INTERNAL “POROUS BOUNDARY”
A main contributing factor to porrous boundary phenomena is the way power is distributed within the UN Agencies. In contrast to private and public sector enterprises, power in UN Agencies are characterised by a particular fuzzyness which makes it difficult for the leadership as well as OD consultants to effect sustainable change. What follows is a comparison of concepts of power developed by Tushman and Nadler with the reality of UN Agencies. Tushman and Nadler (1982) , defined political power in organisations as consisting of the following subfactors:
a) Reward power,
b) Coercive power,
c) Legitimate power,
d) Referent power,
e) Expert power,
f) Control over critical resources power,
g) Avoiding routinization power,
h) Access to powerful others power,
i) Assessed stature and gaining visibility power,
j) Group support power, and
k) Exchange as a source of power (trading favors).
Applying these factors of power to Un Agencies, the following observations could be made:
I. REWARD POWER
Salary and bonus systems are tightly set by UN bureaucratic rule, hence reward power is limited.
II. COERCIVE POWER
Dismissing staff in UN Agencies is very difficult if not impossible. Staff are very well protected by International Civil Service rules and heads of UN Agnecies cannot easily draw on this power factor.
III. LEGITIMATE, REFERENT & EXPERT POWER
Legitimate, Rererent & Expert Power depends on the reputation and track record of the respective leader of a UN Ageny. For instance, if the leader of a UN Agency has many years of successful management of a commercial organisation, expected reputation power might be high. However , UN staff might not accept transfer of reputational power from non-UN based experience to UN organizations thinking that the two worlds are too different to enable transfer of management know-how. In fact, staff resistance to such “transplants” from the private sector might increase due to ideological differences. A new leader without track record of successful leadership, whether at private, public or UN organisation, would also limit reputational power due to perception of the new leader as being without many years of successful “survival” at top leadership position.
IV. CONTROL OVER RESOURCES
Since many of the UN staff are mostly of traditional clerical and commercial background, few opportunities are available to change jobs within a UN Agency. At the same time, jobs are strictly codified and promotions based on rather rigid personnel rules. Hence, bypassing personnel bureaucracies is not easy and control over human resources limited which in turn limits the extend of discretionary power of leadership at UN Agencies
V. AVOIDING “ROUTINIZATION” POWER
Routinization leaves a manager with less power. Hence, leaders of UN Agencies have routinely tried to restructure their respective organizations with limited effect. Inertia built into the system does not allow for radical change, exept at the very top (e.g. Cabinet level and top leadership functions).
VI. ACCESS TO POWERFUL OTHERS POWER
Leaders of UN Agencies have various degrees of access to external decision makers with different degrees of effectiveness depending on the power of the external source of influence . However, since the UN system is based on multilateral membership and multinational funding, no single external government can be used for internal power tactics. In fact, other countries will do the best to neutralize external influences if seen as being too dominat.
VII. ASSESSED STATURE & GAINING VISIBILITY & GROUP SUPPORT POWER
Stature of leaders of UN Agencies are based on perception of their ability to ensure survival of the organisation and success in reducing organisational uncertainties especially in regarding to continued funding and positive coverage by the media. Charisma of leadership plays a role here but the effect of such charisma might be muted due to the multi-cultural make up of the staff. For instance, what is charismatic in one country might be seen as dictatorial in another.
VIII. EXCHANGE AS A SOURCE OF POWER (TRADING FAVORS)
This source of power certainly exists within the UN system. However, the strength of such power is based on the accumulation of previous “credits” with important others or organizations. Without already existing “credits” nor access to credible power basis, a leader of a UN Agency has nothing to offer and hence his ability to receive favors is limited especially at the beginning of a new leader’s tenure.
EXTERNAL “PORROUS BOUNDARY”
“Open systems must maintain favorable transactions of input and output with the environment in order to survive over time” writes David Nadler (1982). What is true for private sector companies also applies for UN Agencies. The difference being that instead of an environment of clients and suppliers, the UN Agencies’ environment mostly consists of government and non-governmental institutions. Hence, abilities to relate to different, at times opposing, governments is crucial for this power source to be useful to a leader of a UN Agency.
POSSIBLE STRUCTURAL & FUNCTIONAL SOLUTIONS TO “PORROUS BOUNDARY” PHENOMENA: ADJUSTING OD APPROACH TO THE ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE OF UN AGENCIES
When envisaging OD interventions in UN Agencies the practitioner might want to limit the impact of the “porrous boundary” phenomena by adjusting his OD approach to the organisational culture of UN Agencies. The following considerations might be useful.
Conventional OD theory and practice has been considered as being influenced by humanistic psychology and corresponding value preferences emphasizing participatory, trusting and more egalitarian approaches to interpersonal communications. t has also been reported that because of this humanistic value preference, OD inevitably is limited in its application when faced with environments which favour more traditional, hierarchical, and secretive value orientation (Hodgetts, Luthans, 1991). These three features are also part of most UN Agencies’ organisational environments. Is a way of clarifying the possible value gap between conventional OD and national culture, Johnson and Golembiewski (1992) summarized Jaeger’s (1986) conceptualization of Hofstede’s (1980) four value dimensions (namely Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity versus Femininity and Individualism vs. Collectivism) and accordingly categorised traditional OD value orientation as follows:
HOFSTEDES’ FOUR CULTURAL DIMENSIONS
Distance Uncertainty Avoidance Masculinity – Femininity Individualism – Collectivism
Low PD is associated with social egalitarianism and as PD increases, status inequality and distance in social relationships also increase. Low UA is associated with tolerance of ambiguity and minimized structuring of relationships; high UA leads to elaboration of rules and structures. Masculinity stresses results and the importance of material things, while feminity stresses the importance of feelings and relationships. Individualism stresses and tolerates individual uniqueness, while collectivism defines individuals through their social, group characteristics.
JAEGER’S CHARACTERISATION OF OD VALUES
Distance Uncertainty Avoidance Masculinity Individualism
PD is low.
This means that OD values are associated with status equality and the minimization of social differences.
UA is low.
OD values stress tolerance of ambiguity and minimize elaborate structuring of relationships.
Mascunlinity is low.
Results and things are less associated with OD values than is the feminine stress on feelings and relationships. Individualism is medium.
Jaeger concludes that OD values are inconsistent with both extremes of the Individualism-Collectivism scale. On the one hand, OD stresses and tolerates individual differences, while on the other it facilitates collaboration and teamwork.
Comparing the two profiles, the reader can easily see that the OD orientation does not fit with the dominant values of UN Agencies’ organisational culture which in general consists of:
a) High Power Distance (strong hierarchical-power based on authority and less on professional competence-expertise power),
b) High Uncertainty Avoidance (bureaucratic rituals and procedures as means of protecting oneself against continuous political influencing typical of “porous boundary” phenomena,
c) Masculinity (acquisition and hoarding of information (immaterial things) and careful handling of feelings which are seen to be too problematic in the context of the UN’s multi-culturalist environment where the potential for possible multiple mis-under-standings and conflicts in human relations is high,
d) More collectivist (group affiliation based on common nationality, religion, language, gender), is important for a staff’s survival especially in the context of politicised UN Agencies where coalition building is a permanent feature of decision making. Even though many UN Agency staff also act very individualistically; however they would rarely risk full isolation. Instead they tend to keep coalition linkages alive along common group bonds in order to guarantee their political survival in this highly volatile and politicised environment.
A similar potential conflict exists in developing countries whenever a donor country conducts an OD intervention in a recipient country of the Southern hemisphere. However, research results of OD practice in developing countries seem to suggest that OD success is actually higher in situations when the value distance between humanistic OD and the client’s traditional value orientation is actually high and not low (Johnson, Golembiewski, 1992).
The situation in UN Agencies is often characterised by an equally high value difference but the results of OD projects in UN Agencies seem to indicate failure rather than success for humanistic OD interventions. The prevalent value distance between OD consultants and the UN Agency clients, the authors report, actually increases the likelihood of protracted resistance and possible failure.
The reason for this seeming contradiction might lie in the underestimating of the power factor of OD projects in developing countries. The OD practitioner working in the South is supported by institutional power (donor country guarantees budget, resources, governmental influence), hence any reported acceptance of egalitarian OD techniques should be seen in the context of power asymmetry between “northern” consultant (high power) and “southern” client (low power). The beneficiary is in need, hence dependent, hence has low power and is therefore most most of the time willing, out of necessity, to drop his insistence for respect to his own high power needs (high power distance) typical of most developing country cultures.
Client organisations within the UN system are not comparable to developing country governments and institutions. Most UN Agencies hold more institutional power than the OD consultants bring to the job.
When planning for OD intervention in a UN Agency, the authors hence suggest that the concerned consultants adjust their practice to the environmental constraints and understand that their approach needs to reflect and project high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, medium collectivism and masculinity.
Matching their OD design to the constraints of the UN Agencies’ cultural environment might guarantee higher success rates since such a congruent approach might limit resistance and prevent the emergence of the “porous boundary” phenomena. How to match OD technology to the UN Agencies four value orientations is presented below.
HIGH POWER DISTANCE
The highly political nature of public administration in general and UN Agencies in particular makes OD interventions much more political as has been already noted elsewhere (Kempf, 1987).
Consequently, OD practitioners working in the UN system should spend time building support, seeking consensus and “lobbying” across functional lines. The organisational culture of UN Agencies is more oriented towards distributive than integrative bargaining tactics. Hence solution generation takes more time and more political skills are needed than is normally required in the private sector.
Carefully building a power base within the UN Agency can be useful for the OD practitioner. This means acting more like a politician than a professional expert whose traditional private sector rôle concentrates more on linear approaches and simple cause-effect reasoning rather than on circular processes, and multi-causal thinking.
Since the top managers of UN Agencies are astute politicians, the OD consultants might better start with middle management, create necessary coalitions and consensus based on a list of alternative solutions and then work upwards towards top management for final decision making.
Careful and detailed force field analyses on a continuous basis will help the OD practitioner clarify the political forces and identify possible resistances to the solutions proposed. Political will needs to be continuously tested and mobilized. In general it might be useful to know how to distinguish between conventional management behaviour and theatrical staging and acting (Jacobsson, 1992, Vail, 1990). Many deeds and words are comparable to double talk, hence there exists a need to decipher statements and to separate actual from intended message, theatrical gesture from intended action.
AVOIDANCE OF UNCERTAINTY
Most UN Agencies do not have a functioning performance appraisal system nor any career plan or merit system. Depending on power shifts, managers are reassigned to posts without necessarily possessing the required professional expertise. On the other hand, UN Agencies cannot easily dismiss their staff. Hence there exists a strong conflict between relative job security and a sense of insecurity based on persistent uncertainty regarding job posting and career prospects. Both factors combined encourage patronage which in turn is reinforced by the multicultural divisions within the staff of UN Agencies which in turn reinforces “patronage-tribalism”.
OD interventions which focus on raising awareness regarding interpersonal conflicts and encouraging managers to “own their unwanted behaviours” (Nevis, 1987) might be less appropriate in such a politicised environment.
Instead, structural interventions focusing on policy, rules, regulations as for instance reorganising work flows, installing new reporting lines, or redirecting communication flows might be less threatening, more impersonal, less likely to be seen as “ethnically-biased”, and therefore more acceptable to UN Agency staff.
Due to the need for survival in a politicised environment, most UN Agency staff develop strong affiliations based on common background (e.g. ethnicity, religion, language, nationality) and based on mutual exchange of favors and support.
OD consultants should be mindful of such webs of coalition linkages and mutual indeptedness and not fall into the trap of trusting an OD intervention solely into the hands of one or two individual staff members however competent and motivated they might appear.
Based on the fragile and complex political environment, UN Agencies cannot develop an organisational culture solely based on professionalism. Most officials are generalists who by definition do not enjoy expertise power but instead are competent in regard to the understanding and use of institutional and personal power.
Since most of the clientele is politically literate, OD practitioners might at times have to use go-betweens or third parties who can either meditate conflicts and offer useful information which the consultants might not be able to gather by themselves directly.
Being embedded in a politicised and calculating client system, OD practitioners might have to take more initiative, float initial proposals and at times advocate solutions.
Relationship oriented OD approaches (femininity) are not sufficient by themselves, and the corresponding rôle of facilitator or catalyst is mostly inappropriate since it easily leads to a situation where pandora boxes are opened which are difficult to close later on.
Instead, it could be useful to be more directive and to “sell” specific solutions or to help create coalitions in support of specific solutions.
This in turn requires a more active rôle of the OD consultant consisting for instance of writing and editing of draft documents rather than adopting a more conventional rôle of a neutral, no-partisan, non-initiating facilitator.
UN Agencies are needed and so is the United National system. While this is obvious to most people, fewer people agree on what these agencies should do and how they should be organised and managed.
Due to the multiple stake holders involved, the organisational environment of UN Agencies is and will be politicised for the foreseeable future. Hence, the “porous boundary” phenomena described above will survive for a long time.
As mandates and tasks of the UN system increases almost day by day, the need for efficient and effective management and organisation is of paramount importance to all parties involved.
Improving existing and future UN Agencies’ performance will require OD interventions for a long time to come. In order to secure success for all parties involved, the main points of this article should be considered and change strategies and tactics should be designed which can successfully overcome the UN system’s “porous boundary” phenomena.