Management and functional differentiation | Special issue of Systems Research and Behavioral Science
Guest Editor: Steffen Roth, Rennes School of Business, France
Abstract: In this reintroduction to the concept of functional differentiation, we present historical evidence that the perceived proliferation of moral communication in management and organization research and practice is at odds with the principles of management and organization. We show that there is neither direct need nor direct way to derive decision premises from values as decisions and values cancel each other if they are not moderated by functional differentiation. We conclude that the future of management and organization be in decision-making without values and introduce a broad scope of tools and domains for value-free management by functional differentiation.
Abstract: In the past four decades, transparency has gone from being primarily a clear plastic sheet used with overhead projectors to being primarily a quality of organizations. The pledge to provide (or, in corporate jargon, deliver) this quality has become an almost indispensable element of political speeches, earnings calls, and product descriptions. The proliferation of digital technology and social networks has intensified this trend. This paper argues that our era’s fascination with transparency was prefigured by early modernity’s fascination with sincerity. A comparison of the two discourses shows that the functioning, purpose, and benefits that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century observers ascribed to sincerity are remarkably similar to those that twenty-first-century observers ascribe to transparency. This paper also interprets recent proposals for regulatory reform as digital-age refashionings of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. Finally, it examines current speculations about the effect radical transparency is having on concepts of identity.
Anders la Cour and Holger Højlund: Polyphonic Supervision—Meta-governance in Denmark
Abstract: This article will show how Luhmann’s concept of functional differentiation makes it possible to analyse how the government draws various stakeholders into governable terrain through the use of different functional systems. The article takes its outset in a recent reform aimed at a renewal of the authority relations between the municipalities and the non-governmental housing associations in Denmark. In doing so, the article provides an example of how the government uses meta-governance to define several interactive arenas for the various stakeholders. The article concludes that meta-governance means neither that the government retains its old power as the centre of society, nor that it is hollowed out. Instead we have to realize that government’s capacity as an organizer relies on many other forms of media beyond power.
Margit Neisig: Transition in Complex Polycentric Contexts: Trusting and Multifunctional Semantics
Abstract: This article shows how the interplay of different function systems creates distrust and paradoxes in complex polycentric transition processes. This issue is captured by an abductive, qualitative, single-case study on a highly polycentric pilot project in a Danish public job centre. The results suggest that the emergence of a multifunctional semantic reservoir is crucial for navigating function-systemic blind spots by stimulating higher-order observation and reflection and building trust in polycentric settings. This is a prerequisite for allowing paradoxes to drive transition and not become barriers.
Abstract: The academic field of crisis communication is more relevant than ever due to the digital media revolution, setting new standards for how to manage criticism and crises. This paper presents a systems theoretical approach to crisis communication in the age of digital media with a special regard to social media. The paper shows that the recent changes in the media environment require that organizations be more observant, reflected, and responsive to the public opinion. Correspondingly, organizations need to engage in strategic impression management with the aim to be, or to be observed to be, more consistent with their communicated values and strategies, thus managing to appear as trustworthy in a hyper-dynamic social surrounding world.
Steffen Roth, Augusto Sales, and Jari Kaivo-oja: Multiplying the Division of Labour: Functional Differentiation of the Next Key Variables in Management Research
Abstract: In this article, we draw on theories of social differentiation to show that functional differentiation is not about the division of work and organization, but rather about a multiplication of horizons for decision-making. We argue that a systematic management of functional differentiation makes organizations smarter and more flexible. We corroborate this claim by demonstrations of how a functional approach to functional differentiation facilitates the design of new or the further development of well-established management tools and research agendas in fields such as entrepreneurship, strategy, and human resource management.