'Morgan's four images of organisation applied to the James Hardie case study'

Essay 2004 8 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


Apply any two of Morgan’s (1986) four images of organisation to the James Hardie case study. How useful are the two images that you have selected for explaining action and behaviour within organisations? Are there any deficiencies in the two images that you have selected? Explain the deficiencies you identify by indicating what the two images you have selected fail to take into account or explain about organisations.

A number of aspects have to be taken into consideration to get an insight into organisations and – in the given case - to understand what was going on when James Hardie decided to relocate its headquarters to the Netherlands to obviously avoid its liabilities to compensate asbestos victims. Gareth Morgan as a “pioneer in the use of metaphor to read, analyse and facilitate organisations to change” (Lawley 2001) created the images of organisations as machines, organisms, cultures and political systems. These metaphors are a tool to approach the James Hardie case. Viewing organisations as two of these images, one of which is organisations as cultures, the other of which is organisations as political systems, can help to explain organisations through outlining the usefulness as well as the limitations the images have.

Firstly, organisations can be seen as cultures. Every single one organisation has got its own culture, the organisational culture, which “refers to a system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes the organisation from other organisations” (Robbins 2004, p. 499). The culture is made up of values and beliefs and the organisation can be seen as a society. Thus, there is a strong relation between organisational and national culture: various national cultures in the world have basic concepts such as ideology, values, rituals, tradition, or symbols. The cultural metaphor contains the understanding of an organisation having evolved during its existence since its foundation. “From this perspective the key to an organisation is … its spirit or soul.” (Dunford 1992, p. 7).

Considering the James Hardie case, there are examples of an organisational culture that does not exist any more since in 2001, the company decided to move its headquarters. James Hardie has once been “Australia’s biggest manufacturer of asbestos cement products” (Peacock 2004) which seems to be a successful result of a well-working organisation, including an existent culture within it.

Meanwhile, asbestos victims claim to be compensated and although James Hardie and its employees once have been working together, a former employee now alleges: “For these people to sit there and say they can pack up their tent in the middle of the night and go offshore and just leave their liabilities in two little companies – I just find it ludicrous” (Peacock 2004). This statement reveals a huge disappointment concerning the way employees are treated. It shows that the culture which once might have been made up of communication and cooperation in order to attain shared objectives has completely disappeared.

“It’s kind of a Jekyll-and-Hyde culture at James Hardie. There’s been this great culture of success and can-do achievement in the United States, …, wanting to ignore what you’d call the dark and dirty little secrets of the business back here in Australia” (Peacock 2004). There has been a culture of success in Australia until James Hardie was accused to pay its liabilities, it seems that it has established a culture of success in the United States and it will even seek to develop a new culture in the Netherlands.

The image of an organisation as a culture is partially appropriate in the James Hardie case. When reducing the meaning of ‘culture’ to the feature of ‘ideology’, the image is useful as the company has an ideology which lies in making profit and cutting monetary losses short. The culture focuses on only few parts of the society which eg. are the organisation’s customers whose demands James Hardie wants to meet in order to make profits.

The image is also useful when taking the features ‘values’ and ‘groups’ as a central point. It shows that James Hardie does not act towards these features: through moving its headquarter and not providing sufficient assets for claimants’ compensation, the organisation as a whole is no group any more whereas it could be seen as a group in the past. Former employees are recently excluded, because they have to fight for compensation whilst the organisation tries to avoid its liabilities – employees and employer have now become two groups offending each other and the organisation only focuses on its goals but does not consider its former employees’ situation.



ISBN (eBook)
File size
400 KB
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Institution / College
University of Western Sydney – College of Law and Business - School of Management
84 out of 100
Morgan James Hardie Organisational Behaviour four images of organisation




Title: 'Morgan's four images of organisation applied to the James Hardie case study'