The Symbolic and Omnipotent Views of Management

by on October 5th, 2015
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Responsibility for success or failure within an organization is a topic of debate and discussion because accountability for results drives future decisions, the promotion of employees, and the allocation of rewards doled out. Two distinct and contrasting views have emerged which seek to explain where responsibility should be pointed. The first “omnipotent view” suggests that the head of an organization makes the ultimate decisions and therefore must be held most accountable. The second “symbolic view” suggests that the control of the manager is influenced and constrained by outside forces beyond his or her realm of responsibility. These factors include economic, legislative, and competitive forces, etc.

When looking at the omnipotent view, an example that vividly illustrates this position can be found at the operations level of a professional basketball team in the National Basketball Association playoffs. During the final seconds of Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando had a two-point lead while Cleveland had the ball to inbounds for a final play. After a timeout in which both coaches of the respective teams drew up plays, the ball was delivered to the MVP of the league, Cleveland’s LeBron James, who proceeded to make a last second 3-point shot that won the game for his team. During the subsequent post-game press conference the coach of the Magic took responsibility for not drawing a suitable play that would have stifled James’ attempt. He reasoned that although the defensive scheme did prevent one possible shot, it did not adequately prevent the successful alternative play.

The television color commentators disagreed with the coach’s perspective, they chose the symbolic view of management and argued that at times it is difficult to deny one of the top players in the league from acquiring the ball, and countering during possible scenarios. Furthermore, if the Magic had proceeded to double-team James, another player from Cleveland inevitably would have been open and in a better position to take the shot. Their analysis concluded that sometimes the opposing team has to accept that their opponent devised a winning tactical assessment, plus executed a superior play.

The significance of these two arguments goes beyond the outcome of that one game. In the event the Cavaliers go on to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals, they will obtain more advertising, merchandising, and ticket sales revenue. This is revenue that the Magic will not gain. The coach of the Magic could be replaced, several players could be traded, and front office management could also be terminated. The contracts signed by returning players could be less and the brand equity or total value of the franchise could be negatively affected for many years to come. Therefore, ultimate responsibility is a perspective that must be carefully reasoned in order to lead to correct assessments, whether in the board room or on the basketball court. However, it should be noted that reality suggests a synthesis.

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