09 July 2006

Mission Statement

I’ve been doing some further reading into complexity thinking as applied to organization environments, as my Valence Theory is founded on a multiplicity of interconnected relationship networks, from which complexity arises. I came across this summary of a typical conception of organization, and what occurs therein, in an interesting paper by Ronald Murray:
An organization as a social entity is described by its mission, processes, structure and culture. Its mission defines its reason for existence in terms of the difference it makes in the lives of consumers of its products and services – its added-value to them. The mission may serve others in the organization, external organizations or individual consumers. It may be very clear and consistent, or may become vague and inconsistent indicating a loss of commonality in the consciousness and realities of the organization’s members.

The organizational capacity to achieve the mission is provided by the other elements of the socio-technical infrastructure. Processes provide a dynamic perspective no members working together using standardized procedures to create and deliver products and services for customers and to manage the organization. … An organization’s processes and structure are based on the shared attitudes, values and perceptions that constitute its culture.

From the perspective of its members’ interactions, an organization is described in terms of their roles, responsibilities, relationships and resource management practices. … Such roles and responsibilities are interdependent with the organization’s processes, structure and culture. If defined entirely within the context of an organization’s units they are consistent with fragmented processes, thick boundaries, and a possessive culture, but these elements will be very different if roles and responsibilities are defined in relation to the organization as a whole. Similarly, members’ working and reporting relationships… the same is true of resource management practices. … When organizations are perceived as patterned human behaviors underlying their elements as social entities and as members’ interactions, they can be described in terms of their internal and external information flow and the mental model that allow members to acquire a common reality
(p. 221-222).
I can map Murray’s description to Aristotle’s four causes, namely, formal (the “essence” or nature of the thing), material (its substance), efficient (relating to what brings it into being, closest to the conventional, if misguided, notion of cause-and-effect) and final (its ultimate reason for being).

I make the following correspondences in the traditional view:
MissionRaison d’être, purpose, endFinal causeBased on perceived (and often conceived) need
Socio-technical environmentProcessMeansEfficient causeBased on shared attitudes, values, perceptions
StructureMeans(Arguably) Material cause
CultureEndFinal causeShapes and influences shared attitudes, values, perceptions

Adherence to the priority of an organization’s “mission,” considered to be its purpose or “raison d’être,” is often used to justify certain behaviours, and pre-empt considerations of wider effect. It is many of these rationalized behaviours that have been indicted as characteristic ills of modern corporations, and sometimes result in an over-enthusiastic (to put it mildly) response to some of these ills. Even the simplistic notion, espoused by the likes of economist Milton Friedman, that an organization’s “social responsibility is to increase its profits,” places the “divine right of capital” (as it is characterized by author Marjoree Kelly) as the ultimate mission of any commercial organization.

With Valence Theory, the “mission” can be considered as something other than the final cause, the purpose or the end. Rather, the mission can be considered a means towards an end that is defined according to Effect-ive Theory. In this characterization, the mission defines the form of the endeavour, corresponding more to an aspect of formal cause of the enterprise organization, rather than its final cause. Specifically, it is a means to enable the organization’s formal cause or effect, within the context of its environment.

Culture, defined in terms of Effect-ive Theory, reflects the measure of effects, especially reflexive effects (that is, the effects of organizational interactions fed back and affecting the component actants within the larger organizational collective (à la Latour). This is the essence of my culture/effect-ive theory argument. As well, organizational culture, as a final cause, is a non-deterministic, emergent effect of the network of valences among a given organization, its component members, and the other organizations with which it shares valences.

Why, then, should an organization’s mission necessarily be considered as its immutable, guiding light? Over time, mission, too, becomes an emergent property of the greater organizational system of valences, non-deterministically and intimately tied to the emergent culture. Whereas conventionally, mission was considered as the predominant expression of an organization’s instrumentality – what does the organization want to do? – under Valence and Effect-ive Theories, the notion of mission changes slightly, but significantly, to ask what are the nature of the changes among its valences that this organization will effect? A organization's management and members are only effect-ive if they can anticipate and bring about the intended effects.

  • Kelly, M. (2001). The divine right of capital. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Murray, R. (2005). Theory of integral complex organization. In Richardson, K.A. (Ed.), Managing organizational complexity: Philosophy, theory and application (pp. 217-35). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
  • Friedman, M. (1970, September 13 1970). The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. New York Times Magazine, 32 ff.

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