Sample Business Essay Paper on Reflexivity in Organizational Management

Reflexivity in Organizational Management


Background information

Organizational management is a process of continuous learning coupled with experience growth. Consequently, the relationship between causes and effects of phenomena in the contemporary business organizations are characterized with dichotomy, in which cyclic influences are many. As managers affect employees and operational performance, they are influenced by the same employees and operation principles and cultures to different degrees. The desire to optimize organizational performance while also maintaining a sense of personal identity makes it important to adopt an aspect of reflexivity in organizational management. The subject of reflexivity in effect has received numerous attentions from various academic disciplines (Harvey 2012). Theoretical explanations to various social structuring events have been developed around the subject of reflexivity. This is based on the perception that reflexivity combines qualities such as awareness and creativity which enhance flexibility in performance. This flexibility helps to structure social relationships in a manner that is beneficial to both individuals and the organization as a whole. Reflexivity is therefore paramount in application to sustainable economic and social development in organizations.

When reflexivity is viewed practically, it has the potential of resulting in deeper reflection due to its capacity to create awareness and creativity within and among different people. The difference in points of view between various players in the organizational context often makes it difficult to gain and preserve knowledge in key areas unless methods are adopted for bringing a union of ideologies. Reflexivity plays an important role in creating this union due to its incorporation of aspects of self awareness and meaning creation, which aid in knowledge creation and preservation. The organizational context is characterized by continuous qualitative research aimed at improving performance in the field. This research can only be effective if the concept of reflexivity is incorporated and the relevant theories applied. The relationship between reflexivity and knowledge management in research has made the subject attractive in various contexts. It can therefore be concluded that reflexivity helps to structure social relationships. The application of reflexivity theories in organizations results in key improvements which can only be dreamed about without awareness.

According to Cunliffe (2009), practical reflexivity can aid in deepening reflections through an observation of the taken for granted and questioning of social relationships in which organizational experience is accounted. While this assertion may be true, the practice of reflexivity in the organizational set up faces several challenges, some of which are dependent on externalities. The diversity of the nature of reflexivity however helps in addressing the pertinent issues concerning its practice. Other authors on the subject of reflexivity have also taken a look into the various aspects that are considered constitutive of the subject. The overall outcome is such that contrary to the conventional dichotomous relationship between cause   and effect factors, reflexivity poses a rather bidirectional relationship, which may even be called a network. It is based on this argument that the present paper discusses the importance of practical reflexivity in deepening reflections through questioning of relationships and observing the phenomena that are taken for granted in other contexts. It is supposed that reflexivity helps in structuring social relationships, particularly in the organizational set up. These relationships can then be analyzed to determine the positions of various players in the social structure, a process that can result in knowledge creation and greater knowledge management.

Reflexivity and organizational management

Hardy et al (2001) propose a framework for analyzing the reflexivity concept in the organizational network. The proposed framework is described as an Actor- Network Theory (ANT), which makes reflexivity the centre of a somewhat circular network. The theory uses the translation concept for exploring the objective of actors in the social construction process. This theory can be used in the exemplification of various actor actions in contemporary organizations to determine the role of reflexivity in these organizations. According to Hardy et al, The ANT is such that the desires of one actor lead to action which produces an expected or unexpected response from other actors in the network. The responses of the affected actors subsequently affect the other actors in ways that were unprecedented. Consequently, the cycle goes round with causes becoming effects and vice versa.

This theory is in line with the social action theories developed in support of reflexivity. In a contemporary organization, the management may foresee a reduction in sales due to factors such as inflation or negative publicity. As a result, the management decides to reduce the bonuses awarded to employees in order to maintain high profit margins. This action, perceived by the employees as being detrimental to their financial well being, may result in demonstrations by the employees. From the demonstrations, losses incurred in a few days by the organization may lead to a change in ideology by the management, probably suggesting a better action strategy which might please the employees. In this way, the relationship between organizational management and the employees is continuously shaped by the actions of the actors in the network. The positions of each of the actors in the social structure make it possible to structure the relationship in different ways (Mead 1980).  The management occupies a position of power in the organization and has the capacity to control the bonuses; they therefore use this opportunity to shape the remuneration as they desire. However, the role played by other employees in the organization makes it possible for them to influence their bonuses based on the possibility of creating greater losses. Their demonstrations and suggestions therefore make it possible for the management to adopt a more reflective stance on the subject leading to consideration of other possibilities that were previously taken for granted. In this way, reflexivity enables the initial peaceful working relationship to be reestablished through deeper meditation and corrective action.

Social action in the organizational set up involves aspect of both externalism and internalism to varying degrees (Tsekeris and Katrivesis 2009). Externalism occurs in that the organization is influenced by factors beyond its control such as international market currency fluctuations, product price fluctuations and variations in demand characteristics. On the other hand, internalism includes aspects such as employee motivation and operational cultures. Knowledge creation is an important aspect in bringing out areas of commonality between these internalisms and externalisms in order to structure social relationships effectively. According to Teme (2010), reflexivity is essential in knowledge making due to its multi-faceted outlook. Through deepening reflection and enhancing a look into the taken- for- granted, reflexivity guides knowledge making by creating awareness of social relationships and helping in the analysis of these relationships. Alvesson et al (2008) also suggest that the dependence of post modern theory on reflexive awareness and on mutual dependency in social relationships makes it impossible to apply the post modern management theories without regard for reflexivity. Given that the mechanisms that generate social relationships such as continuous communication are observable (Cole et al 2011), it is possible for organizations to use these observable mechanisms for structuring desirable working relationships. An example would be in the aforementioned context where the management has perceived a potential reduction in sales. In cases where there has been a communication culture in the organization, it would be possible for the organization to call for a meeting with other senior organizational employees to chart the way forward. Through a deeper understanding of the employee needs and evaluation of other possible avenues of alleviating the potential losses, it would be possible for the organization to find other ways of dealing with financial problems rather than reducing employee bonuses.

Reflexive relationships in organizations are described by Babcock (1980), as being circular in nature, bidirectional, where both the cause and the effect affect each other continuously. This relationship is also described as being related with increased consciousness and meaning where increased theoretical are made to transcend the former relationship between the action and structure, where such dichotomy exists (Bloor 1976). This description brings out an image of a circular relationship where each of the actors has to be careful of what their actions may result in. The potential responses of other actors in the network have to be considered effectively prior to decision making. Tsekeris and Katrivesis (2008) also pin point the importance of reflexivity in social relationships by dwelling on the dualistic nature of dichotomous relationships in organizations where the actions of one player influence the response of the others and where the situation is itself influence by the actions of the key players.

With this kind of relationship, the need for continuous deep reflection on relationships is mandatory. In contemporary organizations, this deeper reflection elicits acts of self reference in decision making where the individual players continuously ask what response they would desire from others and then act in a manner that can draw the desirable response. Every actor recognizes their position in the social structure, as well as the forces that enhance socialization and then use the obtained information to reposition themselves in the social structure (Day 2012). For instance, if a manager realizes that the employee responses to his instructions are unfavorable and that there are constant wrangles between him/ her and other employees, the manager may review communication strategies that other managers use and how they handle their relationships with other employees to achieve higher productivity from the employees. In organizations where there is low reflexivity, the individuals in action will be shaped by the organizational culture and may lose autonomy over their identities. On the other hand if the organization is characterized with high reflexivity, it will be possible for each individual to maintain their own identities, beliefs and opinions while still achieving optimum results for the organization.

Independence of personal beliefs and distinction of personal life from organizational culture is dependent to a large extent on the reflexivity of both the individual and the organization as a whole. According to Urban (2001), the actions of observers affect the situations they observe. This implies that in the organizational set up, once the observation of phenomena has been accomplished; the actions of employees and managers affect the phenomena they observe. For instance, in observing the demonstration of employees, it is upon the management to determine whether the demonstrations will stop or not. If action is carried out while addressing the issues of conflict, the conflict will be suppressed. On the other hand, if the management acts contrary to the employees’ expectations, the demonstrations may escalate to destruction of property. It is therefore important for organizations to reflectively carry out research in organizational cultures and to reflectively apply their observations to the prevailing circumstances in a manner that can make issues better rather than destroying relationships further.

This call for what Urban (2001) refers to as the application of both self awareness and creativity in enhancing the social structures of organizations. From the works of Archer (2007), the use of self awareness in social structuring requires an intensive study of social behavior as well as constant self consciousness. This can only be accomplished through practical reflexivity and the involvement of individuals in deep reflections and analysis of social circumstances and their positions in social relationships. By carrying out research in a single field, Therborn (2000) reports that it is possible to elucidate the occurrences in other fields. In the organizational context, studying social relationships and observing social behavior reflectively can result in increased self awareness hence greater understanding of the individual’s role in social relationships and how individual actions influence the social actions of the entire organization (Donohue 2008).

Pillow (2003) also extrapolates the importance of reflexivity in enhancing deeper reflections and structuring social relationships. According to Pillow, the development of social relationships can be explained based on the theory proposed by Michael Foucault. This theory asserts that every concept has a priori. This principle can best be applied in organizational set ups in the resolution of conflicts arising during work hours. By understanding the origin of every event or origin, it is possible to find sustainable solutions to prevailing problems. An example is in situations of observed profit reductions. It is possible to analyze the situation reflectively, digging into the past to determine differences in operation from the past to the present, analyze the management principles of the past in comparison to the present, particularly in terms of financial management, and determine whether there has been a reduction in production or a change in the product qualities. It is from this origin that a lasting solution can be achieved. Without this, it is possible for the management to drive the employees in sales and marketing to overdrive while the real problem lies in production. As is explained by reflexivity, such drive achieves nothing but resistance which eventually leads to greater failure.

 Some reflexivity theories in Context

The concept of reflexivity is best explained through existing theories. Over the years, this attractive subject has drawn numerous researchers to varying conclusions, which have led to the development of various theories. Several reflexivity theories exist in various fields including economics, sociology and psychology. The self reinforcing nature of reflexive relationships is well advanced through the input of various theories which drive from the original Thomas theorem. The original theory on reflexivity was proposed by William Thomas in 1923. According to this theorem, the situations which are defined as true by men become true for those who define them so (Thomas 1923). This only implies that every situation is made through the perceptions of the players in it. In the organizational context, a key area where this theory is most applicable is in salary negotiations during employment. When individuals attending interviews in various organizations have a perception about the salary scales of the organizations, they are more likely to align their salary expectations to the perceived company scales. The impact of this is that those potential employees who believe the company can pay more ends up getting more than those who believe they cannot negotiate to gain more. The management also operates its payments scales in consideration of various factors which include the organizational scales as well as the personal negotiation skills of participants. This theory functions to draw the mind towards the belief that one creates what they want through repetitive assertion, a fact that has been promoted as being essential towards the development of positive outlook in life.

While Thomas focused on the simplistic nature of the theory, Robert Merton expounded more on the aspect of reflexivity, drawing from life experiences and coming to a conclusion that individuals either create their own desired situations through their own actions. According to Merton, the self- fulfilling prophecy operates through the actions of the players in the situation. In this case, the players can either act or fail to act in order to force a situation to be either true or false (Merton 1948).

The typical exemplification of this in contemporary organizations is where competition between employees breeds the desire to produce certain outcomes. Employees desiring to prove that one of them is ineffective may intentionally withdraw their support for the candidate in question until he/ she fails in performing his/ her duties. Their assertion that the victim is ineffective is thus proven true. On the other hand, the same employee may need to prove their effectiveness. Consequently, extra care would be taken in operations to avoid mess ups hence proving that they are actually well versed in their task. While the theories by Thomas and Merton are more or less simplistic, it is still clear that their intentions were to confirm the importance of reflexive relationships in organizations. However, both theories do not clearly bring out the key feature of reflexivity. Rather, they dwell more on social actions and their impacts on the organizational relationships. In situation creation, reflexivity makes it difficult to be in sole control of any situation. The relationship between the actors and the bidirectional link between various players makes it difficult to influence any situation single handedly. On the contrary, the situation is bound to change the player as much as their actions change the situation.

Because of the limitations of the two theories by Thomas and Merton, Bourdieu came out to present more clarity on the nature of reflexivity and how it influences organizations. From Bourdieu’s point of view, reflexivity is such that it enables managers as well as social scientists to be free from biasness through self awareness (Bourdieu 1992). This opinion is more adhering to the discussion of the importance of practical reflexivity on reflective depth and analysis of social relationships. From the view that reflexivity helps to develop self awareness, it is possible to come to the conclusion that it is that self awareness that helps individuals maintain autonomy even in multi cultural organizations. Self awareness helps in the study of social relationships and social behavior and can be drawn into analysis of social structures to help in greater reflection. Bourdieu’s theory is well grounded on the concept of self consciousness and meaning seeking in which the relationships between actors and situations are bidirectional. It is these relationships that are also said to result in greater knowledge making and application as well as in deeper understanding of social situations. Giddens (1976) clearly brings out the nature of reflexivity in his theory which asserts that constitutive reflexivity, which is a characteristic of modern social systems results in increased reflectivity and self -awareness. This theory is clearly supported by Cunliffe’s argument that practical reflexivity is instrumental in developing deeper reflectivity and higher possibility of questioning the formerly taken -for -granted occurrences (Cunliffe 2009).


Reflexivity as a topic of discussion in the sociological context has drawn a wide berth of attention from the academia. Of concern has been the applicability of reflexivity in the organizational context. Cunliffe (2009) asserts that practical reflexivity is essential in deeper reflection and in analyzing phenomena that is often taken for granted when reviewing social relationships. The key characteristics associated with reflexivity by various authors include its capacity for enhancing self awareness and meaning creation. The role associated with knowledge making and creation of meaning makes Cunliffe’s assertion true, especially based on the latest theories on reflexivity. Despite being the earliest theorists on reflexivity, William Thomas and Merton fail to capture this important aspect on the subject but rather give generalizations of it. The natures of reflexive relationships are effectively addressed by Bourdieu and Giddens in their theories. The study has therefore effectively highlighted the relevance of reflexivity in organizational set up despite its limitation in scope. There is still need for greater research in the subject of reflexivity and its application in the organizational set up.


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