Human systems function best when they have been examined and fine-tuned in an iterative process. Whether the organization in question is as large as a government of a world power or as small as a mom-and-pop business, determining not only the best model to use but also the individual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the organization can help remedy flaws. Though there are always many viable models, the one that a consulting group chooses when diagnosing a company must match that company’s overall approach to structural frameworks. As an organization of medium size in the whole scheme of things, Whole Foods Market, an organic foods grocery chain, is the ideal candidate to use as an example for this type of organizational diagnosis. After exploring multiple models, it will become obvious that one of the oldest models available, force-field analysis, is the best for Whole Foods Market.
Force-field analysis is simple and yet contains a great deal of complexity hidden within it. As with several other organizational diagnostic models, Falletta (2005) gave a succinct and insightful brief look at the model. In the case of force-field analysis, the visual diagram provided is of particular use. It is interesting to note that the diagram emphasizes the cellular nature of an organization, particularly in light of open systems theory, an approach to organizational diagnostic models that will be discussed in greater detail later. In short, however, open systems theory particularly notes the organic nature of the relationship between inputs and outputs in ways that are very similar to those of force-field analysis. The model might just be the simplest of the models described here, but that does not mean it is simplistic. Force-field analysis suggests that there is a type of stasis into which organizations can fall. In this state, the forces that push for change completely evenly balance out the forces for the status quo. This seems quite similar to an organic system wherein a cell stays in one place by balancing external and internal forces such as those of fluids. Interesting as well is the means by which the organization can implement change.
In force-field analysis, when the group seeks to move, it can do so only when the internal pushes overwhelm the external ones. As well, the internal forces must be united enough to choose a particular direction, rather than all pushing outward at once. If all this is achieved, the resulting state is known as disequilibrium (Falletta, 2005). This continues until a different stable state occurs. One of the strengths of this organizational model is the way in which it can be used for such a wide variety of organizations since it is a fairly general structure—anything can be a “force” in this system. However, it is possible that this same flexibility could fail in providing enough direction in some instances, which would be a weakness. By contrast, another older model, namely Leavitt’s model, contains a more rigid framework without sacrificing too much simplicity.
As a different early model that also demonstrates an ideal ratio of complexity to simplicity, Leavitt’s model is another solid way to approach the diagnostic task of the moment. In Leavitt’s model, there are four different areas all arrayed so that each one pushes and pulls on all of the others (Falletta, 2013). The topics discussed are task, structure, technology, and people (or actors). In contrast to force-field analysis, which can be rather general, Leavitt’s model tells the user which four areas should be approached for the analysis of the organization. That is one of the strengths of the model. Yet the model also has more than one weakness. One of the weaknesses is that it is hard to pin down how pulling on any one of the four factors will generate real-world results, let alone how to even go about pulling on it. In addition, Leavitt’s model does not fall under open systems theory, since it does not involve external factors, so it fails in terms of that method of evaluation as well.
For open systems theory, modeling organizations as organisms that are alive helps demonstrate the ways in which the external environment is a crucial contributor to an organization’s current state. Though more of a theory than a model itself, open systems, as a set of strategies, can be evaluated almost as if it were a model. Like single models, the theory under which these models are grouped has its own strengths and weaknesses. Emery (2004) elaborated on open systems theory at length, explaining that the strong points of the approach are that it ensures that organizational diagnostic models discuss the external contributors to any organization’s situation. One of the weaknesses of these systems, though, is the need to always search out external factors even when they may be less relevant. It may be instructive to examine how these principles are employed in terms of one specific model that falls under open systems theory, such as the congruence model.
In the congruence model, taking the environment into account explicitly as part of the system is even more crucial than for open systems theory models in general. Additionally, the organization's resources and history are widely considered as factors that may have an impact on the overall system. Under this theory, every single aspect of the organization interacts with all of the other aspects in a way that is congruent—a word that here gets the special and rather unusual definition of specifically two pieces working well together in a way that is appropriate and productive. Examples that arise from Falletta’s (2013) description might be that tasks should be right for the people to whom they are assigned, or that the relationship between the formal and the informal structures be such that there is a lot of overlap and parallel structures between them. This model’s strength is that it clearly labels all the different varieties of organizational attributes and inputs or outputs. That makes the resulting diagnosis easy to interpret, because some aspects of the results will be obvious within the organization’s control, and others will obviously be outside it. Yet on the other side, the weakness weighing against the model is that there are an awful lot of pairs to evaluate for “good fit.” Eight such pairs might just be too many. If that is true, however, then at least this system is better than the Burke-Litwin model.
The Burke-Litwin model for organizational diagnosis is about the concept of causality. That approach is very different from those discussed above because the other models were more about dissecting a problem than determining its origin. This model also provides twelve “theoretical constructs” that can function like variables so that analysis can determine if there are any causative connections between various components (Falletta, 2005). One way to look at the strengths of the Burke-Litwin model is to point out the obvious; namely, that it brings causality into the mix. In addition, it includes the external environment as a factor, as any good open systems theory model should. However, the weakness of the Burke-Litwin model is that it has a huge number of moving parts. On Falletta’s (2005) diagram, there are over twenty different ways to pair the different factors. That makes the system hard to learn unless a person is quite interested in becoming a true specialist in consulting as an organizational diagnostician. For a simpler model, it is helpful to turn to the McKinsey 7S framework.
The McKinsey 7S framework is oriented toward showing organizational areas of weakness or strength so that organizational awareness is enhanced. This is a more explicit approach to growth, involving making more conscious changes than with some other models, which is a real strength of the model. In the McKinsey 7S framework, all the relevant parts begin with an S, which is what gives the model its name (Falletta, 2005). These “levers” can act on their two most related components, which are shown in Falletta’s diagram. One additional strength that can be seen in the details there is that things like style and shared values are mentioned, even though these aspects are sometimes left out of discussions of business, perhaps because business has typically been such a male-dominated world. On the other hand, the weakness of the model is that it does not fall into open systems theory since the external environment is not mentioned. Causality, too, is absent from this model. Yet superior to even explorations of causality is the approach taken in another model.
High-performance programming is a way of evaluating an organization on a series of subjective scales. In the end, after applying the high-performance programming model to an organization, there will be an actual number that shows how well the company did (Falletta, 2005). This could be considered a strength, as some people are quite highly motivated by trying to achieve a particular number, especially for those who have “type-A” personalities. In addition, overall, the organizations ultimately get a very clear number on the one-to-four scale that shows where they are in relation to the field. However, the model does not indicate exactly what plan of action an organization should take from there, which is the main weakness of high-performance programming. Yet this model still stands as one of the six models focused upon here for examination before finally choosing the appropriate model with which to evaluate Whole Foods Market. First, though, the issues of Whole Foods Market, in general, are important because they may suggest a direction for the organizational diagnosis to take.
Organic foods have become a staple of luxury or ethical groceries, and the term ‘organic’ itself has become almost a household name, a brand unto itself. Whole Foods Market can capitalize upon this recognition if it continues to align its interests with those of the organic foods industry in general. Still, the issue is quite a complex one, as demonstrated by Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Shultz, and Stanton (2007), who have described the ways in which, “[T]he word ‘organic’ has many meanings, that consumers of organic foods are not homogeneous in demographics or in beliefs, and that further research could help better describe the various constituencies that are often lumped together as ‘organic food consumers’” (p. 94). This shows that part of determining the best organizational model for Whole Foods Market to follow may involve teasing out the various motivations of organic food consumers. In addition, Hughner et al. go on to say, “The organic and broader food industries must better understand the variety of motivations, perceptions, and attitudes consumers hold . . . if their own long-term interests, as well as those of other stakeholders of food marketing, are to be best served” (p. 94). Here, it can be seen that the long-term interests of organic foods grocery chains may in part be dependent upon the short-term perceptions of buyers. Yet Whole Foods Market seems to have thus far mastered this delicate balancing of time-scales, generating relatively consistent success year after year.
Even though some concerns exist, Whole Foods Market sits in a relatively ideal spot for now. The company has already accessed an ever-increasing market in which people place value on the notion that morality and groceries are inextricably linked. One researcher has indeed described the ways in which an ethical discourse for consumers revolves around making a social change in a progressive manner (Johnston, 2008). The notion that “progressive social change” is at its heart the driving factor behind the decision to buy organic groceries is very interesting indeed. Perhaps this is why consumers seem willing to invest a relatively larger portion of their income into groceries that have this cachet. Whole Foods Market’s major obstacle for the future, though, is to keep thriving in spite of the more difficult environment in which consumers currently exist. In this new situation, ethically driven groceries might start to look too luxurious to buyers. Added to this, there are challenges that come from within the company as well, as has been articulated before, such as Fishman’s (1996) idea of Whole Foods Market as being a radical experiment. However, this “radical” experiment appears to be experiencing success up until now. The question remains, though, as to whether Whole Foods Market, as an organization, can maintain its unusual structure in spite of financial shifts in the market. This is precisely the sort of situation in which employing a company that does consulting work can help a business choose an appropriate diagnostic model to assess the group.
It is obvious that the force-field model is the ideal one to use for Whole Foods Market because, given the degree to which the organization already views itself as a complex organism governed by simple internal rules, showing the property of emergence, the force-field model most accurately captures the business’s sense of itself. The organic nature—so to speak—of Whole Foods Market’s internal structure is captured by its emphasis on treating people as individual assets to an overall integrated larger whole. Indeed, Pfeffer and Veiga (1999) put forth the idea of treating people as assets within Whole Foods Market as somewhat revolutionary. That shows fairly obviously that the company is aware that its employees are its strong suit. This is the reason for which force-field analysis is ideal for Whole Foods Market; with the framework’s stress on components often viewed as being not terribly related to business, such as many of the external factors that deal with subjective aspects, the analytical structure fits right in with Whole Foods Market’s management of its upper-level teams. Taking matters from this point and onward, Whole Foods Market will discover how to proceed in the best way possible based on force-field analysis. This will help them surmount their primary two issues already discussed—namely, the foundering economy and the atypical approach to internal structuring.
Whole Foods Market will go on enjoying the level of success that it has in the past despite the changing circumstances in which it finds itself. However, in order to do so, the business must employ the advice given by any relevant consulting companies. The business must stick to its people-first strategies as force-field analysis suggests overall directions to grow and change. Even though the entirety of the organic grocery market is under threat due to changing external situations regarding the economy, Whole Foods Market will be able to thrive as long as it continues to evolve and change organically, never remaining stagnant for too long. In the end, this is what will ensure longevity for a company whose very mission is to change the world by changing what people eat.
Emery, M. (2004). Open systems theory. In Dynamics of organizational change and learning (43-69). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
Falletta, S. V. (2005). Organizational diagnostic models: A review and synthesis [White paper]. Sunnyvale, CA: Leadersphere, Inc.
Falletta, S. V. (2013). Organizational diagnostic models: An integrative review and synthesis. Woodside, CA: Organizational Intelligence Institute.
Fishman, Charles. (1996). Whole Foods is all teams. Fast Company, 2, 103.
Hughner, R. S., McDonagh, P., Prothero, A., Shultz, C. J., & Stanton, J. (2007). Who are organic food consumers? A compilation and review of why people purchase organic food. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 6(2‐3), 94-110.
Johnston, J. (2008). The citizen-consumer hybrid: Ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market. Theory and Society, 37(3), 229-270.
Pfeffer, J., & Veiga, J. F. (1999). Putting people first for organizational success. The Academy of Management Executive, 13(2), 37-48.
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