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Example research essay topic: Organizational Social Work - 2,572 words

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Organizational Social Work Organizations are socially constructed phenomena. A crucial task for organizational research and evaluation is to analyze how and why people construct organizations rather than other social forms. In this paper, we will elaborate on the recent public-sector reforms in US and how they can be interpreted and evaluated as attempts at constructing organizations. Social service entities that could formerly be described as agents or arenas have been transformed into 'more complete' organizations by installing or reinforcing local identity, hierarchy and rationality. This interpretation helps to explain important aspects of the reform process, to illustrate how change within US public sector was managed, and how resistance to change was overcome. Over the last twenty years or so it has been possible to observe a great number of public-sector reforms in the United States.

In many cases, the reforms were not aimed at the products of the social service, at health care or education for example. Rather, they have represented attempts at changing the modes of managing, controlling and accounting for the actual production of such services. Many of the reforms have met astonishingly little resistance and have been introduced at great speed by governments of various political shades (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 81). Social services have themselves taken the initiative in reforming and adopting new management techniques.

These reforms or changes can thus be evaluated as a way of turning social services into organizations, or at least into something closer to this than before. Seeing something as an organization means endowing it with an identity. This, in turn, means emphasizing its autonomy, and defining its boundaries and collective resources. (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 90) Organizational identity also involves the idea of being special, of possessing special characteristics, at the same time as being part of a highly general category, the organization. Many reforms represent an attempt to install or reinforce such features of identity in the social services.

An organization has a certain degree of autonomy. It is hierarchically subordinate to only a small part of its environment, for instance its owners. Its autonomy implies that it can own, or at any rate control, resources, as well as controlling its own boundaries, by commanding the opportunities for entering or exiting (Schein, 1985, 121). In US, attempts have been made to increase the local autonomy of social services. Rules emanating from the centre have become fewer and less specific; instead, decisions are taken in the relevant local unit. The task of the central bodies is now more frequently framed in terms of giving advice and follow-up rather than imposing directives on local units.

(A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 114) Conditions of employment, and to a large extent the division of labor, among professional groups are determined locally, rather than by central or professional regulations. Local entities engage in setting the boundaries for their own activities (D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 125).

The base for recruiting leaders and personnel has become increasingly defined according to this broad concept of organization. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 73) New leaders are not recruited exclusively from the same organizations. Explicit policies have been designed for recruiting social service managers from other types of organization, and the fact that there are so few leaders in the public sector with experience from non-public organizations has been seen as a problem. (A. Rose and A.

Lawton, 1999, 117) The experience of leading and managing organizations in general has come to be regarded as an important career qualification, more valuable than experience within the practical field of the public service concerned. US social services have been asked to formulate their own particular objectives and to produce policy statements and performance reports in which they emphasize the differences between themselves and other services. Some have actively marketed themselves with the help of these profiles, with logos of their own and sometimes even with new names emphasizing their special identity in order to attract more 'customers'. (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 117) Several recent US social service reforms have aimed at 'letting managers manage' or at 'freeing managers to manage' (D. Farnham and S.

Horton, 1996, 181). Chief executives are defined as managers enjoying freedom of choice, rather than as civil servants following and implementing central directives. These managers are expected to launch their own initiatives, to design activities and to transform the entity concerned so that it becomes something special, with its own special characteristics. In order to strengthen local coordination and control, many US social services have established management teams, and a number of new middle management positions have been created. As managers have been allowed greater discretion, their leadership role has been emphasized and consequently also the need for training in leadership and strategic management. Top management is expected to achieve control with the help of management accounting techniques, whereby people or units are made accountable for certain activities and results. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 79) After the transition to the 21st century paradigm of business, leadership has become the most important word for the reformers in the US social services.

Gone from the US public sector are the four old Cs of leadership; Command, Control, Compartmentalize, and Cope. In its place, four new Cs have assumed dominance; Communicate, Collaborate, Coach and Catalyze. (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 139) Whats the need for the new leadership? The key question is why is the old leadership style of command and control under attack in both public and private sectors? The answer is that as the US public sector is changing, old leadership techniques and tactics are simply not appropriate anymore. The old terms of boss and subordinate are now being replaced with the new terms of strategic partners and colleagues. (G.

Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 84) The new leadership training in the US social services consists of new behaviors and new roles for all to become involved. The new leadership will consist of sharing these behaviors and roles. While there may continue to be a small number of Born leaders, there certainly will not be enough of them to lead and manage our society in the new century. This is why training leadership in employees is a crucial focal point of studied knowledge in public sector. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 85) Most of the US corporate leaders have realized that cooperation rather than authoritative style of management is the key to success within an organization; however a lot of problems start to arise in terms of authority delegation and responsibility handling.

Not all the managers and leaders are willing to delegate the authority to an extent when the employees are becoming the primary decision makers in a lot of the questions, and not all the employees are willing tom accept the increased responsibility for making those decisions. (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 147) The authority delegation problem in US public sector is that a leader is rarely aware of exactly how much responsibility every one of his employees is able to handle. As the business environment requires really fast decision making at all the levels within the organization, almost everyone should have enough skills and courage to respond in a quick and efficient manner when something drastic happens. Good leadership within any organization means that the leader is able to coordinate the efforts of all the employees in order to achieve maximum rate of performance. Another reform in the US social services reflects the fact that nowadays there is a need to be flexible and adaptable to changes, which implies that the leaders need to be able to change the organization according to the new standards in such a way that all the human resources are efficiently used and that any reorientation or requalification of the employees is done within the organization itself. (G. Johnson and K.

Scholes, 2002, 101) The leaders role is quite significant in this process, since it is his/her responsibility to coordinate the actions of all the staff members. The reforms in the US social services influence the role of leadership primarily because of the change in the overall business environment, since the whole organization needs to undergo some drastic changes in order to survive, and the leader is the one who bares the most responsibility for implementing such a change. The most successful company can go bankrupt if the management is unwilling to implement the necessary changes in order to adapt to the new realities of the business environment. It is a normal tendency for adults to resist changes to their routine and environment, according to professionals in the field of human performance and training design. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 114) Adults tend to be especially reluctant to adopt changes in their work environment.

Fear of failure, falling short of the expectations of their manager and a reduction in their status among peers and co-workers are frequent reasons for an adult to be less than enthusiastic about changes that are introduced by their employer. The logic that the change will cause improvements in performance or a better product/service for the client does little to make dramatic change easier to embrace. The intense emotions involved in the fear of the unknown and fear of failing typically prevail, even when the employees are highly bright, well-educated professionals. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 114) When a manager sees the need to implement changes, taking steps to allay employee concerns and encourage involvement at all levels of the organizational structure can make the entire process much less troublesome for the entire team. When employees feel they have a conduit for input and can play a role in designing the changes, they have a vested interest in seeing that the revised system actually works and is implemented according to plan.

Employees that are not consulted and are totally left on the perimeter of all meaningful decisions can feel resentment, distrust, alienation and even overt rebellion. (D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 117) On the other hand, open communication between the administration and the operations levels will go a long way to bridge gaps in expectations and provide a foundation of understanding and common goals for success. Employees that feel secure about the reasons for changes and understand the objectives behind them, in fact, likely join in and contribute ideas and suggestions for further improving the organization at large. Training professionals use the term buy-in frequently to describe the process of involving the front-line personnel in performance modifications and job description changes.

(G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 121) Buy-in does not necessarily mean every employee must agree with the administration on the changes, but it does involve the employees understanding the reason behind it and accepting the changes to their job description and performance standards. Many US public service organizations appointed internal change agents who were critical to how change was to be implemented and accepted within the organization. (G. Johnson and K.

Scholes, 2002, 129) Ideally, they possessed both technical know-how as well as social skills and were perceived as credible advocates of change. They were knowledgeable about the particular process being changed, as well as how it interacted with and affects other processes within the organization. In addition to technical expertise, change agents also had strong social skills. (A. Rose and A. Lawton, 1999, 162).

They had a firm understanding of other disciplines within the organization and were diplomatic in their interactions, willing to ask tough questions and influence policy wherever appropriate. They also were trustworthy and thick-skinned enough to face criticism and resistance to change. Finally, they were effective in communicating, practicing, facilitating and training for the organizations new and improved way of being. Those agents helped a lot of organizations in the US public sector. Besides employees resistance to change, the US public services success in becoming an organically organized enterprise that embraces innovation and change was heavily dependent on its managers, especially those whove worked and lead in a bureaucratic environment. (G. Johnson and K. Scholes, 2002, 133) They used to be know-it-alls, stability and order tended to replace risk taking and leadership initiatives, creative leadership was perceived as actually being punished, data feedback was seldom sought and generally ignored, and customers and employees were often treated differentially.

(D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 140) Nowadays, they are faced with a new environment. They need to be risk-taking, foster trust and openness with and amongst employees, challenge and involve subordinates, create an atmosphere of playfulness and humor, exercise freedom and autonomy, provide access to resources for innovation, and encourage new ideas with reinforcement. The reformers in social service organizations in US realized that the understanding of the forces of change constantly reshaping business today needed to be broadened throughout the organization. Through encouragement of new mindsets that helped break through to new levels of customer service, continuous improvement, and personal empowerment, the basis for a perpetually innovative US public sector was created.

Once the cultural basis had been adopted, the organizations needed to provide the platform and provide the resources for its employees to be innovative and handle the stress of change and competition. (D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 153) One thing all US social service organizational forms had in common was that they resembled webs or networks - clusters of specialized units coordinated by communication and relational norms rather than by a hierarchical chain of command. Specialization was the key word because increased specialization enhanced organizational adaptability in several ways. (D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 157) First, by focusing on more narrowly defined task domains, specialists accumulate large amounts of in-depth knowledge and expertise.

By focusing their attention, they were also better able to monitor - and more likely to recognize and correctly interpret - indicators concerning impending environmental shifts likely to affect their special areas of expertise. Additionally, the assignment of cross-functional teams could eliminate the time involved in the usual linear iteration. US public sector reformers were able to overcome the resistance to change among the personnel. They made it apparent that all the changes that would be initiated within the organization would be initiated with the employees consent. To make this happen, various meetings at different levels were organized. The employees were given the objectives set by the companys upper level management, and after that small groups were set up in order to discuss the changes that had to be implemented in order to meet those objectives. By doing so, all the employees were involved, and the upcoming changes were perceived as something initiated by the employees themselves, not coerced on them by the companys management.

After the group meetings, surveys were distributed to make sure that every individual employee is able to illustrate his opinion. Moreover, after the changes to be made were determined, the management showed what particular benefits the employees will get out of those changes. (D. Farnham and S. Horton, 1996, 225) Bibliography A. Rose and A. Lawton (1999) Public Services Management (Harlow: Prentice Hall).

D. Farnham and S. Horton (1996) Managing People in the Public Service (London: Macmillan). E.H. Schein (1985) Organizational culture and leadership, Jossey Biss. G. Johnson and K. Scholes (2002) (6th ed.) Exploring Corporate Strategy: text and cases, FT/Prentice Hall: Harlow.

R. Carney (1997) Changing Service Organization. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). R. Plant (1987) Managing Change and Making it Stick, Fontana..

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