a student's perspective LO7098

Jacqueline Mullen (J.Mullen@agora.stm.it)
Wed, 1 May 1996 17:22:09 GMT

Replying to LO7069 --

At 08:41 30/4/96 -0400, you wrote:

>I wonder, though,
>if when you describe the direction in general toward which U.S.
>"organizations as community" move (or do not move), you are glossing over
>particular examples which defy the power of your expression.

No, no, no, don't get me wrong. The Malden Mills fire pops into
mind. I was in the States when it happened. An "organization as
community" response at its finest.

I was thinking in terms of traditional economic theory as taught
in universities and the subsequent translation into business rhetoric. I
worry about the use of "organization as community" in some large companies
as an emotional palliative in order to smooth over downsizing messiness.
I am questioning the "authority" of certain textbook economic assumptions
which I think are inherently at odds with the functioning of "healthy"
community life.

Take the Malden Mills situation. The fact that Malden Mills
represented such a community-minded success story is, I would say, *in
spite of* American economic theory and not because of it. The family
owners of Malden Mills, for whatever reasons, decided to thumb its
collective nose at the large scale move South in the beginning of this
century by most of the textile mills of the Northeast. Yet, through an
"organization as community" ethos, and, I would assume, business acumen,
it survived against the odds. Economically speaking, however, the decision
to remain in NE would have been considered "unrational behavior."

My point is that the same type of economic thinking that prompted
the relocation, without heed of the social consequences, of most of the
textile industry to the South is manifesting itself once again in
suggesting that sound economic practice means instantly cleaving away huge
numbers of employees and outsourcing your computer programmers, etc.,
etc., to India, etc. etc., (then to where ever else, when they get too
expensive). This practice is presented in economics courses as a
universal "the way things work." Sure, industries do die, economic
conditions do change, and certain practices do become untenable, however,
there are more choices available than what is typically taught in
economics class. I'm merely saying that this "economic" choice is
socially conditioned and has more to do with cultural norms and values
about civic communities and the mechanistic nature of economic thought
than with the actual state of balance sheets and quarterly reports.

I think by not coming to terms with the long-term effects of a
suspect reliance on external labor markets, some large US companies are
helping communities with one hand and shooting them in the foot with the
other. I'm just wary that, given how the US finacial market is
structured, given traditional, cultural biases in the treatment of
"labor", "organization as community" could become an unwitting mechanism
in creating a "feel good" atmosphere, while the employee might not have
the necessary information to foresee an economic situation that could
force his or her "category of work" overseas. Now enter the clarion calls
of "the end of job security," as if this, too, were the ONLY viable
choice. Blazing into the future, and all that. What I wanted to point
out is that the choice to "pick up an leave" (now done electronically) is
a particularly American form of short-term economic thinking, considered
merely "good business sense," since it is cloaked in the mono-cultural
language of "market trends." And, as these things happen, the US is
sometimes considered an economic "leader" in these matters, whose
practices are often copied worldwide.

>On the good side of the ledger: organizations who by sundry means are
>climbing out of such models. In such organizations the cross-over from
>biological family to economically tied "family" is neither far-fetched nor
>uncommon. Two or more biological generations work in the same
>organization. Sharing is common inside and outside the workplace .
>Visitors note honest pride of place; ability; a peculiar dynamic symmetry.
>Sure, there's an underbelly, but the preponderant energy is positive as we
>would like to define it.

Barry, I'm right there with you in recognizing and supporting the
work in companies such as yours in defining new norms. And the potential
of on-line collaboration in supporting them. The US="big business"
ideology of the '50s is in many ways loosing ground. But on the other
hand, please consider that I live abroad. In the news and at conferences,
talk from the US is usually of big, sexy, multinationals. At the local
toy shop is "Samuel, the MBA doll" from the "Yuppie series." "Big
business" life-style and Rambo, it often seems, are our primary exports.
Yet the majority of the world's population works in small to mid-sized
businesses. One does wonder.


Jackie Mullen J.Mullen@agora.stm.it

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