In “Moral Mazes”, Robert Jackal explores the elements of bureaucracy and its influencing prevailing form in the American work environment in the different organizational levels of hierarchy. Upon reading this businesses best seller, I was very skeptical about Jackal’s research and ideas. Jackal’s study, scrutinizing only a handful of large and mid-sized companies, gave me the impression of lack of breadth. However, the meticulous and depth of the study of each of these organizations truly gave me a great sense of credulousness.
Although I believe that not all the companies behave the way Jackal portrays his selected companies, they do illustrate common aspects that I can observe in real corporations and in my own work place. This reaction paper will explore specific areas of “Moral Mazes” that illustrate organizational culture in American businesses and how bureaucratic organizational structure maps out moral consciousness that relate directly to my personal and professional life. These specific areas of discussion include: inner circles and connections; decentralization and accountability; team player versus self-promotion; and finally, image and public illusion.
Jackall introduces Max Weber’s description of the Protestant ethic as to the set of beliefs and binding social rules that guide the methodical, rational subjection of human impulse and desire to God’s will through “restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling” (Jackall, 2010, p. 6). Furthermore, Jackall presents Weber’s Prussian model of bureaucracy, which is objective, close to detail, standardized, impersonal and separates the offices from persons (Jackall, 2010, p. 10).
I agree with Jackall that these two terms, Protestant ethic and the Prussian model of bureaucracy, are idealistic systems in which any kind organization would run efficiently and smoothly. The reason why I support these ideas is because I believe hard work, like the Protestant ethic preaches, can lead someone towards success. Moreover, with Weber’s Prussian model of bureaucracy, processes would be fair and objective. Unfortunately, I also believe that these are not the sole ingredients to succeed. Protestant ethics eventually lead people to accumulate wealth, which then sparked a domino effect towards bureaucracy.
Jackall describes patrimonial bureaucracy, which was the organizational form of kings and princes, as personal loyalty being the norm, not loyalty to an office (Jackall, 2010, p. 11). However, modern American organizations are administrated as a hybrid between the pure form of bureaucracy and the patrimonial bureaucracy (Jackall, 2010, p. 11). This leads me into my first point of inner circles and connections. Even Jackall himself ironically channeled through bureaucratic elevators through the core of his study that was the basis of this book.
Originally, Jackall was rejected by thirty six different corporations that did not want to be ethically studied and gave suspicious excuses like they were going through “transitional phases” and that there were no tangible organizational benefits to be gained from a study of managerial ethics. Talking to the right people however, Jackall was “vouched for” and was able to penetrate several high ranked executives in the few companies that he meticulously studied as well as gained the trust of many managers that gave him great insight upon ethical issues within their organizations.
Jackall illustrates this “if you know people, you’ll go to places” idea once again in Chapter 2 with the example of Weft Corporation’s new CEO who staffed all key positions with people form his inner circles as well as with people who served under him in the Army during World War II (Jackal, 2010 p. 35). I agree with Jackall that connections can lead you to places because I have a friend that got a very prestigious managerial position in a big insurance company in Canada where his uncle is currently CEO.
When CEO’s have power it is said to be a centralized business, however, decentralization creates a more efficient spectrum in the business side of the organization. As Jackall states, decentralization pushes down responsibilities and decisions as far down the organizational line as possible (Jackall, 2010, p. 18). In a decentralized structure, it gives top executives to take credit for positive outcomes and wash their hands when there are failures by pushing down details along with responsibilities and decisions. This was the case with Enron and the top executives playing dumb when everyone was trying to point fingers.
For example, Kenneth Lay, former CEO and chairman of Enron, genuinely believed and accepted that he did not know anything about the Enron scandals and procedures. This is an example of lack of accountability and how pushing down details allows superiors to get off the hook. Another important consequence that pushing down of details create is the fact that middle managers, who know the details, become the “point men” or “fall guys” when things go wrong (Jackal, 2010, p. 22). This lack of accountability is truly disturbing and unfair.
In my old job at a stainless steel company where I worked in the marketing department, a coworker got blamed for missing a deadline that was not clearly stated by her manager. She almost ended up losing her job and, instead of being accountable for the mistake, her manager blamed her for not paying close attention to her instructions. My next point of discussion involves the relationship between being a “team player” and the concept of “every man for himself”. Like Jackall states that, in order to get ahead, one must be a team player. Jackall uses an analogy where a football team is the organization.
For example, the quarter back is the boss and a player is anyone who has a stake in and is involved in a decision, etc. I only partially agree with Jackall’s view where being a team player will get you ahead because in some way one must play as a team and cooperate with one another in order to reach similar goals. However, I lean more towards Jackall’s cynical and somber reality of individuality and self-promotion. I believe that one can get ahead by how he presents himself and how well he sells himself. Like Jackall explains, one sells oneself and will differentiate from others with the right style (Jackall, 2010, p. 0). I recently got an internship with Northwestern Mutual. They are currently ranked in the top ten internship programs in the country. I personally do not have a stacked up resume or anything like that, but I sold myself very well in the initial interview, presented myself even better and left them with a memorable first impression. In order to leave a lasting and impressive self-brand one must “dress for success”. Like Jackall describes, bureaucracies not only rationalize work, buy they rationalize people’s public face (Jackall, 2010, p. 49). I could not agree more with Jackall on this idea.
I believe that image and professionalism separates the dominating and strong from the weak. Even if it is a facade, external appearances are critical. This part of the “mask” that Jackall mentions throughout this book. In relation to image Jackall mentions public perception or illusion in one of his interviews: “The whole thing becomes a complicated game of maintaining the public perception, the illusion really, that I’m on the move” (Jackall, 2010, p. 47). I believe that task oriented skills will only get you so far, but it is the perception that you have on others what is truly going to propel you.
Concluding this paper, I want to remark the importance of networking, connections and relationships one nurtures throughout one’s personal and professional career. One never knows which will become an important stepping-stone towards a successful and happy career. In relation to decentralizing organizations, it is easy for top executives to wash their hands when something goes wrong. Being accountable not only shows character, it is also the right thing to do. Moreover, balancing both factors of “team player” and “self-promotion” not only will one have a strong equilibrium but will also maintain the right tools to get ahead successfully.
Finally, wearing that “mask” and portraying the illusion to maintain a strong image is a dependable skill worth polishing and implementing. I originally thought of Moral Mazes as a difficult read due to the sophisticated and eloquent language used by Jackall, but I quickly caught into it, especially re-reading certain sections after our class discussions. It really surprised me how people’s perceptions differ throughout the different situational and moral dilemmas. Even though it is financially difficult to achieve, it would be interesting to read a large-scale study version of Moral Mazes.
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