Assessment: Radical Humanist Approach to Organizational

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[. . .] Simply put, it is very difficult to be an ethnographer in one's own society.

Critical theory is, to my thinking, superior to naturalistic inquiry with regard to the study of organizational culture due to the advantage it presents through perspective. (Freire, 1970). The difference is akin to the difference between two approaches to anthropology: Case study and participant observation. An ethnographer who studies a culture as a participant observer has a much deeper, richer understanding of the culture than an anthropologist who constructs a case study. Case study perspective that permits the carry-over of all the assumptions that form the basis of his experience as an inhabitant of a different culture. Contrary to what the frameworks might imply with their inside-outside duality, ethnography is akin to critical theory.

Organizational Analysis

As a radical humanist, I have long been attracted to Patagonia as it illustrates that a corporation can be humanistic and insist on cultural congruence in its operations, its relationships with employees, and in its position in the competitive environment. Schein's (2004) layered conceptualization of culture is applied here as the framework for analysis of Patagonia's culture. It should be noted that, as corporations go, the structure is very liberal and the responsibilities of the employees are allowed to shift in order to contribute a greater amount of their skills to the social and environmental missions that are so prominent in the company.

A Unique Tack for Corporate Missions

This section illustrates the unique position that Patagonia holds with regard to its legal corporate structure and the depth of its social conscience. The market assumption is that business enterprises will compete for market share and for revenue. The laws of economics are based on those principles and the corpus of rules and regulations dealing with legal business structures has codified these assumptions, more or less. Altruism has been a second thought and corporate social responsibility has become yet another strategic feature.

There are a few maverick companies that have taken the high road, but the conventional wisdom has been that they won't be able to sustain a principles over profit mentality for long -- sooner or later the law of supply and demand will be their undoing. Patagonia is one of those companies that has put its money where it's mouth is, making a point that environmental philanthropy can co-exist with healthy profits (Tozzi, 2012). Since 1986, Yvon Chouinard has made sure that some of the company's profits go to green causes and that consumers know exactly what chemicals are used in its manufacturing of outdoor clothing and gear (Tozzi, 2012). .

On Black Friday in November of 2011, Patagonia took out a full page ad in The New York Times featuring its R2 Jacket and the words, "Don't Buy This Jacket" (Tozzi, 2012). What Patagonia meant was that consumers should buy less than they currently do -- much less. Consumers are left to ask, 'Exactly what kind of market structure is Patagonia playing in?'

California law governing corporations has changed to include statutes regarding the new corporate legal structure known as a Benefit Corporation (Tozzi, 2012). Under this new law, corporate boards of directors and executives have been provided with legal cover to take into consideration the environmental and social missions of a company over its financial returns (Tozzi, 2012). This is -- among other things -- a demotion for stockholders, and perhaps it is a blow to capitalism. California enacted two state measures on January 1, 2012, that are intended to embed into the missions of corporations goals that extend well beyond profitability (Tozzi, 2012). The second regulation establishes Flexible Purpose Corporations that are given even more leeway than the Benefit Corporations (Tozzi, 2012). The social responsibility of a corporation, under these laws, is no longer simply to make a profit for stockholders (Cave, 2010).

In other states where these laws have not been enacted, litigation can be brought by shareholders against corporate boards of directors for not maximizing profits (Tozzi, 2012). Should a company in these other states wish to pursue social initiatives or environmental causes, their efforts are severely hamstrung by the laws governing corporations (Tozzi, 2012). Privately held companies are exempt from these regulations -- such is the case with Patagonia, a family-owned company (Tozzi, 2012).

Artifacts. The story that Patagonia tells about itself is this: Patagonia is first and foremost about sustainability. Customer-brand engagement is an authentic relationship based on the deep conversations about issues that matter to the company and to their customers. Customer brand attitude is uncommonly high -- and for all the right reasons. Patagonia is, apparently, a company that can be trusted, that does more than give lip service to its principles, and that aspires to set standards for global corporations that resonate with consumers. Patagonia considers quality in very broad terms. Quality goes beyond the functionality, performance, and durability of the product. It extends to sustainability and Patagonia wants to be know for its ferocious and ongoing work in wilderness preservation. Patagonia also wants to be known as the company that brings the conversation out in the open. Everywhere in its marketing efforts, education and discussion about the manufacturing processes, labor issues, and environmental concerns are transparently and prominently embedded.

Values and beliefs. Yvon Choinard follows his passion and breaks his own trail. He did this as young man and he does it as the CEO of an uncommonly conscientious corporation. Choinard explains his orientation to competition, whether in the playing field or in the corporate context -- contexts in which he performs skillfully and deliberately.

"I've always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach 80% proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn't appeal to me." (Yvon Choinard)

In the developed corporate world, being an 80 percenter allows a person to accomplish a great deal. Someone who engages with the world at the 100% level might find it difficult to get along with less committed others, and might actually accomplish less in those efforts that require the cooperation and support of other people. Perhaps what is a more successful strategy, and Choinard seems to employ it, is be able to delve into a 100 percenter mode when it is called for, but to spend the greater part of one's energy in the 80 percenter realm, thereby meeting more challenges and providing superior oversight.

Patagonia exhibits behaviors indicating that a high level of critical theory is in operation, which may account for its cultural congruence. Choinard has never followed the beaten path, rather he has beaten metal to shape the pitons that have allowed him to follow his passions, intuition, and rock-solid commitment to doing what he perceives is right. Conventional wisdom says that a company cannot be profitable, and particularly cannot compete on a multinational level, if it is so deeply concerned with ethics and the environment. Profit is not the root of Patagonia business -- Choinard has always had his sights set on something loftier than revenue. The corporate mission of Patagonia is to make the best possible products and to cause no unnecessary harm while engaged in that effort. The company also states that their mission is to use their business as a platform to inspire and a mechanism to implement solutions for environmental problems.

Consider the ubiquitous use of cubicles in contemporary corporate environments as symbolic of the constraints of corporate culture.

Assumptions. Patagonia brings its formidable retail reputation to the effort of reducing the impact on the earth that their own business activities -- and those of other business enterprises. Patagonia hires employees who are active in the outdoors or have a decided ecological orientation. A broad and deep array of environmental programs is conducted by Patagonia employees and community associates. The company's concern goes beyond the manufacture of its own products. That said, multifunctional, versatile products are a lynchpin for Patagonia's green sensibilities. Products are made of recyclable material, are generally recyclable in their finished state, and meet local environmental requirements. Patagonia uses market need to drive the definition of functional, emphazing simple, durable, fail-resistant design for their core customers. To Patagonia, functional means that products must be state-of-the-art -- thoroughly researched and tested for the intended use -- but not "chasing fashion" or "driven by market cycles. Patagonia designs products that are easy to maintain, care for, and repair, thereby increasing product life-cycle and reducing the volume of replacement purchases.

Conclusion. Patagonia has grown from a small back-yard boot-strapped operation to a multinational organization with far-reaching environmental influence. The culture of Patagonia has -- as all organizational cultures do -- evolved over the history of the organization. This analysis illustrates the efforts of the Patagonia to establish and maintain cultural congruence, and within the scope of this analysis, also highlights that an organization can exhibit many of the structural trappings of a corporation and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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