dominant and alternative ideologies of change reflected in the metaphors of a retail-based management staff The case study reveals the managers as change agents were well versed in the corporate call to "get out of the box," yet reflected a less transformational vision of change in their own discourse. Traveling metaphors used by the store-level managers indicated a process orientation to change, but one that severely limited discussion about other possible routes toward the desired end. Suppressed alternative metaphors speaking to the personal losses and frustrations associated with change are exposed and validated in this analysis. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

The only constant in organizational life today, it seems, is change. Based on societal trends, management fads, competitive moves, and new technologies, managers are pressured to implement fast-paced changes in the workplace. In the hustle and bustle, however, managers and other implementers often fail to see the central role of creating shared understanding about a change event (Ford & Ford, 1995). Managers, as change agents, may not stop to assess the views held by employees or their own implementation team (Lewis, 2000). Assuming others' values and perceptions naturally match their own, leaders may make hasty decisions without regard to the symbolic impact of their actions. In turn, they would likely be unaware of the symbolic responses to their actions. Managers simply must be attuned to the organization's cultural values in order to locate both facilitators and inhibitors of change (Pearce & Osmond, 1996). Failure to understand the multiple and possibly divergent beliefs within the culture will likely amount to increased resistance if not sabotage or outright rejection of proposed changes.

Furthermore, if a managerial change ideology is imposed, the result may be the unnecessary suppression of interests, opinions, or discourses that fall outside of the dominant agenda. When this happens, an environment of "discursive closure" forms in which alternative voices are silenced (Deetz, 1992). During times of organizational change, managerial discourses that echo the popular buzzwords of "teamwork" and "empowerment," for example, may have a blanketing effect on employees such that change programs are accepted without question (Zorn, Page, & Cheney, 2000). The dominant change language then serves to uphold "preferred" ways of designing and implementing change that suppress alternative, and possibly more appropriate, courses of action (Wendt, 1994).

A metaphor analysis has the potential to address this role of managerial discourse in both promoting and silencing perspectives in change efforts. As metaphors simultaneously expose and conceal ideologies (Deetz & Mumby, 1985; Lakoff &Johnson, 1980), they can be viewed through both cultural and critical lenses. At the level of cultural description and understanding, analyzing emergent metaphors is one way to gather perceptions regarding a change event. For example, congruence in metaphors may signal congruence in values, mis-matched or conflicting metaphors may suggest the opposite (Marshak, 1993). At the level of cultural critique, however, congruence in change language might also point to the internalization of a dominant change rhetoric that leads to consent (Deetz, 1995; Zorn et al., 2000). The unique power of metaphor allows for this duality of interpretation. This quality of metaphor also serves practical ends, as change agents studying metaphorical talk can identify various perspectives regarding change, to then help develop a shared vision of the new organization that is reflective of multiple interests in the change process (Cripe, 1996; Morgan, 1993). In so doing, implementers of change might discover that those discourses, once thought to be resistant, are actually key facilitators of the change process. …

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