The goal of this paper is to analyze and propose a personal decision to a policy problem of choice. The focus of this discussion is a conflicting procedure faced by the General Contractor involved in restoring a low-income housing complex in City of Phoenix, supported by a multi-million-dollar grant. The paper includes a brief description of the problem. Three alternative solutions are proposed. The decision is proposed, based on the double loop learning model of decision making. Barriers to implementing the decision are discussed.
Keywords: decision making, housing, contractor, grant, model, double loop learning.
Decision Research and Model Paper
Organizations are complex, dynamic organisms that rely on multiple resources and require sophisticated models to make the most relevant decisions. The current state of literature provides abundant information on the quality and efficiency of decision making within organizations. Nonetheless, many organizational and structural problems continue to persist, one of them being the prevalence of the bureaucratic and hierarchical norms/standards that impede the progress of even the most promising projects. The focus of this paper is a multi-million-dollar grant provided to City of Phoenix with the goal of restoring one of its low-income housing complexes. The project involves the City of Phoenix Housing Department, the Department of Labor, and the General Contractor, whose main obligation is to comply with the requirements set by all these organizations. However, the General Contractor cannot generally follow the guidelines and requirements set by all these organizations, due to unnecessary paper loads, work details and directives, and conflicting interests. The goal of this paper is to take the most relevant decision, based on the double loop learning model of decision making. First, the problem faced by the General Contractor will be discussed, followed by the analysis of three alternatives: to comply with all guidelines, to resign from the project, or to challenge the existing standards of performance and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy in the General Contractor’s interactions with the organizations involved in the project. The double loop learning model of decision making will be applied to evaluate each alternative and make a decision, which is best for this situation.
General Contractor, City of Phoenix, and the Grant: Defining the Problem
City of Phoenix has received a multi-million-dollar grant to restore the existing low-income housing complex. The Housing Department is fully responsible for implementing the grant money. However, the Housing Department is not the only organization involved in the project: the Department of Labor is responsible for monitoring the labor conditions of the contractors and tenants working directly on the site. The Department of Labor works cooperatively with the Project Manager and enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act, to ensure that minimum wages and overtime pay requirements are followed. Simultaneously, the Housing Department has an established budget, which should be followed, to avoid the risks of out-of-compliance and federal funds misrepresentation charges. In this situation, the most problematic is the position of the General Contractor, who must adhere to the budget limitations set by the Housing Department, monitor the working conditions and requirements set by the Department of Labor, and report the progress and results of the project implementation to the City of Phoenix Program Manager.
Thus, torn between several managers and administrators, the biggest problem faced by the General Contractor is the need to comply with the requirements and guidelines set by these managers and administrators without sacrificing the project itself and reducing the efficiency of the construction services provided. In this situation, the General Contractor must decide how to comply with the requirements and guidelines provided by the Housing Department, the Department of Labor, and City of Phoenix Program Manager. Three alternative solutions are available to the General Contractor: to comply with all these requirements and guidelines by all means; to resign from the project; and to challenge the existing norms of compliance and develop a new, cooperative system that will benefit the construction process and enhance the efficiency of the grant funds provided to City of Phoenix.
Defining and Evaluating Alternatives
The General Contractor finds himself in a situation, when unnecessary paper loads and work details may impede the implementation and progress of the grant project. Moreover, in case of incompliance, out-of-compliance charges may follow. Apparently, the legal and financial costs of incompliance will exceed the costs of following the excessive project and work demands set by the organizations involved in the project. Thus, the General Contractor may try to follow these demands and requirements against all odds, even if he has to sacrifice the quality of construction work delivered to the customer (City of Phoenix) and his organizational efficiency.
If not, the easiest will be to resign from the project. This way, the General Contractor will save the time and money required to comply with the complex requirements and deliver superior construction work. Yet, it is a unique opportunity for the General Contractor to participate in a project as huge and reputable as the discussed multi-million-dollar grant. In case of its successful completion, the General Contractor will not only earn additional profits but will also establish his reputation as a reliable partner and an organization that successfully complies with the financial and working requirements provided in such projects. Therefore, resigning from the project may be the easiest but not the best decision, given the benefits which such participation may bring to the General Contractor. Simultaneously, any attempt to comply with excessive work and financial demands will inevitably reduce the quality and efficiency of the Contractor’s operations and decisions. In this situation, the General Contractor may try to change the established rules of cooperation and reporting, to facilitate the provision of quality construction services in the discussed project. It is difficult to choose the best decision, and the double-loop learning model has the potential to speed up decision making at the planning stage of the grant project.
Double-Loop Learning: Challenging Conventional Decision Making
The double-loop learning model is one of the most popular models of organizational decision making. According to Malone (2001), the model “involves creativity and innovation, going beyond just adapting to change to being ahead of, anticipating change” (p.80). The double-loop learning model of decision making enables managers to uncover the hidden theories and patterns of action and change these patterns to correct their errors (Argyris, 1977). As a result, the double-loop model implies that learning and systematic analysis are integral to effective decision making within organizations. One of the main benefits of the double-loop decision making model is in that it guarantees faster and more relevant feedback, compared to other models. Moreover, the model recognizes the risks of ambiguity and incomplete information, and the more ill-structured an issue, the more ambiguous and less complete this information is (Argyris, 1976). The double-loop model allows challenging the established patterns of communication and decision making but also requires that participants give up their unilateral control over the process (Argyris, 1976). In other words, the goal of the double-loop decision making model is to generate valid information needed to make the most relevant decision. Double-loop learning is a model of decision making that creates “more desirable social realities through action redesign” (Greenwood, 1998, p.1050). Barriers to double-loop learning and decision making are numerous, including budgets and management controls, bureaucratization, and bureaucratic accountability (Morgan, 2005). All these barriers are present within and affect the discussed grant project. However, it is with the help of the double-loop learning model that these barriers can be effectively overcome.
Applying the Model
To make the most relevant decision, the General Contractor will have to collect the fullest information about the requirements the organization must follow to participate in the project, the costs associated both with participating or giving up the project, as well as the barriers to changing the established patterns of compliance in grant-supported projects. Since the double-loop learning model creates more desirable social realities (Argyris, 1976), the General Contractor will also have to consider which of the three alternatives allows changing and improving the circumstances of project participation and performance.
Of the three alternatives mentioned earlier, the decision to challenge the established patterns of collaboration and reporting is the most challenging but also the most promising. All parties involved in the grant project realize the scope of their responsibility and the significance of the project itself. Consequently, it is within their capabilities to find better ways to cooperate and implement the objectives and resources provided to City of Phoenix. The ultimate goal of the project is the restoration of the low-income housing complex through legal, financial, and procedural compliance. In the double-loop decision making model, the governing variables will include valid information, informed choices, and internal commitment (Greenwood, 1998). Thus, one of the basic tasks faced by the General Contractor is providing all parties of the project with the valid information pertaining to the issue and ensuring their strong commitment to developing new patterns of communication and support. The best the General Contractor can do in this situation is to call a meeting or a conference with the representatives of all parties and organizations involved in the project. The General Contractor will have to calculate the costs of compliance, excessive paper loads and conflicting demands and provide the conference participants with this information. The goal of such meeting is not simply to change the procedure but also to identify why these procedures are in place and what makes them effective/ineffective. In other words, the goal of such meeting is to identify secondary inhibiting loops (Argyris, 1977). The key result of the proposed decision making model is to advocate for the provision of new cooperation, communication, and reporting channels during the project, while also encouraging learning and inquiry of the idea being advocated (Argyris, 1977). The most difficult will be giving up the unilateral control of the situation, which is actually divided among the Housing Department, the Department of Labor, and the City of Phoenix Program Manager. The ultimate result must be the creation of a single viable reporting and administrative channel, which will further provide and distribute the information coming from the General Contractor among the organizations and parties participating in the project.
The General Contractor involved in a multi-million-dollar construction project is facing a dilemma: with so many parties involved in the project, the Contractor simply cannot comply with all their requirements. Excessive work and paper loads will eventually lead to poor quality of the construction services provided in the project. However, the General Contractor cannot resign from the project, given the benefit participation in any such project usually brings. The double-loop model of decision making and learning has the potential to bring the General Contractor and other participants to the desired result. By identifying the patterns of communication and reporting and challenging the established norms of cooperation in the project, all parties will have better chances to meet the legal, financial, and administrative requirements placed on them.