Click_Here - Roy Y. Chan

Public Policies and Sense
Making in Higher
Education Institutions
Name: Roy Chan
Instructor: Anatoly Oleksiyenko, Ph.D.
Date: January 24, 2011
E-mail: [email protected] / [email protected]
“Culture does not change because we desire to
change it. Culture changes when the organization
is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of
people working together every day.”
~ Frances Hasselbein
President of Leader of Leader Institute
Weick, Karl (2001). Making Sense in
Organizations. Found in Chapter 2
“Sources of Order in
Underorganized Systems: Themes
in Recent Organizational Theory.”
New York: Blackwell Business.
Professor Karl E. Weick
» Rensis Likert Distinguished
University Professor of
Organizational Behavior
and Psychology at the
Ross School of Business
at the University of
Michigan – Ann Arbor.
» Earned his Ph.D. in
Organizational Psychology
from Ohio State University
» Originally from Warsaw,
» Coined the term “loose
coupling”, “mindfulness”,
and “sensemakng.”
Topics/Key Words
1) Loose Coupling
2) Rationality /Assumptions
3) Ambiguity
4) Variability
5) Sensemaking
6) Action vs. Deliberation
7) Connections
8) Mindfulness
What is an organization?
• March and Olsen (1976) defines
organizations as a “set of procedures for
augmentation and imprecation” (p. 25).
What is an organization?
• Weick (2001) identify organization as a
system of chains divided into four areas: 1)
individual action, 2) organization action, 3)
environmental response, and 4) individual
beliefs (p. 41).
What is an organization?
• Organizations may be anarchies but they are
organized anarchies; they may be loosely
coupled, but they are loosely coupled
systems (Weick, 2001: 34).
• Leaders can break many organizations into
largely self-functioning subsystems, but
loose coupling is really the "glue" that holds
them together.
What is Loose Coupling?
• Loose Coupling is a metaphor that Karl
Weick develop to help leaders better
understand organizations and connections
that are either marginalized, ignored or
• In general, understanding an organization as
a loose coupling can help us better explain
how organizations adapt to their
environments and survive in uncertainties.
What is Loose Coupling?
• Because “Actors in loosely coupled system
are often isolated, find social comparison
difficult, have no one to borrow from, seldom
imitate, suffer pluralistic ignorance, maintain
discretion, improvise, and have less hubris
because they know the universe is not
connected to make widespread change”
SIX Themes of what organizations are like:
1) There is a less rationality than meets the eye
2) Organizations are segmented rather than monolithic
3) Stable segments in organizations are quite small
4) Connections among segments have variable
• 5) Connections of variable strength produce ambiguity
• 6) Connections of constant strength reduce ambiguity
(Weick, 2001: 34)
“Every organization must be prepared to abandon everything it
does to survive in the future.”
~ Peter Drucker, The Father Of Modern Management
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
~ What is rationality?
• Weick (2001) divides rationality into three components:
1) Set of prescriptions that change as the issue
change, 2) As a façade created to attract resources
and legitimacy, and 3) As a postaction process used to
invest reasons of action (p. 35).
• He believes that rationality are rare in organizations.
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
~ What is rationality?
• Pfeffer (1981) suggests that organizations use
rationality as a façade when they talk about
goals, planning, intentions, and analysis to
ensure flow of resources in the organization (p.
Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer
» Thomas D. Dee II
Professor of
Organizational Behavior
at the Graduate School
of Business, Stanford
» Earned his Ph.D. in
Organizational Psychology
from Stanford University
» Considered as one of
the most influential
management thinkers
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
~ What is rationality?
• Westerlund and Sjostrand (1979) identifies
rationality as a “horrific label given to the
individual or group acting in the manner the
evaluator wishes” (p. 91).
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
~ What is rationality?
• Dyckman (1981) suggests that there are three
types of rationale: 1) contextual-rationale, 2)
process rationale, and 3) calculation rationale
(p. 35).
Professor Thomas R. Dyckman
» Ann Whitney Professor
Emeritus of Accounting
at the Samuel Curtis
Johnson Graduate
School of Management
at Cornell University
» Earned his Ph.D. from
the University of
» Recipient of the 1978
American Accounting
Outstanding Educator
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
~ What is rationality?
• Staw (1980) illustrates that rationality is used
by new theorist as a post hoc rationality device
in which organizations justify their actions with
threats, problems, success or opportunities (p.
Professor Barry Staw
» Lorraine Tyson Mitchell
Chair and Professor of
Leadership and
Communication at the
Hass School of
Business at the
University of California,
» Earned his Ph.D. in
Psychology from
Northwestern University
» Founder of the
Research in
Organizational Behavior
1) There is a less rationality
than meets the eye
• Therefore, Starbuck (1983) believes that
rationality is an action. An action is seen as a
response to a threat. Organizations justify their
actions with threats, problems, success or
opportunities (p. 94).
Professor William H. Starbuck
» Professor in Residence
at the Lundquist College
of Business at the
University of Oregon
and Professor Emeritus
at New York University.
» Earned his Ph.D. from
the Carneige Institute of
» Published more than
150 articles since 1958
“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through
relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to
form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and
~ Margaret Wheatley, writer and management consultant
2) Organizations are segmented
rather than monolithic
• No organizations is monolithic; rather,
organizations are unified actors operating
in more homogenous environments
(Weick, 2001: 37).
• Organizations relies heavily on
deliberation in order to avoid risks of
being judged too impulsive, erratic, or
unpredictable (Weick, 2001: 37).
2) Organizations are segmented
rather than monolithic
• March and Olsen (1976) believes that people
normally exaggerate the orderliness of
organizations through bias. Bias involves
assumptions about reality, intention and necessity.
Professor James G. March
• Jack Steele Parker
Professor of International
Management, Emeritus at
Stanford University
Graduate School of
Professor Johan P. Olsen
• Professor in Political
Science and Director of
Research at the Centre
for European Studies,
University of Oslo
2) Organizations are segmented
rather than monolithic
• Additionally, universities act like
organizations because lower level
segments act like top management.
• Questions of author, legitimacy, and
insubordination are found in both
universities and organizations. Moreover,
both are loosely coupled and are primarily
delegated to groups rather than individuals
(Weick, 2001: 39).
2) Organizations are segmented
rather than monolithic
In schools today, teachers often give students
all kinds of tasks, responsibilities and
actions as a way to loosen the teacherstudent relationship (Weick, 2001). Weick
(2001) believes that many teachers are
treating students as them working in an
organization than the school or a school (p.
“One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I
changed myself I could not change others.”
~ Nelson Mandela, 1918 Nobel prize winner, South African
statesman and President since 1994
3) Stable segments in
organizations are quite small
• Small organizations are necessarily not
disorderly; rather, small organizations find
more coherence than large organizations.
When organizations become larger, there
orderliness, predictability and sensibleness
decline (Weick, 2001: 41).
• Small organizations may be better than
large organizations
3) Stable segments in
organizations are quite small
• In large organizations, people have limited
thinking capacity, managers do little
reading, and managers can work for about
nine minutes before they are interrupted
(Weick, 2001: 40).
• Many people in large organizations find it
difficult to maintain more than ten solid
relationships (Weick, 2001: 40).
“Leadership is not about changing the mindset of a group, but in
the cultivation of an environment that brings out the best and
inspires the individuals in that group.”
~ Arthur F Carmazzi, author and international speaker on
4) Connections among segments
have variable strengths
• Weick (2001) believes that longer chains
with larger connections are more looser
than shorter chains (p. 41).
• Organization with connections among
segments typically have a variety of
4) Connections among segments
have variable strengths
• There are four features that affect
organization strength of connection: 1)
Rules, 2) Agreement on rules, 3) Feedback,
and 4) Attention (Weick, 2001: 42).
• It is important to note that most
organizational segments contain a mixture
of both tightness and looseness. An
organization cannot be entirely tight or
entirely loose (Weick, 2001: 43).
“I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to
conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don't think that's quite it;
it's more like jazz. There is more improvisation.” ~ Warren Bennis
5) Connections of variable
strength produce ambiguity
~ What is ambiguity?
According to Weick (2001), he sees ambiguity
slows down communication/feedback,
creates more learning difficulty, and
increase the number of people giving up
and quitting. It is normally found in
changing/complex environments, nonroutine tasks, and networks with dense
interdependencies (p. 44).
5) Connections of variable
strength produce ambiguity
~ What is ambiguity?
• Organizations dislike ambiguity,
determination, delegation and
differentiation because each one is
associated with loose connections, which is
a form of ambiguity (Weick, 2001: 44).
• Loose connections are a source of
Weick (2001)
highlights twelve
of ambiguity:
1) Nature of problem
2) Information
3) Multiple Interpretations
4) Different Value Orientations
5) Unclear Goals
6) Lack of Time and Money
7) Contradictions and Paradox
8) Responsibilities Unclear
9) Success Measures Lacking
10) Poor Cause-Effect
• 11) Symbols and Metaphors
• 12) Decision Making Fluid
(Weick, 2001: 45)
“As we, the leaders, deal with tomorrow, our task is to create
organizations that are sufficiently flexible and versatile that they can
take our imperfect plans and make them work in execution. That is
the essential character of the learning organization.”
~ Gordon R. Sullivan & Michael V. Harper
6) Connections of constant
strength reduce ambiguity
• The best way to reduce ambiguity is to act
as if loosely coupled events are tied in a
cause map (Weick, 2001: 48).
• Cause maps create some order.
6) Connections of constant
strength reduce ambiguity
• Connections of constant strength can be
stabilized by action.
• Action can simplify environments, can make
environments more orderly, can create
linkage, and can construct feedback (p. 50).
Comparison between Loosely
Coupled and Tightly Coupled
“A new leader has to be able to change an organization that is dreamless, soulless
and visionless ... someone's got to make a wake up call.”
~ Warren Bennis, American scholar and organizational consultant
• Loosely coupled systems probably are
easier to coordinate, but are very difficult to
systematically change.
• Understanding an organization as a loose
coupling will help better explain us to
understand how organizations adjust to their
environments and survive during
• Nowadays, educational organizations are
mostly viewed as loosely coupled systems.
• The concept of organizations as loosely
coupled systems can effect any existing
• The best way to handle ambiguity is to turn
to another person and build some idea of
what is occurring through social interaction.
• The concept of a “loosely coupled”
organization is more of a way for us to think
about organizations. It is not intended to
describe the quality of an organization.
• Loose coupling creates assumptions about
organizations, creates novel functions,
creates stubborn problems for
methodologists, and generates intriguing
questions for scholars.
Pros and Cons of Loose Coupling
• Allows the organization to
persist through rapid
environmental fluctuations
• Improves the organization's
sensitivity to the
• Allows locals to quickly
adapt to their environment
• Provide more diversity to
adapt to changing
environmental situations
• Allows more selfdetermination by actors (like
teachers, classes, etc.)
• Lack of coordination
• Absence of regulations
• Highly connect networks
with very slow feedback
• Situations where several
means can produce the
same result
Further Readings
Final words…..
• “Managing is more like surfing on waves.
People who surf do not command the waves.
Instead, surfers do their best with what they
get. They can control inputs to the process,
but they can’t control outcomes. To ride the
waves as if one were in control is to act and
have faith” (p. 54).
~ Karl E. Weick, Rensis Likert Distinguished University
Professor at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Discussion Questions?:
• 1) In your opinion, do you agree with the
Professor Weick method of Loose Coupling?
• 2) Why and how do organizations seek and
identify change?
• 3) From your experience, how can
implement change in your organization
Is University a Factory?
Presenter: Dr. Anatoly Oleksiyenko
Date: Friday, 28th January, 2011
Time: 3.45 pm - 5.15 pm (followed by a tea reception)
Location: Room 206, Runme Shaw Building
Are universities really becoming performance-obsessed and value-biased, as some
critics claim? This seminar will draw on the analyses of the evolution of Berkeley’s
“knowledge factory” metaphor to illustrate how “ideoscapes” in higher education
mutate with the change of stakeholder influences on academic roles and
responsibilities. Exploring the currency of powerful catchphrases such as “ivory
tower”, “academic revolution”, “the university in ruins”, questions “research
enterprise”, “degree mills” and “academic capitalism”, the researcher whether this
range of “ideoscapes”is truly sequential and/or relevant across cultures. The
seminar will probe the validity of “market-smart and mission-centered” university
strategies in the context of the isomorphic prestige-driven trends shaping the
architecture of global higher education.
Hosted by the Community for
Higher Education Research
(CHER). CHER in Hong Kong is
designed to bring together
researchers in any area of
higher education research for
exchange and critical dialogue.
Questions? Contact me at:
• E-mail: [email protected] / [email protected]
• Or visit my office at:
Room 407, Graduate House
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam, Hong Kong
* Powerpoint slides can be downloaded via online at:

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