organizational theory

Misreading the Environment, Part II

Nearly four years ago, I wrote this blog post about how the Globe and Mail newspaper responsed to allegations that columnist Margaret Wente had used uncredited sources in some of her writing. In that post, I talked about the model of population ecology, from organizational theory. The model suggests that if an organization wants to be considered legitimate, and to gain benefits of legitimacy such as resources and power, then it needs to monitor cues in its external environment, and respond to those cues in ways that the environment considers appropriate.

Wente was briefly suspended after those 2012 allegations, but returned to her job. This past week, the same blogger that found problems with Wente’s work in 2012 found uncredited material from other sources in Wente’s most recent column. The Globe‘s response to these findings was to publish a column by its public editor.  The column quoted the Globe‘s editor-in-chief as saying the paper would “work with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again”, and that there would be apologies and corrections to the uncredited material.

After that, in Lewis Carroll’s words, “answer came there none” – despite (more…)

Newspapers, Endorsements, and Legitimacy

When a newspaper endorses a political party or a candidate during an election, the public assessment of the endorsement tends to turn on two factors: the reasoning leading to the endorsement, and the perceived legitimacy of the newspaper itself. But, as in any kind of legitimacy judgement of an organization, the perception of a newspaper’s legitimacy isn’t based on a single event or piece of information. It’s based on multiple factors, including the perceiver’s beliefs about whether the organization’s actions “are desirable, proper, [or] appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions”. And that is where the Postmedia newspapers in Canada went so spectacularly wrong with their endorsement of the incumbent Conservative Party in the upcoming federal election. (more…)

Protecting the Workplace “Star”

Last week, in light of the ongoing revelations in the story of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, the Financial Post ran a column entitled “Don’t be the CBC: How employers should handle allegations of violence and workplace harassment”. The column contained some good basic recommendations for employers on dealing with incidents of harassment or abuse against their employees: e.g. knowing the law, training front-line managers, involving unions, and using outside experts to conduct investigations and assessments. However, one of the column’s recommendations – “avoid protecting the ‘star’” – really deserves a column of its own. Because that recommendation touches on a key issue that’s often overlooked in identifying and preventing workplace harassment –  counteracting workplace cultures that implicitly support harassment and abuse.

The CBC, unfortunately, seems to be providing a very good example of how these sorts of workplace cultures can flourish. Although much of the discussion of the Ghomeshi story is around Ghomeshi’s non-work behaviour, one of the women who spoke out after his firing is a CBC employee. She alleges (more…)

Population Ecology and “Handmade With Love in France”

One of my favourite events every year, the Vancouver International Film Festival, is in its final week. This year’s festival was a good one for me – I saw seven movies, and every one of them had something to recommend it.  But the one that I enjoyed the most was a French documentary entitled Handmade with Love in France. It is a heartfelt tribute to some very talented artisans, and – although I am pretty sure the filmmaker didn’t explicitly intend this – it also illustrates the organizational theory of population ecology.

Population ecology in organizational theory is based on the biological theory of evolution; it tries to explain why (more…)

What Skating Judging can Learn from Workplace Performance Evaluation

At every Winter Olympics, it seems, there are complaints about figure skating judging. Occasionally those complaints lead to something more – as in 2002, when a second gold medal was awarded in the pairs event because of alleged bias in the judging. But usually the complaints are along the lines of “The judging was unfair because my favourite skater lost”, or “The judging was unfair because I didn’t understand it” – that second one often coming from sportswriters and commentators who don’t regularly follow figure skating, or who can’t be bothered to learn how the judging system works.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, there were complaints about the judging in every one of the figure skating events, including allegations of fixed results in at least two of the events.  The purpose of this post isn’t to argue about those results. Instead, I want to look at the judging system itself, and analyze it using the model of an effective workplace performance evaluation system. I’m using this model for two reasons: (more…)

Some Thoughts on Sutton and Rao’s “Scaling Up Excellence”

I’ve written before about my general cynicism toward most business books. But one business book that I greatly admire – not only for its eye-catching title, but also for its sensible and forthright attitude – is Bob Sutton’s The No-Asshole Rule, which should be required reading for anyone involved in any aspect of hiring. Recently Bob offered “active influencers” preview copies of Scaling Up Excellence, the new book he has co-authored with his colleague Huggy Rao. When I saw the offer on Twitter, I thought, (more…)

Making a Living as an Independent Musician: An Interview with Shane Wiebe

I often talk about the music industry when I teach population ecology theory, because the music industry is an almost perfect example of that theory in action. A large group of organizations – the major record companies and retailers – used to set the norm for how things were done, and controlled the allocation of essential resources (money, talent, production and distribution channels) so as to maintain their dominant position. But those organizations felt so secure in their dominance that they chose to ignore new entrants – independent musicians and record companies – that used other resources (the Internet, online sales, new distribution formats, easy-to-use music production software) to establish themselves. And what happened? The organizational field shifted and redefined itself, and the traditional organizations couldn’t adapt quickly enough to survive – as demonstrated by such recent events as the 91-year-old British record store chain HMV struggling with massive financial debt.

I wanted to write a blog entry about how the music industry has radically evolved, even within the past few years. But rather than looking at these developments from outside, I thought it would be more interesting to hear the perspective of an artist who has experienced some of these changes first-hand. (more…)

Population Ecology Theory in Real Life: How The Globe and Mail Misunderstood its Environment

This week the Internet has been alive, at least in my part of the world, with the unfolding drama of Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s alleged plagiarism. Since one of Ms. Wente’s favorite targets is university professors, who she characterizes as grossly overpaid and lazy, and not teaching anything that’s relevant to the real world, I thought I’d use population ecology theory – one of the allegedly irrelevant topics in my Organization Theory course – to analyze why her and her employer’s real-world responses to the plagiarism issue have been so ineffective. (more…)

Crowdsourcing and Unpaid Workers: When Worlds Collide

A while ago I wrote about crowdsourcing, which is becoming more and more interesting to me as an organizational theorist. Crowdsourcing bypasses traditional organizational structures and processes by creating what organizational theory would likely identify as a “networked organization”, Crowdsourcing creates a network of supporters around an artist or a project, and that organization can be temporary (for a one-time-only project) or ongoing (when the artist calls on those supporters whenever they have something new they want to pursue).

Thanks to the lively minds over at The Afterword, I was recently alerted to a situation that we might call “crowdsourcing gone wrong”. (more…)