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The Devil Wears Prada Commerce Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Commerce
Wordcount: 3991 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This reports investigates the management style, organisational culture, power and politics and employee support lessons of Runway. A conclusion is made in the fifth chapter. It is important to note that the movie is a caricature on organisational level. Quotes from the movie are referenced with the first name of the character.

Many authors developed many models to analyse the above fields. In this report however, a very brief selection was made due to the limited word count.

The sixth chapter reflects how this relates to Duo2, the organisation I worked in. The last chapter offers recommendations.

Management style

The management style in runway fits the most the contingency approach. Different theories also identify the behavioural leadership.

Contingency approach

Scott states the essence of contingency theory: “the best way to organise depends on the nature of the environment to which the organisation relates” (Scott 1998: 96). The fashion industry is very dependent on their environment, which is very fluctuating. This means that Runway’s ‘best way’ in constantly changing as well, answering the trends in the industry. Miranda often does last-minute changes such as rescheduling meetings or changing promotions due to external factors.

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Team working stimulates the spread of new ideas, which are vital for change (Burns and Stalker 1966). Moreover, this change or innovation is vital for most companies, especially in the fashion industry. Runway uses teamwork in order to get new fresh ideas. Miranda lets her team make suggestions to develop a new outfit for Runway-cover. Lawrence and Lorsch (1968) state the importance of balancing differentiation and integration of those teams, enabling them to be best equipped to adapt to environmental changes. The balance in Runway tends more to be towards integration instead of differentiation, due to Miranda’s tight control and the strong organisational culture (see next chapter).

Taylor (scientific management) did already emphasize “the importance of choosing the general type of management best suited to a particular case” (Bizcovering 2009). Follet (human relations approach) formulated the law of the situation: “the necessity of acting in accordance with the specific requirements of a given situation” (Bizcovering 2009). As Andy develops and improves, Miranda’s approach and attitude to her changes as well.

The contingency approach is criticised because of its lack of theoretical foundation and being basically intuitive (Bizcovering 2009).

Miranda has absolute power and controls whole Runway. This enables her to act in accordance with the specific requirements of a given situation. A more democratic approach would lack the flexibility needed to fully benefit the contingency approach. However, Miranda’s decisions are indeed basically intuitive.

Behavioural leadership

The character of Miranda is autocratic. She uses direct control over her employees. It could be argued that creative jobs need more responsible autonomy. However, at Runway the direct control seems to work for most of the employees.

On Tannebaum and Schmidt’s continuum, she scores highest on ‘use of authority by the manager’ and lowest on ‘area of freedom for subordinates’. Andy literally sold her freedom to her. She does not have any private life anymore, illustrated by the loss of her friends and boyfriend. Tannebaum and Schmidt describe Miranda’s behaviour as “the manager decides and announces the decision.” (Businessballs 2009).

Purcell and Sisson (1983) identify her as a traditionalist, having little attention to the employee needs. Traditionalists oppose trade unions. For the size of a company such as Runway, it is however likely that there is trade union presence.

The management style fits the business. The high autocratic behaviour exploits fully all opportunities the contingency approach offers. Moreover, it is one of the roots of the organisational culture, discussed in the next chapter.

Organisational culture

Runway has a strong organisational culture. This is because of the employee’s alignment to the organisational values. The best performing organisations are those with a strong culture (Deal and Kennedy 1999). Moreover, Peters and Waterman (1982) argue that excellent organisations have a strong cooperate culture.

However, despite all the attributed excellence there is major risk in strong cultural organisation: ‘groupthink’. This name was given by Janis as “a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in group, when members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternatives of action.” (Janis 1982: 9). This means that employees do not challenge the current organisational ideas, resulting in very poor innovation and low flexibility.

Johnson’s cultural web

Johnson’s et al (2002) cultural web consists out of six interrelated elements. Together they form ‘the paradigm’ of the organisation. These six factors are described below.


Stories can be about people as well as events. On Andy’s first day, she hears from Emily that her precedents only lasted a few weeks. Moreover, Andy became a story herself because of her unfashionable taste in the beginning (Rebecca and Emily talking), and at the end because of her achievements (Emily talking to the new girl and Miranda’s recommendation fax).

One event clearly stands out as well: the fashion week in Paris. “Paris is fabulous. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to a person” (Emily). Miranda confesses she lives towards this week during the whole year. These stories show how much Runway values the fashion week in Paris.

Rituals and routines

When Miranda arrives at Runway in the morning, the ‘morning-routine’ can be clearly observed. Everything is prepared in a fashionable way before her arrival. When she arrives, people avoid her at any cost: a girl gets out of the lift for her and apologises, people in the corridor turn back the way they came from, etc. Dealing with Miranda requires some rituals. The most important one is to never ask her anything. When Andy goes to deliver ‘the book’ to Miranda’s house, Emily informs her about the strict book-ritual, described in appendix 1.


Runway is fashion. This symbol can be found in the clothing style and even the eating habits of the staff, the design of the offices. Its product, the magazine, became a clear symbol in the fashion industry.

Organizational structure

The entire organisation is built around Miranda. Hierarchical structure at lower levels is not shown in the film. It is for example unclear how Nigel leads his department.

Control systems

There is no information about financial, quality or reward systems. Miranda exercises all control by making all employees fear her. This pushed the staff into certain rituals and routines, all in function to please Miranda.

Power structures

Miranda has all the real power. During the film this is obvious in the way she leads Runway. Even in the end, when they try to replace her, she has a list of people who will go with her if she goes. This proves her power. This topic will be further specified in the next chapter.

In addition to Johnson’s cultural web, an analysis according to Schein (1985), who argued culture could be analyzed at several different levels, is included in appendix 2.

Handy’s four cultures

Handy (1985) identifies the following four cultures. Trompenaars et al (2003) also distinguishes four corporate cultures, showing similarities with Handy’s model (appendix 3).

Power culture

Power cultures give complete power to a few who control everything. This allows them to make fast decisions and does not require much rules or bureaucracy.

Miranda enjoys absolute power, which indeed enables here to make swift decisions. She makes the whole company run for her by constantly advancing deadlines. She “is famous for being unpredictable” because her position allows her to be unpredictable (Doug).

Role culture

A role culture has a highly defined structure, where everybody has its own role. These are usual hierarchical bureaucracies.

At Runway, people do not seem to have a clearly defined role, especially Andy: she is Miranda’s secretary, but also makes her children’s science-project, goes to pick up orders, buys food and drinks for Miranda and arranges the unpublished Harry Potter book for Miranda’s children.

Task culture

In tasks cultures, employees work as teams to focus on a particular problem. Expertise is power.

There is not much proof of teamwork at Runway, unless initiated by Miranda. Everybody does what Miranda wishes, despite their expertise.

Person culture

Person cultures all build on egalitarian individuals. Andy however does not have the same power as Miranda has. Whole Runway is just built on one individual: Miranda.

Organisational power and politics

French and Raven

French and Raven (1959) argued that power is based on the following five categories:

Coercive power

This is the power of dictators such as Miranda. Though often identified as being physical, this is not the case here. The use of threats characterises coercive power. The fear of losing their job is the biggest threat for Runway’s employees. Employees only want to survive.

Reward power

As a single decision maker, Miranda can decide who gets promoted, or who joins her to celebrations. For example: the famous Paris week was taken away from Emily and given to Andy. However, employees are not rewarded for their compliance. Nigel explains Andy: “Don’t be surprised Miranda does not give you a kiss on the forehead and a golden star on your homework”. Later on, he, one of the most loyal employees, did not receive a promised promotion because of Miranda’s self-interest.

Legitimate power

Most people believe Miranda can make any demands, just because she is famous. As a leader of Runway she has legitimate power. However, this power is not only from her position: even when she would lose that position she has a group of people who would obey her.

Referent power

As being famous, Miranda enjoys a lot of referent power. “A million girls would kill for that job [which Andy has]” (Dough) or “people are dying to work here” (Nigel). Some employees perform beyond their capacity, because ‘it is for Miranda’. Emily for example comes to work when she is ill, telling herself “I love my job, I love my job”. Miranda uses her referent power as coercion. Maybe Emily did not come to work for Miranda (only) but out of fear of Miranda.

Expert power

In this category Miranda has a power base as well. Her expertise made her famous, which gave her referent power. Therefore she was given legitimate power as well. Miranda turned all powers into coercion, to have maximum control to do what she considers to be best for the magazine.

Amitai Etzioni

Etzioni (1968) discovered “an association between the kind of power mix typically used by an organization and the modal involvement of its lower participant. Highly coercive mixes tend to be met with intensive negative involvement, normative mixes with intense positive involvement, and remunerative mixes with less intense positive or negative involvement, depending on the mix.” (Etzioni 1968: 103).

Coercive power

Coercive power, typified by prisons, is discussed previously (3.1.1).

Remunerative power

Remunerative power, typical in factories, is discussed previously as well (3.1.4).

Normative power

Normative power relies on the power of symbols, typified by churches. The Runway magazine can be seen as a symbol of fashion. Nigel tells Andy the magazine represented hope for him when he was a little boy.

Alientive involvement

Alientive involvement describes Andy’s attitude, as an answer to Miranda’s coercive power. She is pushed to do things against her will, such as helping on the science project of the twins.

Calculative/pecuniary involvement

Calculative involvement is based on extrinsic reward. This kind of involvement comes forth out of remunerative power. Emily is calculative involved because of the Paris week and all the clothes she would receive.

Moral involvement

Moral involvement is based on individual beliefs. At Runway, most employees are moral involved because they believe in Miranda for what she represents or symbolises, answering her normative power.

Employee support lessons

It is important to define the psychological contract first to understand what goes on in the workplace. It is defined as the expectations or “perceptions of the two parties, employee and employer, of what their mutual obligations are towards each other.” (Guest and Conway 2001). Andy’s and Miranda’s expectations are different. The table in appendix 4 illustrates some of the differences.

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The psychological contract “is based on employees’ sense of fairness and trust and their belief that the employer is honouring the ‘deal’ between them.” (CIPD 2008). Andy does not have this sense of fairness, she has feels as Miranda’s slave, resulting in alientive involvement. However, this psychological contract does work for other employees, as they do not expect any fairness and believe that Miranda is doing what is best.

Nigel plays a big role in Andy’s support lessons. Paternalistically he takes care of her appearance: giving her shoes, choosing clothes for her, taking her to the beauty department, etc.

Emily tells her what she has to do practically: taking Miranda’s coat, how to deliver ‘the book’ to Miranda, not talking to Miranda, studying all guest’s names of the party, etc.

Nigel and Emily helped Andy to fit into Runway’s organisational culture. Moreover, they explained the employer’s side of the psychological contract.

There is a clear evolution in Andy’s behaviour and attitude, as she learns about Runway’s psychological contract. Being stressed out after Miranda’s first demanding request, she is able to execute her later even more demanding tasks perfectly, as she learnt what Miranda expects. Not only did she find the unpublished Harry Potter script, she also knew that Miranda expected two copies, and made sure these copies were delivered to the twins before they went to their grandmother.

In the end, even Miranda helps Andy understand that she expects the job to be more important than her personal life, because “that is what it takes to do this job” (Miranda). Andy evolutes into this kind of person, accepting Runway’s psychological contract. However, eventually she decides that she does not want to be like this, and quits her job.


Miranda is an autocratic dictator, using her own ‘best practise’ way. This contingency approach gives her a lot of freedom. She is the base of Runway’s strong organisational culture. Johnson’s et al (2002) cultural web and Schein’s (1985) three levels describe this culture. Runway is typified by a power culture, giving Miranda maximum control and flexibility (Handy 1985).

This power is based in all the categories identified by French and Raven (1959). Miranda’s personal power sources (expert and referent power) gave her positional power sources (legitimate, reward and coercive power). She (ab)uses coercive power the most. Unlike Etzioni (1968) suggests, employees are mostly moral involved instead of alientive involved. Andy is the exception, not sharing the organisational beliefs in fashion, resulting in alientive involvement.

The problem with the psychological contract is that it is unwritten, and thus difficult to find out (Guest and Conway 2001). Andy has the help from Nigel, Emily and even Miranda in understanding the psychological contract at Runway’s. As she becomes aware of Miranda’s expectations, she adapts herself (and her expectations) to fulfil Miranda’s. However, eventually she decides that her job does not come before her personal life. This difference in expectations makes her quit her job.

Application to the organisation Duo2

Duo2 was a sustainable marketing and communication agency founded by me and five other students for two months, as part of our degree in marketing.

A modern management style was used. Duo2 was a learning organisation (Garvin and Cizik 1991), acquiring knowledge to fulfil certain tasks. We developed a course book for entrepreneurship in the tourism industry, though none of us was familiar with tourism. Consequence: learning about tourism.

Our ‘CEO’ adapted a laissez-faire approach, giving us maximum freedom and responsible autonomy. We could chose our hours and place of work. Further it can be described as a manager who joins (Tannebaum and Schmidt cited in Businessballs 2009) as we made all decisions together. Purcell and Sisson (1983) identify this as sophisticated constitutionalists moderns.

We had a very weak organisational culture, with no organisational- or power structure, no control systems and no rituals. Stories were limited to gossips about lectors. The only symbol was our logo (Johnson et al 2002). Our mission and vision captured our underlying values and beliefs (Schein 1985).

We worked in teams focussing on different tasks (task culture) in an egalitarian and informal style (incubator culture) (Handy 1985 and Trompenaars et al 2003). Some people worked on the tourism course book, others focussed on other clients or other tasks such as creating the website, searching clients, etc.

Power was based on expertise (French and Raven 1959). Somebody with superior writing skills was leading the writing team. Creative talents had authority over the website. Our involvement was calculative: we worked only hard enough to pass and for the money, which was equally divided.

With no different positional power sources and equity there was a ‘perfect’ psychological contract: We did not have different expectations for ourselves than for other’s. Though some had different levels perceptions of qualitative work, generally we all expected the same from each other.

Appendix 5 compares the discussed topics of Runway’s with Duo2’s


(if Duo2 would still exist)

The management style, organisational culture and equity provided a lot of freedom in Duo2. To sustain this freedom, a lot of communication is needed (who works where on what?). Therefore I recommend the implication of a better communication system. Weekly office meetings at the same time would help. Especially a personal logbook/task plan available to everybody would be useful. This means that everybody can see who did, is doing, or going to do certain tasks at which location.

This would enhance the current task culture and create more efficiency. Moreover, the personal logbook can also be used as a way of performance management. We had a lot of freedom which made us happy and generally performed well. Though for some individuals it is good to have some kind of control system in place, to make sure they perform equally well and to communicate performances of everybody (which cannot always be noticed). This would make sure that everybody works the same hard, supporting our egalitarian culture and Adam’s equity theory.

At the weekly office meetings everybody could present their logbook, the work they did, and their task plan, the work they plan doing the next week. This control system makes the employee’s freedom justifiable and does not undermine it.

It is important to state that the freedom was very important for our motivation and inspiration, as most tasks were creative. Moreover, this allowed us to get the maximum out of ourselves. The freedom needs to be kept, however I recommend the above control system to be implemented in order to guarantee and check upon the productivity of that freedom.

List of References

Bizcovering (2009) Contingency Approach to Management [online] available from [20 March 2007]

Burns, T. and Stalker, G., M. (1966) The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock Publ.

Businessballs (2009) Tannenbaum and Schmidt continuum [online] available from [8 April 2009]

Changing Minds (2009) Trompenaars’ four diversity cultures [online] available from [22 February 2009]

CIPD (2008) The psychological contract [online] available from [12 April 2008]

Deal, T., E. and Kennedy, A., A. (1999) The New Corporate Cultures. New York: Perseus Publishing

Etzioni, A. (1968) ‘Organizational Dimensions and their Interrelationships: A Theory of Compliance.’ Indik, B. and Berrien, K. (eds.) People, Groups, and Organizations, 94-109

Frankel, D. (2006) The Devil Wears Prada [online] available from [21 February 2009]

French, J.R.P. and Raven, B. (1959) ‘The bases of social power.’ Studies in Social Power Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Garvin, D. (2003) Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work. Harvard : Harvard Business Press

Guest, D.E. and Conway, N. (2001) Organisational Change and the Psychological Contract. London: CIPD

Handy, C., B. (1985) 3rd edn. Understanding Organizations. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

Hedges, P. (2005) The Devil Wears Prada [online] available from [19 February 2009]

Janis, I., L. (1982) 2nd edn. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Johnson, G., K., Scholes and R., Whittington (2002) 8th edn. Exploring corporate strategy. London: Prentice Hall

Lawrence, P. and Lorsch, J. (1968) ‘Differentiation and Integrations in Complex Organisations.’ Administrative Science Quarterly 12, 1-30

Peters, T., J. and Waterman, R., H (1982) In search of excellence: Lessons from America’s best-run companies. New York: Harper & Row.

Purcell, J. and Sisson, K. (1983) ‘Strategies and practice in the management of industrial relations.’ Bain, G. (editor) Industrial Relations in Britain. Oxford: Blackwell

Schein, E.,H. (1985) 3rd edn. Organizational Culture and Leadership. Chichester: Wiley

Scott, W., R. (1998) 4th edn. Organisations: rational, natural, and open systems. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

Trompenaars, F. and Woolliams, P. (2003) Business Across Cultures. Chichester: Wiley


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