Questioning Your Organization’s Purpose

Do any two people in the same organization, division, department, or even team interpret any one event or idea similarly?  An Organizational Interpretive Schema is defined as a set of shared assumptions, values, and frames of reference that give meaning to everyday activities and guide how organization members think and act (Rerup & Feldman, 2011, p. 578).  Context is the broad term which envelopes much of what drives an organization’s interpretive schema.  Where companies begin to meet challenges, is while embracing the difference between Espoused and Enacted schema.  As described by Labianca et al. (2000), “Espoused schema is an assembly of tenuously connected ideas that a person draws on in novel situations when behavior is unscripted”.  This whereas enacted schema is the result of the thinking and action which actually take place regardless of those ideas previously espoused.

There continues to exist, a great divide between what companies aspire to be, and what companies are in the present day.  Yet rather than continue with a research-driven response, I offer this entry as an opportunity for introspection.  When regarding the chasm separating thought and action, consider these five questions:

  1. What is your organization’s epistemological structure?  In other words, how is knowledge structured, defined, assigned value, and therefore captured in your organization?
  2. What is your organization’s ontological structure?  Said another way, how is this epistemology represented in concepts and vocabulary throughout the company, and what constructs drive prevalent conversations?
  3. If your organization could speak to the world’s population all at once, and only once, what one message would you wish to be communicated?
  4. Is this the same message which drives your employees’ actions today?
  5. How do you know?

– Justin

Labianca, G., Gray, B., & Brass, D. L. (2000). A grounded model of organizational schema change during empowerment. Organization Science. 11, 235-257.

Rerup, C. & Feldman, M. (2011). Routines as a source of change in organizational schemata: The role of trial-and-error learning. Academy of Management Journal. 54(3), 577-610.


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