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Four-Frame Theory

There are volumes written on leadership theory in nearly every discipline. Bolman and Deal sifted through the complex theories and literature and combined with their own analyses, theories and experience devised a four-frame model as a way of understanding organizations and leadership within organizations. Frames are described as being the lens through which anyone sees the world and places that world in order (University of Melbourne). Frames help individuals to filter out the things in the world they do not want to see, thus, frames are inherently inaccurate and skewed in terms of reality (University of Melbourne). But, people need frames in order to make sense of the world and any experience in it; frames help people determine and guide their actions (University of Melbourne).

Bolman and Deal suggest that every individual has personal and preferred frames that they use to gather information, make judgments, determine behavior and explain behavior (University of Melbourne). Each frame provides one version of organizational life and each frame also provides a specific albeit narrow range of ideas, techniques, processes that may be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization (University of Melbourne).

The four frameworks proposed by Bolman and Deal are the Structural, the Human Resource, the Political and the Symbolic. Each is described in the following illustration. It is important to note that leaders may use any framework and may even use a combination at the same time in their daily work (11).

1. The Structural Framework

The structural manager tries to design and implement a process or structure that will be appropriate to the problem and the circumstances. Steps would include

• Clarifying organizational goals

• Managing the external environment

• Developing a clear structure appropriate to task, and environment

• Clarifying lines of authority

• Focusing on task, facts, and logic, rather than on personality and emotions. . The Human Resource Framework

The human resource manager views people as the heart of any organization and attempts to be responsive to needs and goals to gain commitment and loyalty. The emphasis is on support and empowerment. The HR manager listens well and communicates personal warmth and openness. This leader empowers people through participation and attempts to gain the resources people need to do a job well. HR managers confront when appropriate but try to do so in a supportive climate.

. The Political Framework

The political leader understands the political reality of organizations and can deal with it. He or she understands how important interest groups are and that each has a separate agenda. This leader understands conflict and limited resources. This leader recognizes major constituencies and develops ties to their leadership. Conflict is managed as this leader builds power bases and uses power carefully. The leader creates arenas for negotiating differences and coming up with reasonable compromises. This leader also works at articulating what different groups have in common and helps to identify external enemies for groups to fight together. 4. The Symbolic Framework

This leader views vision and inspiration as critical; people need something to believe in. People will give loyalty to an organization that has a unique identity and makes them feel that what they do is really important. Symbolism is important as is ceremony and ritual to communicate a sense of organizational mission. These leaders tend to be very visible and energetic and manage by walking around. These leaders often rely heavily on organizational traditions and values as a base for building a common vision and culture that provides cohesiveness and meaning.

(Bolman and Deal 11).

Notice that

• The Structural Framework focuses on the how to find some arrangement - a pattern of formal roles and relationships - that will accommodate organisational needs as well as individual differences (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 50).

• The Human Resource Framework places people first, which is very similar to stewardship or servant leadership where participation in decision making and problem solving are primary components of the model. This framework is based on the ideas from organisational social psychologists and begins with the premise that organizations are filled with individuals, each of whom has their own feelings, needs and biases as well as their own skills and potential (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 15).

• The Political Framework is very important. As Bolman and Deal note, the political leader understands the reality of the politics in the organization and deals with them (11). The framework is developed primarily by political scientists who believe that an organization is an arena wherein different interest groups compete for a limited amount of power and resources leading to conflict and coalitions being established (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 15).

• The Symbolic Framework draws on social and cultural anthropology. The organization is thought to be akin to tribes or theater; they are cultures that operate based on ceremonies, rituals, rules, myths, policies, stories, heroes and managerial authority (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 16). Everyone in the organization is an actor who is basically playing a prescribed role (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 16).

It is important to note that not every frame works equally well in all situations. It is important for the true leader to adopt the framework that will be most appropriate for the situation. This is the way in which this framework is similar to the situation or contingency model of leadership.

Bolman and Deal sum up the core problem of management, which has to do with control Control is an illusion and rationality an afterthought.... Organizational life is always full of simultaneous events that can be interpreted in a variety of ways (11, p. 66). They way to succeed in management is not to hold tightly to ones own framework or perception, but to consider the multitude of ways of seeing any given issue; there are numerous divergent perspectives (Bolman and Deal 66). These authors say Their frame-not yours-determines how they will act (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 70).

Consider this table regarding effective leadership according to the four frames.

Frame Leader Leadership Process

Structural Analyst architect Analysis, design

Human resource Catalyst, servant Support, empowerment

Political Advocate, negotiator Advocacy, coalition

Symbolic Prophet, poet Inspiration, framing experience

Unfortunately, many managers still try to manage through their own narrow view of the world and what any experience means. Bolman and Deal suggest that managers make a mistake when they

Operate as though there was only one frame for any situation (Bolman and Deal 11).

Are not capable of looking for new ways to deal with old problems (Bolman and Deal 11).

Strive for control, rationality and certainty (Bolman and Deal 11).

On the other hand, effective administrators and managers

• Develop the skills needed for creativity and flexibility.

• Use holistic approaches so that they can use multiple frames (Bolman and Deal 11).

• Understand what frames they typically use and also understand the limitations

• Recognize there is value in being able to see through different frames and work to do so.

• Build teams where all four frames are represented (Bolman and Deal 11).

[NOTE TO STUDENT Please Remember That Your Assignment Requires You To Analyze A Personal Work Related Situation Or Incident. What TPS does is provide research and a model of a paper in your topic area. What we have done here is to provide an example based on an incident this writer knows about. You need to write about your own experience.]

Case Study

Jan Smythe was the new District Director of Special Projects. The school district had three elementary schools who participated in what was called the Consolidated Application, a school plan that included goals, objectives, action steps for every grade level, resources needed, and a budget. Each school was required to submit their own unique plan each year. There were numerous state and federal laws that had to be met in the application document.

Jan began with the school district in the 5th week of school and found that the Consolidated Application/School Plans had not yet been submitted despite the fact they were to be submitted to state level education officials by the end of the previous May. She also quickly learned that teachers and administrators absolutely hated the process of developing this very complex and very long document and believed it was a total waste of time. Historically, their school plans had been returned to them because they failed to follow the rules and did not include all the data and information needed in them. Thus, every year they had to modify the document.

With very little work, Jan learned that the woman who had previously been in charge of this area in the district typically wrote most of the documents herself and just passed them by the principals and teachers. In fact, some teachers never even saw the school plan submitted on their behalf.

This year, however, a warning had come from the State that the schools would either submit appropriate meaningful plans or their grants would be suspended for the year. That amount was in excess of $10 million.

Because Jan had prior experience in this area, she also knew a number of people at the State Department of Education. She called them, explained the situation and was able to negotiate a six-week extension.

The real issue was to persuade first the principals and then the teachers that this document was more than busy work, that it had meaning and that it was actually a reflection of what they were doing.

Jan approached the situation on three levels first, she explained what it meant in money and what the schools would not have if they chose to ignore the state; second, she explained why the laws and regulations were established and kept the focus on what that meant for this school. Third, she made a promise that she would not write the plans but she would be with them every minute and help them get the phrasing correct, that the plans belonged to the teachers, and that she would do whatever they wanted.

The most important part of Jans campaign was to continually reinforce the importance of the teachers. She visited classrooms so that she could sincerely compliment them on what they were doing.

Jans motives were multifaceted first, she had taken the position because she believed she could help students by helping teachers; second, she knew how most teachers in the state felt about this task and she knew why they felt that way; and third, she was not going to fail in her first district-level administrative position but she refused to succeed through force or coercion

We may also approach this situation from the perspective of each framework described above. To do so, it is helpful to know the metaphor each framework applies to the organization Structural/factory or machine; Human Resource/family; Political/jungle; and Symbolic/carnival, temple or theater (Bolman and Deal, 11).

Structural Framework. Using this perspective, Jan would approach the situation looking at rules, goals, policies, and such, which are the basic concepts of the structural frame. The rules require the plans to be submitted within the six-week extension she was able to negotiate with the state. Jan might expect the principals to use their role as the head of the school to require the teachers to complete the documents. Jan would want to set goals, such as dates for the completion of specific components in the plan. Since part of the structural frame is to create a structure within the particular environment of the organization, Jan might develop a hierarchy specifically for this task by placing a teacher as coordinator for each section of the plan. For instance, one teacher might take the responsibility for coordinating the efforts for Mathematics for grades 4 through 6. This teacher would then be given the timelines and requirements and would work with others to plan and write this section. Remember that Bolman and Deal explained that the structural approach focuses on the how to find some arrangement - a pattern of formal roles and relationships - that will accommodate organisational needs as well as individual differences (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 50). This inherently means there will be a division of labor and coordination of different roles.

For the time being, the structure of the school is changed to fit the needs. Direct supervision is incorporated into this frame. The supervision will actually be divided the teacher will coordinate and supervise the writing of one specific portion of the document; the principal is inherently the next higher level supervisor. Jans position is not exactly one of line supervision but she is perceived as having district-level authority. This works well for completing these kinds of tasks.

Human Resource Frame. One of the concepts of this frame is that the organization is there to serve the people which means that Jan must find an organisational form that will enable the teachers and principals to get the plan written and also feel good about what they are doing. (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 15). If the form of the organization is good and fits the needs of both, then both the individuals and the organization will benefit. The types of forms that fit into the human resource frame include

• Participative management wherein the teachers would have more decision making power

• Self-managing work teams where each team is given the responsibility for the product, in this case, for a specific section of the document, and the team is held accountable for successful completion of that component

• Organizational democracy which is even more participatory than participative management in that employees have more say in the decisions that are made.

• Training and development of both professional and personal skills

To use this frame, it would seem that Jan would need to provide training to the teachers regarding the requirements, the laws, the regulations, and what is expected in each section of the plan. Teachers, in teams, would then be given the responsibility for completion.

Political Frame. Education is a political organization and anyone who does not recognize that fact is naïve. The first person to really study micropolitics within an educational context was Iannoccone (Spaulding, 000). Others, such as Bacharach and Mitchell have added to the literature (Spaulding, 000). Basically, these researchers have stated that schools should be recognized and understood as political entities wherein school members (that is, individuals and groups) develop micropolitical strategies in an attempt to achieve their own personal and school goals (Spaulding, 000). These researchers go on to note that small groups of members of the school community will develop shared objectives and then they will devise micropolitical strategies in an aattempt to achieve their objectives. In other words, they are forming coalitions (Spaulding, 000).

Other writers have noted that these groups will use both formal and informal power to achieve their ends (Spaulding, 000). This is considered micropolitics because it is political action within the macroenvironment (Spaulding, 000).

It is essential for everyone to understand and recognize the power levels in the organzation and that conflict is inevitable.

In the case, Jan has already used political power by calling on contacts at the state level and negotiating a six week extension for submission of the plans. The way that the political frame might be used relative to this specific situation is to determine who holds the informal power among the teachers and develop an alliance with those persons. If these teachers support the needs to get the document completed, the process will be completed with a minimum of conflict.

Symbolic Frame. Remember that this frames metaphors are tribes, carnivals and theater. Everyone has a role to play in the daily drama of the organization. People depend more on these roles, on rituals and myths than they rely on rules, managerial authority or policies. The more uncertainty and ambiguity present in the organization, the harder it is to use rational analysis, decision making and problem solving. When faced with strong uncertainty, individuals tend to create symbols that will resolve their confusion. In other words, people will try to find a way to make sense out of an ambiguous and confusing situation. The symbols they create offer a degree of predictability and a guide towards directions to take. Bolman and Deal comment Organisations function like complex, constantly changing, organic pinball machines. Decisions, actors, plans, and issues continuously carom through an elastic and ever changing labyrinth of cushions, barriers, and traps (11, p. 45).

In this case, teachers and principals have had unpleasant experiences in the past with this task, in fact, they did not participate a great deal because the previous Director basically wrote all the plans herself. The new Director is saying the plan is their and thus, they need to write it. That sets up a confusion situation, one they do not really understand. In fact, the symbolic act of the other director writing the plan gave the message that teachers were not important in this process and in fact, were not needed at all.

We can look at the table provided by Bolman and Deal to determine which frame would work best in response to different questions (Bolman and Deal 11, p. 70).

Question Frame, if answer is Yes Frame, if answer is No

Are individual commitment and motivation essential to success? Human Resource, Symbolic Structural, Political

Is the technical quality of the decision important? Structural Human Resource, Political, Symbolic

Are there high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty? Political, Symbolic Structural, Human Resource

Are conflict and scarce resources significant? Political, Symbolic Structural, Human Resource

Given the previous discussions, we can respond to each question

• Motivation and Commitment is needed use human resource and/or symbolic frame

• Technical quality is not needed in the way this question means use human resource, symbolic or political

• High levels of uncertainty and confusion are present among staff members leads to political or symbolic frame

• Resources are not scarce thus, the frame would be structural or human research

Two frames are indicated more frequently symbolic and human resource. This means the new director needs to use these frames by doing things like telling stories (symbolic), placing people first by empowering them (human resource).

[Note to student. Providing the Appendix you cite requires a third person and is beyond the scope of the research and model papers we provide. You need to enlist a classmate/friend to provide this section.]


Bolman, L. and T. Deal. Reframing Organisations Artistry, Choice and Leadership. San Francisco Jossey Bass, 11

Spaulding, Angela. Micropolitical Behavior of Second Graders A Qualitative Study of Student Resistance in the Classroom. The Qualitative Report 4(1-) (000) January.

University of Melbourne. Managing the Educational Organisation. 7 February 00. http//

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