Applying Metaphors in the Workplace

There are a number of methods used to analyze exploring organizations. The first approach covers sociology of organizations and is founded on Max Webbers theories. The second approach entails investigation of the formal structure of entities. It is based on classical management theories and tends to employ models emerging from traditional managerial perspective. The third approach focuses on the investigation of individuals within an entity. The use of metaphors as instruments for analyzing entities is a component of the psychological approach. Metaphors can also be viewed as sociological tools for analyzing organizations in the sense that they serve as indicators which divides members of an organization into groups, thereby affecting processes at macro-level. There are various ways to conceptualize and model organizations. In Images of Organization, Gareth Morgan employs metaphors to comprehend the key feature of organizations and their implications for efficiency metrics (Morgan, 1986). An organizational metaphor allows entities to comprehend industrial and organizational behaviors. In that line, it helps an entity to understand the root of certain events and probably predict outcomes. According to Morgan (1986) an organization can be described using eight metaphors. That is, organization as culture, machine, organism, brain, political system, psychic prison, change flux and instrument of domination. Therefore, this paper focuses on four metaphors that have high relevance for McDonalds workplace namely organism, culture, machine and brain.

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Machines Metaphor

The machines metaphor views organizations as rationally devised systems designed for predefined objectives. Central to its strengths is the fact that the metaphor provides control in both processes and outcomes (Berry, Whybark, & Jacobs, 2005). In spite of the apparent strengths displayed by the metaphor of machines, it ignores the human capacity to have desires beyond monetary compensation, possess personal intricacies and being creative or innovative. The key aspects of the metaphor of organizations as machines (mechanical) are networked units structured in a specific sequence and standardization of output. The organizational context is stable and predictable. The key organizational concern of the machine metaphor is control or command of information, decisions and processes to provide reliable output. Well-defined tasks and jobs, vertical decision-making, codified processes and formalized roles and responsibilities characterize work processes. The key products, services or outcomes of this metaphor are stability, efficiency, timeliness and reliability. McDonalds owns a series of restaurants across the globe (McDonalds, 2014). The franchise delivers fast foods, especially standardized burgers in their global outlets. From the receipt of inputs to handling orders in a predetermined fashion, all operations are standardized to generate consistency in efficient way.

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Organism Metaphor

The metaphor of organism envisions entities as living systems and underlines the role of the entitys environment and its potential influence. This metaphor encourages entities to have a more organic perspective of an organization (Heerwagen, Kampschroer, Kelly, & Powell, 2010). It also helps people to develop various perspectives, as well as to factor in alternative management processes. The most visible weakness of this metaphor is that it minimizes the fact entities are filled with visions, personalities, beliefs and ideas that make the organizational structure less perfect than that of an organism. The key product issues include work quality, increased productivity, competitive capacity and external positioning. While discussing organism metaphor, it is worth noting the contingency theory, which build on the idea of organizations as open systems and emphasis is on satisfying the internal organizational needs as well as adapting to the external environment. The population-ecology theory attributes that organizations are closely related to Darwins theory of Natural selection. Precisely, the theory attributes less power to organizations. It also points out that the business environment favors entities that survive competition. This is in line with the argument that it is only the most adaptable entity, rather than the strongest that survives. Organizational ecology theory addresses both population-ecology and contingency theories by contending that organisms engage in patterns of co-creation. For example, McDonalds collaborated with viable entities encouraging co-evolution. In the ecological or the metaphor of organizations as organism, the key feature is survival by adaptation to the external environment. The other aspect of this metaphor is emphasis on competition. Most importantly, entities operate as open systems. In reference to the environment, the organizational climate is complex and competitive. In addition, new opportunities and challenges are created by rapid technological changes. The core organizational concerns are survival and there is a need to adapt products or services to the prevailing environment because innovation and creativity are equally important. Work processes are characterized by the increase of teamwork and communication, different approaches to various tasks, commitment to experimentation, and groups empowered to participate in decision-making processes. Human relations are aligned to the creation of a motivated and empowered workforce. Further, the human resource department focuses on job participation, enrichment, democratization of tasks and decision processes, responsibility. Furthermore, team players are highly valued.

Culture Metaphor

Organizations that have engraved the metaphor of culture in their structure and strategies reflect patterns of development mirrored from the societys system of ideology, knowledge, laws, values, beliefs and daily routines. Culture entails historical values, norms and ideals. In essence, cultural metaphors are activities, phenomenon or entities with which members of a specify culture cognitively and emotionally identify. In that respect, cultural metaphors mirror the basic values of a culture. Furthermore, the metaphor of organization as culture represents ways to obtain deep insights into an organization. In establishing such insights, it is important for McDonalds to take into consideration cross-cultural research. Based on this observation, communication and dimensional perspective should be used to compliment cultural metaphors. Organization as a culture helps members of an organization to recognize and appreciate the shared systems of meaning. Cultural changes may result in rifts. The overall cultural environment within an organization is shaped by rituals, processes and other organizational features.

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Brain Metaphor

In the metaphor of a brain, organizations are viewed as resilient, inventive and flexible systems. Additionally, organizations as brains are self-organized and evolve with the emerging environmental changes. Brains process information in a logical manner. In this respect, brains can be viewed as communication and decision-making systems. Likewise, organizations processes data and translate the results into routines and patterns. Typically, working processes are centralized. One of the criticisms of brain metaphor or information processing approach in organizations is related to incomplete information, biasness toward left-brain thinking and changing. Since organizations that apply the brain metaphor have the learning capability, negative feedback can be used to correct or detect errors. Regular reviews can also be used to challenge the basic norms and paradigms. Central to challenges facing brain metaphor is that undesirable corrections emerge if problem or change is outside the predefined limits. Learning organizations are also faced with forces of resistance. An entity can be a system of subunits able to self-organize and rejuvenate. For example, McDonalds has a series of global outlets that can be managed locally and reinforce the existing corporate brand. The brain metaphor is depicted in the fact that an organization entails sub-units build the entire system. The system defines few details in new projects and implements redundancy.

The primary concerns of neurological or brain metaphor are creativity and innovation. Other concerns include rapid adoption to new ideas and information. The other organizational concerns include internal learning and information flow. Organizational environment is characterized by turbulence, high uncertainty and competition and increased rate of technological change. Typically, ideas emerge from various angles of the organization. Work processes are characterized by self-organizing groups, high collaboration, redundancy of functions and skills to facilitate high rapid response to information and new ideas. The key service or product aspects include innovative output, creativity, ongoing stream of new product/services and creativity.

Recommendations for Change

Success in many respects may result in failure because entities become complaisant and resist change due to past efficiencies. Ultimately, they move to an alley where it is too late to adopt radical business transformations. The competitive environment keeps on changing, therefore, entities that are not prepared to synchronize their strategies with the change, ultimately fails. In other words, companies that have less capacity to adjust to change but employ flexible strategies gain advantage over their competitors with time. In turn, such entities would have a much chance of survival in volatile market conditions because they are used to it. To adapt a strategy, an organization needs to adapt the structure. If the organization designs a structure that is efficient but difficult to change, then the organization locks itself to strategy. Therefore, global entities such as McDonalds need to reinforce its flexible organization structure to be able to adapt the need for strategic changes. Managers in organizations of culture have less control over the culture created but dominate large positions.

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The ability of an organizational metaphor to serve as a catalyst for business transformation is enhanced by the fact that is established from the right thinking. Intervention using organizational metaphors not only results in rational change and logical insight, but also in a mental change through critical and creative thinking. Metaphors give members of an organization an insight into their organization organize, interpret and perceive the processes in the organization. However, it is important for workers and managers to be flexible in their outlook. In addition, analyst should avoid oversimplifying the environment and choose only a single metaphor. Most importantly, the chosen metaphor should not be imposed on the subject organization. This is subject of the observation that a single metaphor can cause lead to an overlook of some critical features of the environment.

McDonalds analysts must realize that insights are limited which translates to limited contribution in the event they impose their own perceptions on the organization. As noted by Morgan, any practical approach to organizational approach should commence from the premise that entities can take many forms at any instance (Morgan, 1986). The application of metaphors has significant implications on the diagnosis of the source of conflicts and in the application of effective solutions. Metaphors can be employed from the beginning of organizational analysis. The application can start as a way of encouraging open communication and removing inhibition. Consequentially, the process will lead to the emergence of innovative ideas and a variety of opinions. Progressively, McDonalds work environment will become more determined as internal participants suggest transformations that will help the franchise to achieve excellence.


This paper analyzed the McDonalds workplace using four major organizational metaphors namely organisms, machines, culture, and brain metaphor. From the analysis above, it is apparent that organizational metaphors provide simplified insight into various types of organizational environments. In addition, they offer information to facilitate business transformation in the face of complexity. In this sense, it is important that we understand and recognize both the utility of how these metaphors can work for any given entity. Through finding innovative ways of shaping and understanding their actions, users can exploit the value of organizational metaphors.

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