Bolman and Deal’s Four-Frame Model

Bolman and Deal argued that leaders should look at and approach organisational issues from four perspectives, which they called “frames”.  In their view, if a leader works with only one habitual frame of reference, he risks being ineffective. The four frames they proposed were;

Structural, Human Resource, Political and Symbolic.

The idea here is to keep your approach to leadership open, don’t restrict yourself with one frame. As leader, make your own judgement call on the most appropriate behaviour in that moment or organisation. Using the same frame won’t work with every situation, so make sure you ask the right questions and diagnose key issues.

Structural: This Frame focuses on the obvious ‘how’ of change. It’s mainly a task-orientated Frame. It concentrates on strategy; setting measurable goals, clarifying task, responsibilities and reporting lines; agreeing metrics and deadlines; and creating systems and procedures.

Human Resources: The Human Resource (HR) Frame places more emphasis on people’s needs. It primarily focuses on giving employees the power and opportunity to perform their jobs well, while at the same time, addressing their needs for human contact, personal growth, and job satisfaction.

Political: The Political Frame addresses the problem of individuals and interest groups having sometimes conflicting (often hidden) agendas, especially at times when budgets are limited and the organisation have to make difficult choices. In this Frame you will see coalition – building, conflict resolution work, and power-base building to support the leader’s initiatives.

Symbolic: The Symbolic Frame addresses people’s needs for a sense of purpose and meaning in their work. It focuses on inspiring people by making the organisation’s direction feel significant and distinctive. It includes creating a motivating vision, and recognising superb performance through company celebrations.

If the leader learns that the greatest problem is a lack of motivation and commitment, he or she will probably stress the Symbolic and Human Resource frames.

If confusion around priorities and responsibilities is the main issue, then the Structural and Political frames will probably be most important.

If there is uncertainty and anxiety around future direction, the Symbolic and Political frames may be the keys to change.

The point is the leader should adopt a multi-frame perspective before choosing how to act.

Bolman, Lee G, and Terrence E Deal. (1991). Reframing Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991. Print.