A frame of reference can be defined as ‘a system of assumptions and standards that sanction behaviour and give it meaning.’ It helps manager’s order experience and aid decision-making, allowing them to analysis complicated data and events quickly and effectively. However, in increasingly complex and dynamic organisational environments the use of a single frame of reference is becoming constraining.
Managers must realise that superior decisions to organisational problems are likely to emerge as a result of recognising that any given situation can be viewed from a number of perspective’s or frames. Boleman and Deal describe four frames, and claim the advantages of using these are unbounded. Viewing the environment based on the structural, human resource, political and cultural frames allows mangers to develop multiple alternatives, adapt to complex and changing environments and overcome the limitations of using one single frame. Therefore, a manager’s frame of reference is not their most enabling asset, but rather their most disabling weakness.
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A manager’s frame of reference is not their most enabling asset as it limits their ability to explore alternative strategies, processes and opportunities. As people become familiar with a certain frame, the need to accept and explore new ways of doing things is neither recognised nor considered. (Dunbar et al, 1996) As a result managers become trapped in the past, and find themselves unable to adapt to changing competitive landscapes. They begin to rely exclusively on a standardised frame and ingrained ways of thinking and acting that have served them well in the past start to dominate their mindset. (Dunbar et al., 1996) Consequently opportunities are missed and investments misused. The organisation tends to focus in one uncompromising direction, and all factors unrelated to this path are ignored. (Porac et al, 1996) While this can be rewarding if the direction chosen is the correct one, this is rarely the case in the long run and often leads the organisation into increasing trouble. Even when a problem is detected, relying on a single frame often may not provide any significant insights or solutions to the problem, leading to a growing sense of inertia within the company. (Dunbar et al., 1996) The changing nature of competitive advantages is also making the ability to explore alternative opportunities increasingly important. While in the past competitive advantages were relatively sustainable and built upon a stable set of core competencies, today both competitive advantages and to an extent core competencies are transient in nature. (Gurad et al., 1996) Globalisation, technology and freely available information reduce both product lifecycles and organisational dominance. (Whitwell et al, 2003) As a result managers must constantly scan the external environment, developing multiple options and strategies in response to a wide variety of variables. This process is extremely limiting and constraining if managers view the world from a single frame. In fact the realisation of change is often not recognised until too late, by which time core competencies that managers rely on have become ‘core millstones’ around the organisations neck. (Garud & Nayyar, 1994) However, scanning the environment through multiple frames can provide the organisation with a wealth of options. (Boleman et al, 1997) Rather than being wed to the past or present, an organisation’s strategy evolves as the environment and organisation itself evolves. The firm becomes flexible and dynamic, and in a sense the ability to deframe and reframe becomes the organisations only enduring advantage. Developing multiple reference frames is crucial for companies in today’s business environment, and its ability to develop wide-ranging alternatives for a company clearly makes it a managers most enabling asset.
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