The Machine Metaphor and Organizations Today
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The machine metaphor points out the ways that organizations are specialized, standardized, and predictable. When I try to apply this metaphor to real life, the first thing that comes to mind is the assembly line inside a factory. To create a product each member has their role on the assembly line and there isn’t much deviation from the set process otherwise the product may be unpredictable. In an assembly line the work is done simultaneously to achieve one goal. If a worker falls quits or is unavailable, that worker can be replaced by another. The ironic idea about the machine metaphor is that when it became popular during the industrial period people working in factories were commonplace and those people emulated the functioning of a machine. The corporate world decided to take the idea one step further and replace humans with actual machines. This rendered the need for an abundance of skilled labor unnecessary. The machine metaphor originated during the industrial period but has had long standing effects in the workplace today and can be found almost anywhere.
In comparison to an old donut factory, the donut maker and the glazer specialist may be seen as the different departments present in a company today. Specialization is also apparent in the popularity of consultants, who have taken a specific area of work or services and capitalized on the demand. Organizations today have the ability to replace workers that quit or of no longer use, this is due to standardization and replaceability of positions. The employee manual or operations guide of an organization is representative of predictability. If something goes wrong within an organization, it can resolve its issues by reviewing these preset manuals. The machine metaphor has created a foundation for the operation of corporate America today. Many of its characteristics are invaluable tools such as, the time card for tracking employee hours, this is predictability.
Although there are great attributes of the metaphor, it has some fallacies. The main barrier in any organization is communication; this is due to the residue of ideals from the classical machine metaphor. These barriers include: the content of communication, direction of communication flow, the mode/channel of communication, and the style of communication. The content of communication is usually task oriented, in classical organizations social and innovative communication is discouraged because it is assumed that the best way to do something has already been discussed.
The direction of communication flow is vertical or downward from managers to employees. This is seen in the hierarchy of power in companies today. The channel of communication is written form which includes employee handbooks, mission statements, and performance evaluations. Lastly, the style of communication is very formal. Organizations tend to use titles such as, supervisor and manager or Mr. and Ms. Every one of these communication styles have been used as a basis for conducting business in a classic professional manner. The individual is not a machine and cannot be oiled like one, the individual needs personalized communication so that he or she may flourish in the company and then the company may then flourish as well.