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Leading into the Future II: A Tale of Three Societies

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The Modern World: Giants and Managers

Large organizations represent the pinnacle of modernism in most societies. We know that we have become modern the first time a high-rise building is constructed in our community, and when men and women are being trained in our organizations and universities to fill technical and managerial positions in large organizations. Modern organizations speak a common language. They look alike and operate in the same manner. The languages of nations may differ, but the language of modern organizations is universal. Instead of the distinctive, vernacular (ritual, stories, customs) of premodern organizations, we live with the universality of modernism.

The primary objective of modern organizations is to become and stay large. While premodern organizations concentrated on organizational continuity and tradition (which usually required very gradual growth), modern organizations emphasize rapid growth. As modern organizations expand in size and add more units and levels of organizational structure to accommodate its growth, the organization becomes more difficult to control. While the premodern culture of an organization provides some integration through its customs, dress, ritual and stories of great triumphs (and defeats), this premodern glue is often disparaged in most modern organizations. Furthermore, this culture does not offer sufficient integration for very large organizations.

As organizations grow more complex in the modern world, increasing attention must be given to those activities that enhance coordination and cooperation among the differentiated functions of the organization. As organizations become larger (or older), they also require clearer boundaries so leaders can maintain control. Financial monitoring and auditing functions are added. Personnel offices ensure uniformity of hiring practices as well as coordinate training efforts. Newsletters proliferate, as do office managers, purchasing agents, and departmental administrators. These offices, roles and management functions are devoted to the integrative functions of the organization. As the organization grows larger and older an increasingly large proportion of the resources of the organization must be devoted to these integrative functions. As a result, modern organizations that are large (or old) are likely to become less efficient. Unless they control the market place, these larger or older organizations may be unable to compete with those that are smaller or younger.

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