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Book Review: Diagnosing Organizations To Increase Effectiveness

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Organizational DNA
by Linda Honold and Robert J. Silverman
Davies-Black
148 pages
$28.95

Every organization has a distinct way of thinking about concepts like profit, planning, mission, leadership, hiring, compensation and decision making. This distinction is guided by the way an organization employs facts, ideas, contexts or individuals as an organizational focus. The definitions for these various practices make up an organization's inherent DNA. In Organizational DNA, Linda Honold, a human resources consultant, and Robert Silverman, a member of the Human and Organizational Development Faculty at the Fielding Graduate Institute, explore four distinct organizational DNAs to demonstrate how empowerment and other management processes can appear differently when practiced at different organizations.

The authors offer examples of organizational DNA at four diverse mid-sized manufacturing firms to illustrate the different looks of empowerment as it springs from leaders at these firms. By tracking these companies' results, the authors show their readers how to identify their own organizations' DNA type, and diagnose the issues faced by their businesses. Along the way, the authors present the tools to understand and execute business practices that are compatible with an organization's dominant DNA.

The Genetic Building Block of Life

The authors explain that, just as DNA is the genetic building block of life, organizational DNA is the foundation for effective leadership and management. Throughout Organizational DNA, the authors argue that organizations manifest four primary types of organizational DNA and require alignment between their basic identity and their leadership and management practices.

The four distinct types of organizational DNA are:

  • Factual DNA. Involving linear models and calculations, it speaks to the reality of our factual world and to organizations that are committed to knowing themselves and their environments through the collection of data.
  • Conceptual DNA. This type of organizational DNA consists of theories, paradigms and overriding concepts. It focuses on large motivating ideas that may take the form of major theories, visions, and other conceptual devices.
  • Contextualized DNA. Based on relationships in internal and external environments, this type deals with the environments in which we function, and directs our attention to the problems and issues we face, and the strategies we use to shape our organizations and the contexts in which they are situated in relation to each other.
  • Individual DNA. This type of organizational DNA involves individuals, either alone or with others. It is all about individuals, people who live in cooperation with each other, but also singularly, with their own voices, wills, goals and interests.

The authors explain that each DNA type leads to different attitudes and practices. They write that every organization is located primarily in one of the DNA types, yet all four types have a presence in each of the others, but are defined differently within each primary, dominant type. The authors assert that when an organization attempts to implement an improvement effort in the same way as an organization with a different dominant DNA, it likely will not succeed. Each of the organizational DNA types reflects different definitions for similar practices and different ways of thinking.

Aligning Practices

In the second part of Organizational DNA, the authors examine the consequences of appropriate alignments of organizational practices with the different DNA types. They also discuss methods for attaining alignment with current leadership and management issues, and the implications of considering DNA in relation to these issues. To help organizations determine their own DNA, the authors provide a diagnostic scorecard to help them tally scores for an organization and its units.

The authors explain that, by looking at a firm's organizational practices carefully and considering its DNA alignment, managers and leaders can discern the firm's DNA, as well as develop the organization in the most effective manner. Organizations can do this by engaging in relevant leadership and management practices, and by seeking appropriate consultation around interventions that will enhance organizational alignments.

Why We Like This Book

Organizational DNA contains the necessary guidance and tools to help the leaders and managers of any organization understand more about their firm and find the best way to align resources and the firm's DNA to build performance. Providing informative examples, worksheets, charts, checklists and resources, the authors show readers how they can effectively relate to other individuals and units within the organization whose DNA perspectives are different from their own. Their focus on lifelong learning and a holistic view of organizational structure provides a useful conceptual base that can help leaders develop a greater understanding of how the relationships among different kinds of systems affect human goals.

Copyright © 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Last updated: May 7, 2003




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