Omnipotent & Symbolic Views of Management
The dominant view in management theory and society in general is that managers are directly responsible for an organization’s success or failure. We will call this perspective the Omnipotent view of management. In contrast, some observers have argued that much of an organization’s success or failure is due to force’s outside management’s control. In other words, external forces, not management, determine outcomes. This perspective has been labeled the symbolic view of management.
The omnipotent view reflects a dominant assumption in management theory. The quality of an organization’s manager determines the quality of the organization itself. It’s assumed that differences in an organization’s effectiveness or efficiency are due to the decisions and actions of its managers. Good managers anticipated change, exploit opportunities, correct poor performance, and lead their organization toward their objectives, which even may be changed if necessary. The view of managers as omnipotent is consistent with the stereotypical picture of the take charge business executive who can overcome any obstacle in carrying out the organization’s objectives. This omnipotent view, of course, isn’t limited to business organizations. We can also use it to help explain the high turnover among college and professional sports coaches, who can be considered the managers of their teams. In the omnipotent view, when organizations perform poorly, someone has to be held accountable regardless of the reasons why, and in our society that someone is the manager. Of course when things go well, we need someone to praise so managers also get the credit even if they had little to do with achieving positive outcomes.
The symbolic view on the other side says that manger’s ability to affect outcomes is influenced and constrained by external factors. In this view, it is unreasonable to expect mangers to significantly affect an organizations performance. Instead, an organization’s results are influenced by factors outside the control of management. These factors include the economy, market change, governmental policies, competitor’s actions, conditions in the particular industry, control over proprietary technology, and decisions made by previous mangers. According to symbolic view managers have a limited effect on organizational outcomes. A manager’s roles are seen as creating meaning out of randomness, confusion and ambiguity or trying to innovate and adapt. Managers symbolize control and influence by developing plants, making decisions and engaging in other managerial activities. They do so for the benefit of stockholders, customers, employees and the public. However, according to this view, the actual part that mangers play in organizational success or failure is minimal.