Friday, 17 December 2010

What is & what produces organisational health?

The GFC highlighted that what we measure, for organisational health, determines what we get. As Colin Price, Director, McKinsey & Company, puts it in his Dec 14 2010 blog on MIX: “Focusing exclusively on performance  simply does not produce long-term shareholder value,  sustainable competitive advantage, or an ability to achieve the mandates of the organization in the public sector.”

Price proposes instead that organisational health is: “the ability to get aligned, to execute at a world-class level, and to renew.”  I’ll go for that. Those are the abilities I want, but I’m still left with the problem of what to do to produce that kind of health. 

Achieving that health requires us to see our organisations in a revolutionary new way: not as bureaucratic hierarchical machines but as communities of collaborating people. Seen in that light, the fundamental purpose of all the policies, procedures, systems, processes is to enable, to free people to collaborate better.

Thus organisational health has its roots in the health of the interrelationships between the people that comprise the organisation.  So what are healthy interrelationships and how do you get them?

Some useful perspectives can be drawn from the field of population health: the qualities of interrelationships that produce community wellness and productivity, and conversely illness and dysfunction are fairly well known and are evident, for instance, in the recovery approach to mental illness.

To achieve the kind of organisational health that Price proposes we have to revolutionise the way we see and manage our organisations: the purpose, nature and content of our organisational communication and interrelationships. That requires concerted, deliberate action to change the detail of the way we communicate with each other  at work. 

For more on this see How to Fix a Mental Organisation (December 2009) and my more recent blogs (December 2010).


Thursday, 16 December 2010

Communication compulsory in only 50% of NZ undergraduate Business degrees when employers want skilled communicators

Research by Sandra Barnett & Susan O'Rourke, published in the December 2010 issue of the Communication Journal of New Zealand, shows that although employers want graduates skilled in communication, business communication is compulsory in only 50% of Business degrees from major NZ tertiary education institutions. On top of that, it's very difficult for employers to gauge what graduates may have gained from any communication courses that they did complete.

In contrast to USA & Europe, New Zealand undergraduate business education grew largely out of the accountancy field. As a result most Bachelors of Commerce have not included business communication. It has long been included in the NZ Diploma of Business but focused on skills seen as appropriate to the relatively narrow requirements of the accounting profession rather than to business in the wider sense.

With recent writers in the business management field calling for a transformation in management and organisational communication (see Stephen Denning, The death & reinvention of management. Nov 2010) it seems clear that a transformation in communication education is overdue.

Further indication of the importance of sophisticated communication skill is in the December 2010 McKinsey Quarterly.  In “The rise of the networked enterprise: Web 2.0 finds its payday” McKinsey report research showing that firms are experiencing measurable benefits in increased speed of access to knowledge, effectiveness of marketing, reduced communication costs and increased customer satisfaction.

I issued a challenge to communication educators at the December 2010 annual conference of the New Zealand Communication Association, to transform the way they organise and do communication education. Actually I challenge them to transform the way that business education generally is organised and done. Read my challenge here: Wanted: communication educators for management revolution.


Thursday, 2 December 2010

WANTED: Communication educators for management revolution

Being able to collaborate better than the competition is gold in today’s globally competitive market: the most valuable differentiator; the greatest competitive advantage a firm can have; hard to copy or replicate. But such collaboration is pretty well impossible for conventional firms to achieve because the essential behaviours and attitudes are culturally alien; beyond the experience of people in most modern workplaces; contrary to the assumptions and practices of management. To achieve collaboration requires the end of Management and the key to that is in transforming the way that people communicate at work.

As Garry Hamel says:
“Management was originally invented to solve two problems: the first—getting semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities competently, diligently, and efficiently; the second—coordinating those efforts in ways that enabled complex goods and services to be produced in large quantities.

In a nutshell, the problems were efficiency and scale, and the solution was bureaucracy, with its hierarchical structure, cascading goals, precise role definitions, and elaborate rules and procedures. Equipping organizations to tackle the future would require a management revolution no less momentous than the one that spawned modern industry.”

If we accept that Garry Hamel is right, and I most certainly do, then the problem is how do we achieve that revolution; that transformation? The firm conclusion I’ve come to over a couple of decades of leading learning in Business Schools and coaching business owners for change and growth, is that a large part of the solution lies in transforming the way we manage and do education; transforming it from what it has determinedly become over the last couple of decades. That’s the opportunity for Communication educators: their mission, should they accept it.

As change leader for university business students and SME owners and managers I realised that deep learning and change was continually derailed by deep seated tacit assumptions about knowledge and how to behave in organisations; how to behave at work; how to organise work.

I realised that I and my students, colleagues and clients are deeply imbued with a picture or organisation that is imprinted, learned and reinforced through industrial-age, synchronised education where experts have authority over “children”, requiring compliance in prescribed, synchronised, trivial ‘work’.

What we learn most powerfully from that education: what remains after we’ve forgotten everything we were taught, is how to organise and behave at work.

That unconscious imprinting, which begins at around year 7 at school when children leave the ‘learning nest’ environment of pre-school and primer years, is reinforced and ingrained right through University. It’s a major reason why we unthinkingly perpetuate the mechanistic bureaucratic, hierarchical systems in which people are cooperating, synchronised machine parts; organisations are structures; and processes are engineered sequences. This is absurd when we increasingly need people to be highly engaged collaborative agents for change and innovation, dynamically linked through rich, diverse interrelationships in pursuit of shared aspirations and goals.

To be a successful entrepreneur it apparently pays to leave the industrial education process early. Many successful entrepreneurs did: before the imprinting process was complete; likely because they didn’t fit that process.

In the academic world, Business Schools have long been criticised for perpetuating outmoded, ineffective organisational behaviours, assumptions and practices. It’s only recently however, most noticeably post 2008 crash, that the more popular literature, The Wall Street Journal for example, has pronounced the “End of Management” and begun to seriously criticise and question the underpinning assumptions and the revered Harvard MBA model of business education has come in for public scrutiny and even some scorn.

Steve Denning, an author whom I stumbled across a couple of years ago and have since  become a big fan of, even participating in the editorial process of his latest book The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management (Oct 2010), puts it well in his draft article on The Death and Reinvention of Management. Here I summarise some of the main points with excerpts from that draft:

What are we to make of a rash of recent books suggesting that management as we know it today is seriously problematic? According to Matthew Stewart, management is “a myth”. Professor Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School tells us that management has “failed”. According to Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal, we are looking at “the end of management”, while CEO Jo Owen has written about “the death of management”.

“[In the USA] ROA is 25% of what it was in 1965; life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 is down to 15 years, only one in five workers are passionate about their work. Moreover established firms are not creating new jobs: Friedman, T. “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts” New York Times, April 3, 2010”

“This is why business leaders and writers are increasingly exploring a fundamental rethinking of the basic tenets of management. Among the most important changes proposed are five basic shifts, in terms of the firm’s goal (a shift from inside-out to outside-in), the role of managers (a shift from control to enablement), the mode of coordination (from bureaucracy to dynamic linking),  the values being practiced (a shift from value to values) and communications (a shift from command to conversation).”

“Individually, none of these shifts is new. Each shift has been pursued individually in some organizations for some years. However what we have learned is that when one of these shifts is pursued on its own, without the others, it tends to be unsustainable because it runs into conflicts with the attitudes and practices of traditional management.”

“When the five shifts are undertaken simultaneously, the result is sustainable change that is radically more productive for the organization, more congenial to innovation, and more satisfying both for those doing the work and those for whom the work is done.”

“The challenge for managers today is that in trying to elicit the energies, imagination, and creativity of their workers, they need to communicate predominantly through the language of social norms, against a history in organizations of relationships dominated by hierarchy and to a lesser extent by market pricing.”

“. . . . . management in the 21st Century requires a shift in the mode of communication from command to conversation, with adult-to-adult interactions, human being to human being, using stories, metaphors and open-ended questions. Authentic leadership storytelling has an important role to play, particularly in dealing with social media.”

So, on the one hand we have a dawning realisation that high collaboration is crucial to competitive advantage, but on the other a generally weak experience and scarce knowledge of what it is, could be, and how to get it; and organisational settings that militate against that learning. Ironically, education institutions are among the organisations where this problem is most chronic.

But here’s the thing: Communication educators, researchers and practitioners as a profession are potentially among the best equipped to lead this transformation because they presumably know of what collaboration is, can be, and how to get it. That’s because, by my understanding at least, Communication is about what happens between individuals: the shared meaning that they create.

That’s the key to the transformation. Communication educators, this is your opportunity. Your mission, should you accept it, is to focus on enabling people to experience collaboration through changing the detail of their communication behaviour; changing the way they communicate with each other; the way that they generate shared meaning; the way they produce and implement organisational knowledge.

So that’s the opportunity. That’s the challenge. Now let’s consider the organisational and pedagogical detail of how you might go about that: how you can be and produce organisational Recovery Support Workers in the recovery of organisations, currently so dysfunctional that they are effectively insane, to competitive advantage (see previous blog: "How to Fix a Mental Organisation" ).

I’m not talking about a Communication course or even a Communication programme. I’m talking about the pedagogical foundations of all courses and programmes including Communication programmes. I’m talking course process, not content. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to Communication professionals.

The aim is to radically change the learning context, which is the organisational experience, from individualistic to collaborative. Remember that student’s individualistic and content-based assumptions about achievement and learning will be deeply engrained and largely unconscious. They will find the transformation process deeply disturbing, at least initially. Expect them to project their anxiety, confusion, anger, and blame on to you. This anxiety and confusion is a necessary precursor to the transformation you aim to achieve.

Expect to feel and behave similarly yourself as you learn to collaborate deeply with your colleagues. You aren’t just going to do this to your students. You’re doing it to yourself too. Denning’s five shifts have to occur simultaneously at both levels.

So if you’re highly averse to conflict and have a history of conflict avoidance, maybe don’t try this approach. Whatever, you need a well informed process plan and supporting supervision; you need to collaborate. That will be a learning experience for you too.

Because students (and employees) typically adopt a highly instrumental approach to their work (that’s the way they’ve been trained) you must radically redesign the tasks and measures to specifically reward collaborative behaviour (as mutually assessed by team members). The effect of this is to motivate teams to move beyond the usual fake-team division of tasks.


Because students (and employees) will tend to revert to accustomed child, instead of adult behaviour, wanting to be spoon fed processed information, remove yourself from the direct teaching (management) process and ban trivialised information.


I predict that you will find, as I did, that students (and employees, and you) will be amazed at the quality they (and you) can achieve together and that they become natural collaborators without realising how different they are from conventional graduates. Issues such as racial bigotry, dependence of trivialised information (PowerPoint), passive/aggressive behaviour, withdrawal, boredom, laziness and shallow instrumentality, melt away and behaviour actually changes (real, deep learning). Students achieve real insight.

You will find that when your graduates enter employment their employers credit them with exceptional “intuition”, marvel at how rapidly they become project leaders and how engaged their project teams are. They seem to adapt to and flourish in their workplaces three times faster that A grade honours graduates in their fields: in 6-8 months they are achieving what conventionally taught graduates take two years to achieve. When they enter a new situation they don’t look to the boss for a clear set of instructions. They assume that they’re to figure that out through collaboration.

It’s those radically different fundamental assumptions about communication that make these people so valuable. Yes they need subject specific knowledge, but it’s organisationally useless unless it can be productively, collaboratively shared.

As Noshir Contractor posited in The New Handbook of Organisational Communication (2001), knowledge doesn’t exist in the nodes; it exists in the web. In other words, organisational knowledge exists only between individuals as shared understanding. The most crucial skills are in generating a rich and productive shared understanding in the messy dynamics of interpersonal communication relationships.

That’s your opportunity and your challenge. You can do it.


Monday, 4 October 2010

The Restructure Ritual

I found out from my hairdresser why corporates  continually restructure: it’s a ritual!
I saw the writing on the wall while I was lying back having my shampoo and colour. Kerastase, Paris offers range of rituals. Here’re just a few:
  • Reconstructing Ritual (for after restructure)
  • Strengthening Ritual
  • Rejuvenating Ritual
  • Clarifying Ritual
  • Replenishing Ritual
Judging by the ecstasy  on the faces of the photographed models, these rituals are stunningly effective therapy for people who are at their wits end trying to make something great of hard-to-manage, unruly, dull, lifeless, worn out human assets.
There’s comfort in rituals and they buy time. They’re what you do when you have to do something but can’t think what else to do. They are time honoured practices, their origins typically forgotten, that bring kudos to the priestly caste who administer them: high managers and hairdressers.
Some corporate rituals involve brutal sacrifice for purification and to appease the gods.
The metaphor has many more possibilities which I leave to you to explore. For the moment I simply reaffirm two long-known things: you can learn a lot from your hairdresser, and organisational life is rich in unquestioned rituals that look like action, bring short term gratification and superficial improvement but fail to address the underlying issues.
Despite overwhelming evidence that restructuring almost never achieves improved ROI, corporates keep on doing it.
Let’s face it,  long term success depends on the quality of our interrelationships, but ritual clearly helps us feel better about things without having to actually fundamentally relate any differently.
It’s time to question ritual and make detailed, deliberate changes in the way we interrelate and what we interrelate about.


Friday, 20 August 2010

Ten truths of leadership

Of course there’d have to be ten, not nine or 13 or a Tom-Peters list of around 37. Ten is nice and neat; makes a tidy package; one tattoo for the back of each finger to remind us as we type our emails.

A recent LinkedIn Group update featuring Ten Truths of Leadership  got me going. James Kouzes and Barry Posner have published another book on leadership. I guess they have to make a living. Their ten truths are true all right. No doubt about that. And yes they’re almost as old as the hills; Biblical even.

A leader who consistently achieved all of them would doubtless be absolutely inspiring.

But I doubt “Ten Truths” will change anything much. They will be tweeted and quoted and everything will go on pretty much as normal.

It’d be interesting to see how many leaders do consistently achieve even half of them, in the eyes of their supposed followers that is.

I’ve worked with many leaders who truly believed that they behaved or at least earnestly, consistently tried to behave like that. I used a very simple method to show them very clearly that they were dreaming.

I got them to record a work conversation with a peer or report, transcribe ten minutes from that tape into the right hand column of a page with their corresponding thoughts on the left hand column (an approach devised by Chris Argyris for his seminal work back in the 70s). Then we’d take a look at the variation between what they were thinking and what they actually said at that time. We invariably found significant contradiction, betraying that they were manipulative, controlling, closed minded, distrusting, and their ‘values’ conveniently flexible.

They were predictably aghast and embarrassed. I assured them that they were normal but that that norm isn’t acceptable in a successful contemporary learning organisation.

As we began the process of change, the biggest obstacle was that they knew, from hard experience,  that actually behaving as “Ten Truths” suggest is very risky because the first one to do it risks being done over by “the others”.

I assured them that unless the leader takes that risk, then no one else will. Then tentatively I coached them to risk new communication behaviours then reflect on the process and the results. Slowly they became more confident to break the mould; to become conscious of the gap between their espoused behaviour and their behaviour-in-action and with the help of their peers and reports, close the gap through changed communication behaviour.

It’s a slow process, but it consistently works where lists of truths consistently fail to make a difference.

Impatient? Go get a new leader. Tempt him with an obscenely high salary and benefits. He’ll likely screw you over just the same.


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Why good people behave badly in organisations

We behave badly because we’ve been trained to behave badly from about age 11 in industrial education processes for industrial work. We’re imprinted with that classroom model of authority, hierarchy, knowledge, expertise, compliance, manipulation, control and work, right from when we leave the nursery school for the conventional school classroom.

That imprint is then reinforced at every level of education and on into employment. No wonder we find it difficult to conceptualise, let alone be anything else. We perpetuate the model unthinkingly. There is a saying that education is what’s left after you forget all that you (explicitly) learned. Entrepreneurs typically leave formal education early.

That industrial concept of organisation is very sticky and there’s little reason to challenge or change it unless the world changes and innovation becomes the key to survival. Then it becomes imperative to access and maximise individual and collaborative potential that is unwittingly squandered, eroded and destroyed by industrial organisation and management.

To survive we need to dispel the climates of fear, cynicism and disengagement that so often prevail; break the cycle of bad behaviour that is so toxic for emotional and mental health and sabotages engagement and productivity.

We need to resolve our double lives: break the spell of industrial age thinking and open our work and institutional life to what we know from that life beyond work.

Since the industrial revolution, when work arguably became seriously separated from the rest of life, most working adults live second lives at church, school, or home.

The question isn’t so much whether we lead double lives but how can we translate our knowledge of that ‘other life’ into our work and institutional behaviour? That’s difficult because much of our organisational behaviour is driven by unconscious assumptions and reflex behaviours tacitly learned during ‘industrial’ schooling and tacitly confirmed by our experience since.

The roots of industrial age production and education are in the thinking and practices that became prominent in the 1940s through 60s and still dominate many business improvement books. Industrial organisations had many characteristics of machines. They were formed around machines. Machines have since replaced many of the jobs in those organisations.

The machine model of organisation, still appropriate in some contexts, is characterised by structures; job breakdowns; lines of communication, job delineation; objectification; linear causal thinking. There is a sense of un-emotional rigidity and inexorability about it. Performance failures are fixed by replacing parts (people) or in extreme, restructuring. The ‘system’ reigns supreme.

In the 70s a new image of organisation emerged: organisations as intelligent organisms with interdependent functions and organs, striving to survive, responding to stimuli, adapting to changing environment, evolving to fit niche environments, the fittest surviving.

In the 80s people became the focus in the notion of organisation as culture comprised of cultures. Values, attitudes, beliefs, rituals, artefacts, normalised and normative behaviours became the centre of attention.

The 90s saw a return to the machine metaphor but this time the machine is a computer and computer networks: a hi-tech version of the earlier industrial machine. “Process re-engineering” was all the rage. People were mysterious, unreliable repositories of knowledge which is best extracted, digitised, then stored and managed in computerised files and networked information systems. Restructuring resurges, sometime dressed as process re-engineering. People are nodes in networks.

In the new millennium the World Wide Web enabled an explosion in relationships, shaking knowledge structures. The notion of knowledge and organisations as webs of relationships takes form. Hierarchy dissolves in the web and industrial style surveillance and control is impossible (Contractor, 2002).

The image of organisation as a web of relationships begins to make sense. But still the sticky industrial structures and controlling behaviours persist. People see the seeming ambiguity, openness, absence of command structures, and reliance on relationships as risky.

Leaders must risk openness, admit not knowing, focus on the detail of interpersonal relationships, build trust in long term relationships for mutual learning and growth.

Most bosses would claim that they do this already. Ask their reports. Most reports would claim that they can be trusted with responsibility. Ask their managers. It’s time we all stopped blaming, shaming and justifying and collaborated to change -bosses first.

Start by seeking honest, open feedback about your own behaviour. Talk to people other than your direct reports. Then deliberately and openly attempt to change your behaviour. Invite observations of your progress. Then expect your reports to do the same. Help and encourage them. They will be sure that this is managerial suicide.

For more in this radical vein go to Steve Denning: Does asking smart questions make you a radical manager?

Contractor, N. S. 2002. New media and organising. In L. Lievrow & S. Livingstone (Eds.). The Handbook of New Media (pp. 203-205). London: Sage.

Tse, S. & Barnett, S. 2009. Recovery Oriented Services. In Chris Lloyd, Robert King, Frank Deane, and Kevin Gournay (Eds.). Clinical Management in Mental Health Services. Chapter 7, (pp. 94 -114). Blackwell: London.


Sunday, 20 June 2010

How to be understood

Rule # 1: expect to be misunderstood. Mostly, we assume that understanding is normal. Wrong. Ask any spouse, sibling, parent, or lover. 

Successful service-sales and service-delivery people for instance, have woken up to this through competitive pressure, grinding experience, and objective analysis. Then by deliberate, focused action they have changed their assumptions and their behaviour.

They know the cost and risk of misunderstanding is high. They manage that risk by specialising and standardising their processes; by building durable interpersonal customer-relationships for learning and forgiveness; and continually seeking to delight the customer.  It becomes second nature – tacit.

But put those same sales and service people in a changed environment, even slightly different, and they can easily come unstuck. That now-tacit knowledge that has served them so proudly may well not work in the new environment.

This has been highlighted for me in my health service business development work. The New Zealand health services sector is in turmoil: yet another major government policy driven re-organisation; around the sixth in eight years.

This time it’s to vertically and horizontally merge and integrate health services. This when competition has been king and professional collaboration suspected as feather bedding; fear and loathing have become strong undercurrents in relationships between health professionals and their managers, between managers and between the managers of different organisations.

Competitors have become entrenched in their niches, adapted and fine tuned to the bureaucratic motivations and behaviour of their health sector customers, while the health professionals immersed themselves in their consumer relationships. 

Suddenly these competitors have to merge and join up.  Can they communicate to achieve that productively and innovatively? Fat chance! Misunderstanding reaches new heights: evidence, real and imagined, of defamation, misinformation and skulduggery is everywhere in an environment of fear and loathing. Even longstanding trusting relationships are suspect.

Mergers and join-ups that do occur are suspected as, and at least some are, driven by self interest and political gain, and as a result are slow to be productive in the essentially collaborative, professional, vocational world of health service.

So what can be done? Answer: expect to be misunderstood and take the time and trouble to find shared understanding in shared metaphor (stories) and experience; shared purpose; joint projects. Trust is found in action not argument.

Share your perspectives and reflections on that joint action by sharing stories. Be more than two dimensional “role holders.” Share stories about yourselves.
Remember you are dating with marriage in mind. The time to invest in the durability, mutual productivity, and enjoyment of that potential relationship is at the outset. Sacrifice “task” progress to build shared understanding.

The guy/woman you find so frustrating may not be a linear analytical, task oriented, conventional high achiever like you. He/she may think in pictures, think laterally to solve puzzles and make sense of seeming confusion; thinking that’s likely not crucial in the production environment that you have excelled in, but is crucial in a fast changing environment.


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Are you crazy?!

You’re a senior executive under pressure. You sense things are getting out of your control. Things are going wrong unexpectedly despite all your strategic planning, focused KPI’s, and reporting systems.  Solutions that worked in the past no longer seem reliable.

But you can’t admit it because you’re an executive and executives know what to do. You anxiously  work longer and harder  but the stress and anxiety begins to erode your resilience. You can’t sleep. You can’t relax without a drink.

What do you do. You can’t admit that you’re ‘losing it’. That would be managerial suicide. If you go to your GP and get diagnosed with stress disorder you’ll be uninsurable. It’s like you’ve caught the modern equivalent of leprosy.

So you try to fix yourself: self medicate, read self-help books; look cheerful; stay positive; fight harder; focus. You have no option because if you can’t fix it you’re done for. You career is stuffed.

Conservative estimates have 20% of the population, executives included, suffering such health damaging stress and the related physical and mental effects. Realistically the figure’s around 50%.

If you’re one of those 50%, what can you do? Where can you go? The good news is that you can get well without a psychiatrist. If you take action before you crash you can recover quickly and fully.

There’s no single fix. You need to tackle the problem from several different angles. Quite likely you need skilled confidential advice and coaching. Maybe you have a good friend you can confide in. Many high achievers don’t have friends that good.

The Recovery approach to wellness is a practical, holistic, proven effective way to not just cope but to quickly be even more effective than you have ever been before. 

News: Executive Depression on Increase - Corin Dann interviews Challenge Trust CEO, Clive Plucknett on NZI Business Breakfast TV (click this link)


Monday, 7 June 2010

In step with Management.

Left, right, left, right, left. Is good management Left or Right?

Neither ‘of course’. Management is apolitical! Right? Management objectively, dispassionately maximises value for shareholders.

In a recently broadcast video clip from a few years back, BP’s CEO, addressing what looks like an MBA seminar, says “BP has spent too much time saving the world and it’s time to get back to maximising value to shareholders.” 

A super lucky survivor of the BP’s recent deep-sea rig explosion and fire (he jumped 100’ from the rig into the oil covered burning sea because the life boats had already gone) reported that despite clear evidence that the rubber blow-out seal had been seriously damaged, with consequent serious risk of blow-out and fire, Management decided not to stop and fix it. There was pressure to  be ready for BP officials due to visit  the rig to celebrate the success and recognise the project’s safety record! It’s like a re-run of the Challenger disaster but massively more destructive.

The survivor reported  officials were on the rig when it blew up. Maybe it was the officials who broke strict protocol and abandoned ship (and many crew including the captain) before accounting for everyone.

Managers are in charge, right? They have authority to hire and fire right? Who’s anatomy’s on the line if things go wrong? The manager’s, right? Who makes the decisions? Managers, right? Who’s job is it to know and be right? Managers’, right? If you’re wrong or you don’t know you’re not fit to be a manager right? Right! Yeah, right.

These assumptions are endemic in many (perhaps most) organisations despite espousals and ‘systems’ to the contrary. They are made by both managers and managed alike. These assumptions persist despite overwhelming evidence that they are not only unproductive but are destructive except perhaps in large scale replication where people are  no more than substitute machine parts. 

Are these characteristics and attributes of capital “M” for Management hallmarks of  the (political) Right? Are the critics of Management lackeys of the Left?

For instance, those who question the wisdom of Management are typically assumed to be questioning established authority; to be ‘bolshie’ – politically Left.

Management tends to favour maintaining established values and hierarchy:  characteristics typically regarded as politically Right.

Those who advocate and live collaboration, sharing, and collective responsibility are typically regarded as  politically Left.

Management practice generally  promotes individual responsibility and reward; characteristics typically regarded as politically Right.

Even Christianity seems somehow to be identified with the political Right even though Christianity questions authority and promotes sharing community, at the same time as it promotes traditional values and individual responsibility.

It seems to me that good management and Christianity are neither Left nor Right and may actually have a lot in common.

Much of contemporary popular management literature effectively plagiarises Biblical wisdom. Take for instance vision and purpose led business; discovering and playing to individuals’ strengths; discovering the engaging, innovating power of doing good things together; selling goods and services and optimising supply chains through genuine, mutually serving relationships and collaboration; individuals’ responsibility to maximise the value of their talents.

The sooner we remove the blinkers of political stereotyping and get seriously down to the work of turning the Word or words into living reality, the better.

How many environmental and economic catastrophes does it take for interrelational behaviour-change to be explicit in every organisation’s top five strategic priorities? When will specific interpersonal behaviour-change figure in everyone’s KPIs?

Pretty damn soon I hope.


Monday, 15 March 2010

99.9% of the time a miracle will happen

99.9% of the time a miracle will happen – says a mathematician acquaintance.

Trouble is, 99.8% of the time we don’t see, don’t recognise, don’t make room for miracles, little or big – too driven by managerial accountability systems, individualistic endeavour, and social mis/disconnection (despite ‘social media’).

Stressed out we anxiously push, drive, and control to achieve success. The greater our responsibility and desire to succeed the more we stress and the fewer miracles we experience.

The thing about miracles is that we can’t make them happen, least of all by ourselves.

I’m excited that I seem to be developing ‘miracle-sight’: I’m seeing the recent tipping point; peripety; watershed in my work life as the product of a of complex continuum of interacting stories, events and relationships that I could never have achieved myself; a miracle, out of a web of miracles that I would doubtlessly have confounded by engineered efforts.

My story seems to turn on a long-planned 10-day wilderness adventure with old (in every sense) friends in the pristine coastal forest near West Cape, Fiordland, New Zealand.

In a brief hour from nearly-nowhere we fly: a flimsy shuddering noisy spec thwacking across the grand diorama of massive monoliths; skimming stag-lined razor ridges rising rapidly to meet us, then cutting straight to gut-dropping, sphincter clenching precipices.

When the mountain fortress opens to coastal plain we yaw and swing along the unnamed gorge finally slewing and settling on our Google-Earth-familiar gravel bank; the storm-surged, crashing cove’s tide stained red-amber by the tannin-rich river.

Abruptly abandoned by the clattering chopper, the noisy silence of our ancient new world’s a rough cut from one life to another.

The prospect and consummation of this adventure are lever and fulcrum into a new narrative phase where past work-life loose ends and abandoned threads seem touched with new meaning, new possibilities, and an excitement of renewed hope.

Chapter end; new chapter; watershed; new terrain; new horizon; new life in a new organisational setting, renewed purpose anchored in deeply held values, ruled by passion for service over personal success.

It’s with Challenge Trust. There’s hope in that name.

Opposing views:
P1010106 (1)

P3070139 (1)

Top: View from the river mouth, tide out, over the shingle-bank across our cove during a gale at sea.

Bottom: View on a brighter, calm day, half tide on the flow, from a promontory at mid-right in the top photo across our cove towards the shingle-bank. Our base-camp (not visible) is centre right amongst the larger trees behind the foreshore scrub. The beach is about 300m long.


Friday, 19 February 2010

The hidden cost of employee commitment.

The cost, especially in economic upturn, is the loss of your best employees: the ones you didn’t make redundant; those that stuck with you despite your anxious, distracted, terse, unreasonableness and slim rewards; those who’ve been quietly observing you and deciding that given opportunity, they’ll leave.

You’re not a bad person. You want to be successful in a successful enterprise. You dream of commanding the committed engaged effort of your people. You actively seek out and use a variety of managerial strategies, tools and methods to get 'buy-in' and thus engineer commitment and engagement.

But in the end you can’t control everything and when you don't deliver on your end of the bargain the integrity of your strategy is clearly compromised. Resulting shock waves of betrayal and disappointment can reflect, refract and reverberate through your organisation and your supply chain reinforcing endemic cynicism in your upstream and downstream markets.

That damaging compromise has its roots in your ‘knowing’ that despite all the bullshit to the contrary, employees can’t be trusted to comply with managers’ designs and demands unless managers get and maintain ‘buy-in’. So you get and maintain buy-in by manipulative management communication processes: by strategically 'positioning' your message to engineer willing compliance.

What most managers either don’t know or don’t really believe is that most ‘reports’ actually want to be committed to and engaged in worthwhile enterprise with other engaged committed people.

The best are so keen to taste the fruit of engagement that, full of hope and despite previous disappointment and betrayals they will risk going to extraordinary lengths to get it. They will buy in: they will ignore selfish, manipulative manager behaviour; go the extra mile; live the espoused values; believe the vision; accentuate the positive; create; collaborate and invest emotion and time.

But in time (usually between 18-30 months) through the course of events and economic (mis)fortune, it becomes increasingly apparent to them that despite the hoopla, what rules in practice is individual self interest and that's what's rewarded. Individual self interest is best served through filtering and limiting communication, through manipulative communication and cultivated dependency.

Cynicism grows, resentment spreads, engagement wanes and from those who gave, more is taken: their satisfactions, hopes, spark, power, and pride eroded; accelerated when they are blamed for their predicament.

Separation follows. Angry, sad, and disappointed they take their knowledge and their potential with them leaving those who precipitated it: kings over their small domains of the cynical and still-hopeful.

The good news for those little kings is that they have another chance to deeply believe that their best bet individually and collectively is to stop manipulating and get out of the way of people who desperately want to be committed to and fully engaged in doing good things together.

If you’re one of those kings, how can you ensure that you will behave differently this time? Clue, you can’t do it on your own. Ask some of those committed ‘serfs’ to help you. Do you have the balls to do that?


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Slow motion serendipity

Several weeks ago in Poetry at Work I contemplated  the  jolting transition from profoundly poetic to harshly prosaic.

Then suddenly I plunge into turbid work-waters, seeking uncontrived rhyme, rhythm, and reunion. Instead jolted by proudly, profoundly prosaic hard harsh habits, I struggle to rescue the dream from resigned remembrance and to surface, to breathe.

Now thankfully buoyed by miraculously new-found and re-found relationships, carried by the tidal flows that touch and disturb even dammed work-waters, I find poetry resurgent enough for shade and sustenance.

That abstract painting  uncannily resolved, unfolded in time since: change and challenge in photographic clarity. Doors closing and doors opening in slow motion serendipity; results crystallised in retrospect.

Therein lies a riddle clear to some, resolved for others in weeks to come.

Truth is some dammed work-waters can drown even a buoyant psyche. 

Salvation lies in the deep tidal flows that despite our plans and protestations lead us resurgent to unexpected places.  .  .  .  .  .


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Will 2010 Be As You Like It?

‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” says Bill Shakespeare’s character Jacques in As You Like It, Act II Sc vii,

To what story, what climax, what denouement have you renewed your commitment, passion and determination this year?

The evidence is clear that if you set your goal then commit to it by focusing on completing specific actions towards that goal, then you have a very high probability of achieving it. It gets messier if you can’t do it on your own; if you need others to commit and focus on it too.

How can you get those others to want what you want? How can you get them to “buy into” it; to play your game, run your race, act in your theatre; accept your rules and judgement?

Typically you cast yourself as the master puppeteer: as lord of the dance; you pull the strings. A lot depends on your skill and alacrity at manipulating strings: at management.

No wonder then that managers have such a major influence on businesses: by some reports over 70% of employee behaviour is determined by the actions of managers (I wonder who determines managers’ behaviour).

So if your marionettes are not responding as planned, do you become an even better puppeteer: do you contrive with the latest tools, systems and processes to increase control by adding more ‘invisible’ strings?

Or do you seek to breathe life into your marionettes; into their wooden minds, hearts and limbs; risk letting them influence the dance, the narrative, and the score? Do you risk letting them be the stars?

Will they want to stay with your small show? Will they perform like you? Will they covet your role?

Do they understand the play? Does it speak to them? Do they relate emotionally to their roles and to each other. Are the roles shallow, 2 dimensional or are they ‘character’ roles.

Does the play have a universal quality that appeals on multiple levels to different players and its audience? Or is it a cheap circus that abuses its talent?

What are you playing at?


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Poetry at Work.

Last week lone-sailing Seascape, my 12 foot, clinker-style dinghy; hushed breeze rushing, bow splashing and wake boiling, I slipped and sliced, suspended on chrome-smooth sky-tinted surfaces, ruffled, disturbed, even annoyed by mercurially agitated warm humid breezes. Mind in neutral, senses wired for sudden shifts, body and boat commune, response-merged pursuing purpose.

Then suddenly I plunge into turbid work-waters, seeking uncontrived rhyme, rhythm, and reunion. Instead jolted by proudly, profoundly prosaic hard harsh habits, I struggle to rescue the dream from resigned remembrance and to surface, to breathe.

Now thankfully buoyed by miraculously new-found and re-found relationships, carried by the tidal flows that touch and disturb even dammed work-waters, I find poetry resurgent enough for shade and sustenance.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Life and purpose renewed

I just returned from our regular Christmas pilgrimage to the New Zealand bush: dating back to the late 1970s when a group of friends purchased 150 acres (60 ha) of rugged bush country on the Tutaetoko river near Opotiki. We call the place St Jude’s. How we arrived at that name is another story but coincidentally perhaps St Jude is traditionally the patron saint of lost or impossible causes.

In many ways, St Jude’s bush camp is an unlikely cause; a collaboration for recovery: respite, reflection, reconnection, recreation, rejuvenation and inspiration; therapeutic activity, friendship and durable relationship spanning life’s changes; a materially very simple environment cut off by high-ridge, river and rugged terrain from electricity and mobile phone; the moist musk fragrance and entrancing sounds of New Zealand bush unfiltered, unframed, unmitigated; an antidote to the disconnection of contemporary life and work.

The pace is easy but the essence of life and relationship strong and obvious in the activity of provisioning, cooking, hospitality, construction and adventure. Firewood must be collected and cut and fires tended to produce hot water and food. Food safety, fresh water and waste management are everyday issues. Provisioning, cooking and eating are communal in the the high-gabled, open-walled, wharenui style communal shelter: rustic corrugated-iron roof and fireplace and crucially, long table.

The river rules: its course changing with each winter’s rain; its soothing chuckling waters made turbid torrents by summer-storms cutting camp from road and storm winds wreaking havoc amongst poorly pitched tents; overseen by the deep-gullied bush that dispassionately disorients and injures unwary adventurers.

But, in the shelter, on warm breathless nights, open-laughing faces glow by unflickered candle light and the coals of the cooking fire. Beyond, in soft darkness, campfire-lit figures reflect, intimately cocooned by the benign brooding milky-way come down to the ridge-tops.