Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #4

November 9, 2010 4 comments

This is the fourth of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“Prosperity is the best protector of principle.” – Mark Twain

Right to Market™ (R2M™) involves introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimizing, and retiring them as necessary. In Blog #2 of this series, we noted that both Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) are based on achieving R2M. We also noted that SCA pits both employees and organizations against one another in a never ending competitive “survival of the fittest”, whereas SA strategy and implementation are based on a much more desirable win-win collaboration of all parties. In other words, SCA tries to push change into being – yeah, just like pushing on a rope – while SA pulls change into being. Now however it’s time to pull a different rope!

Given the growing business sensitivity to ecological and social concerns it is apparent that R2M™ has become outmoded, and that SA will be less and less persuasive in the future. This is because innovations must now combine economic and social knowledge with technological and scientific knowledge to ensure that an organization’s products, services and activities are meaningful and sustainable in a triple bottom line (TBL) sense i.e. in an economic, social, and ecological harmony we call Organizational Sustainable Advantage™ (OSA™).

OSA™ results from following a Right for Market™ (R4M™) approach. R4M™ is an innovation on the R2M™ approach, whereby an organization makes sure that its R2M™ strategy and implementation plans are based not only on a win-win collaboration of all parties, but on strategy and implementation plans that are ethical, and without negative impact on relevant ecological, sociological or environmental systems. In other words, OSA™ is still pulling change into being, but it goes to a new level by adding the TBL elements as a significant component of sense making and decision making. This must be achieved whilst still emphasizing the culture value-set that enfranchises, to the greatest extent feasible, employee participation through informal learning and the social technologies that act as stimulus for positive behavioral drivers.

OSA plays a powerful role in transitioning an organization to the polyarchic structure highlighted in earlier blogs. This structure accords the degree of distributed influence requisite to shaping a new culture, and shaping occurs from the bottom up as well as from top down to effectuate a gradual acclimation to new processes that form the necessary foundations. Drucker noted that: “Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. All members need to think through what they aim to accomplish-and make sure that their associates know and understand that aim. All have to think through what they owe to others-and make sure that others understand. All have to think through what they in turn need from others-and make sure that others know what is expected of them”. OSA incorporates key Network Visualization Analysis capabilities that help to acknowledge which and where key personnel are contributing, and acts to direct the organization to incentivize appropriately.

Sustainability models derive conceptually from natural self-organizing structures that build colonies of knowledge aggregation and mobilization that effortlessly optimize ‘the best solution’ –  a process greatly hindered in standard top down cultures. The natural state of every sustainable system moves toward balance that is fluid and freely adaptive to necessary improvements.  Responsiveness to critical knowledge is a core exemplar of OSA functionality.  The capacity to observe, address and respond in a timely manner to key issues affords the agile organization the capability to stay ahead of the marketplace by authoring and acting in anticipation of, not only reacting to, marketplace demands.

In the upcoming fifth Blog of this series, the triple bottom line approach to sustainability plus its monitoring and reporting are discussed in more practical detail.

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #3

November 2, 2010 1 comment

This is the third of six contiguous Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams. In this third Blog further cultural implications of Sustainable Advantage (SA) are explored.

“It is not who is influential that counts but who acts as a catalyst for conversation” – Keith O’Brien

Sustainable Advantage (SA) has been discussed in Blogs #1 & 2 of this series dealing with TBL Sustainability. It is clear that change is fundamental to SA, and change is a constant continuum – a flowing circadian dynamic that yearns to be harnessed. The ability to purpose the momentum of change is colored by an organization’s prior experience of change. When starting to contemplate SA as an organizational change opportunity, and how it might be managed, it is useful initially to spend time reviewing and learning from previous change-related experience, and re-assessing the organization’s culture and design.

Change takes root best in a culture of innovation that incorporates an inclusive collaborative mindset, and that embraces change as an organic evolutionary process of co-production. As emphasized in Blog #1 of this series, a decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization. In particular, the sense of incorporation from many perspectives in a decentralized organization creates a balance and an harmonious relationship with change, rarely the case in current or previous models of ‘change management’.

How well or badly churn has been integrated into the daily work flow is also an indicator of sustainability potential. Churn is typically viewed as deleterious from an organizational harmony viewpoint, but for a decentralized organization focusing on SA, churn is integral to its change momentum, and new and existing incumbents can champion innovation from a place of congruence, comprehensively cognizant of choices and challenges.

An organization seeking SA must cultivate a culture enfranchising sustainable principles and innovation at its foundation. There must be a synergistic co-operative culture that fosters thinking on how everything can be improved. Management must seek a balance between financial viability and strategies to gain and maintain market uniqueness through environmentally sustainable practices, including product and process innovation, as well as the development of sustainable supply chain management. There must be a motivational visionary strategy allied with a deep human context structure, and workforce integration systems of high efficiency, capability and efficacy. Costs must be reduced, and there must be task agility for optimal productivity. Leadership is at the heart of a healthy organization, but it must beat with the ring of authenticity – people will follow where their heart is engaged.

This kind of strong organizational culture confers a fundamental and unique advantage. If building and sustaining an innovation culture focused on commitment to the organization’s goals remains central to all activities, the potential for sustainable success is increased immeasurably. To promote creativity the organization’s leaders must pull the culture into being by giving the right incentives to key people, encouraging them to think creatively, and with every achievement, giving them the confidence to think ‘out of the box”. This can only be accomplished where the environment supports such activities. ‘Soft spaces’ within the formality of the corporate environment nurture such engagement to great effect; it is no surprise that the factors that most strongly predict rapid change, adaptation, and innovation introduction, are related to collegial, participative and open organizational systems, and cultures that permit joint problem solving without boundary interference. These are the kinds of decentralized organizations where individuals have the freedom to take risks and develop new ideas, be creative, and challenge existing organizational norms.

In the upcoming fourth Blog of this series, the implications a Triple Bottom Line approach to SA will be explored.

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #2

October 27, 2010 3 comments

This is the second of six contiguous Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams. In this second Blog, differences between Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) are explored, and the relevance and promotion of innovation are reviewed.

“It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change.” – The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin

How successful you become at acquiring and retaining a leading position in your niche marketplace depends critically on how you position your business relative to other businesses. Having significant differentiation continuously proposed from an engaged workforce can provide a formidable distinctive resource for promoting and maintaining marketplace uniqueness. Sustainable Advantage (SA) advocates an engaged workforce as a necessary component for continuous improvement, and this employee-centric culture becomes as much your foundational differentiation as the products or services you provide.

Organizational culture is defined as the collective behavior of a group of people aligned to a corporate vision, demonstrating shared values, habits, common working language, systems and ethos. The ecosystem infrastructure is defined as a common support environment, interwoven with processes, and underscored with the necessary technologies, where the behaviors of different individuals bring to the SA workplace uniqueness in knowledge conditioned by social attitudes. A given corporate culture invariably reflects the moral, social, and behavioral norms of the constituents of that organization, based on their values, attitudes and priorities. When efforts have been made to create a commonality of values that all can aspire to and adopt, it is provable that just the day-to-day work climate can en-culturate a population. For example, without regard for diversity, the bond forged corporately mashes the workforce under a common banner – in this case SA.

SA differs significantly from the familiar Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA). Both SA and SCA are based on achieving Right to Market™ (R2M™), where R2M™ involves introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimizing, and retiring them as necessary; however. SCA pits both employees and organizations against one another in a never ending competitive “survival of the fittest” whereas SA strategy and implementation are based on a win-win collaboration of all parties.

Innovation is vital for bringing about improved performance and efficiency, and is widely acknowledged to be a critical determinant of uniqueness, profitability and overall positioning. SA ensures that innovation is being enabled by the knowledge present across an organization’s marketplace networks, and at every level and from every departmental corner of that organization, propelling and accelerating such innovation. SCA is only qualified as a continuum of innovation to build perpetual differentiation among employees and with, and among, competitors. In contrast, SA promotes open innovation through communication and collaboration in an organization’s marketplace networks, whilst also creating conduits of continuous communication to capture contributions by collaborative employees. This co-opts commitment and buy-in from other organizations as well as every member of staff. The result is a formidable benchmark, and a peer culture of personal accountability, that underscores a daily commitment to improving how things get done. The SA ‘sweet-spot’ is quickly identified, since engaged internal and external networks provide a stream of qualified improvements – they are engaged because they invest in the high value of the ‘relationship capital’ that such broad collaboration rewards.

To grow a culture of innovation it is critical that an organization evolve an SA that instills a long-tail objective. Over what time horizon is your organization really forecasting? Beware! If it isn’t at least the next decade, your vision is short term, and your SA will be unsustainable!!

In the upcoming third Blog of this series further cultural implications of Sustainable Advantage (SA) will be explored.

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #1

October 22, 2010 6 comments

This is the first of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“We now know that the source of wealth is something specifically human: knowledge. If we apply knowledge to tasks we already know how to do, we call it productivity; if we apply knowledge to tasks that are new and different, we call it innovation. Only knowledge allows us to achieve those two goals. Organizations that are efficient and effective in applying knowledge will succeed better than their competitors” – Peter Drucker

Business as usual is no longer an option – it is obvious that traditional organizational design has not worked in today’s complex business environments. New ways of thinking and organizing are critically important if organizations are to do more with less, and ensure ongoing business growth and renewal.

Most of today’s organizations are set up like spider webs with thinking and command at the centre, and planning and control exerted through the web threads. The problem is that command and control operation is far too inefficient in terms of speed and efficiency, too clumsy in terms of knowledge management, and too lacking in variety for today’s complex dynamic business contexts. Top-down corporations need to adapt their fundamental structure to change from a command and control model to one that promotes facile communication incorporating social trust and widespread knowledge sharing – in other words to survive surging market competition organizations must decentralize.

A decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization, allowing not only for the natural development of the key capabilities needed for the organization to operate creatively and successfully in face of today’s constantly changing circumstances and environmental demands, but equally to address the needs of a churning workforce that increasingly includes a new breed of worker – the Generation Y Millennials, the cohort born between the mid-70s and the early 2000s. Organizations challenged with three generations of employees need novel organizational strategies to accommodate employees’ varied learning requirements and to foster work satisfaction. Decentralized organizations are more responsive to market forces and employee variety, are agile in implementation, and are consistently adaptive to innovative processes that promote and empower continuous improvement at the rock face of employee daily-deliverables.

Decentralization as it is implemented today typically involves creating a starfish configuration, comprised of small hubs capable of operating, growing and multiplying interdependently of each other. The starfish model is used by innumerable organization designers around the globe today. Although it is an advance over the spider web design, and does facilitate significant strategic advantages to emerge from daily operations in ways that play a significant role in continuous improvements informing sustainable advantage, the starfish model still does not go far enough to provide a truly sustainable systemic approach to organizational design.

Genuine Sustainable Advantage (SA) demands a much more polyarchic approach, providing both independency and interdependency of all major components of organizational processes. In the SA model people become epi-central to the co-evolution and co-maintenance of strategy, structure, processes, and rewards. Human-centric organizations include employees in most of the organization’s responsibilities and decision-making, ensuring incremental investment by each member in the rigors and rewards of a profitable company.

In the second Blog of this series the critical differences between Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) will be explored, and the relevance and promotion of innovation reviewed.

Social Commerce and Successful Supply Chain Development

May 17, 2010 1 comment

A supply chain (SC) in which the members are strategically, operationally, and technologically integrated is fundamental to commercial success in many businesses, and SCs continue to be adopted by organizations as a strategic vehicle for creating and sustaining market advantage. Claims for the success of supply chain management (SCM) have traditionally been largely based on efficiency improvements (e.g. time compression, cost cutting and quality improvement) and innovative supply chain factors which enhance consumer value have been underplayed.  This Blog is to heighten awareness of the huge influence that social commerce may have in ensuring successful supply chain development, where social commerce is defined as all manner of intra- and inter-organizational social discourse particularly related to market concerns e.g. F2F meetings, communities of practice, social networks, social media, Enterprise 2.0 etc..

First of all, there needs to be a realization that indeed there is an unbalanced focus on technical and rational perspectives in SC practice that has resulted in the ignorance of potential innovations that could result from understanding the complex social and political issues that are an integral part of any supply chain. In defense of this bias it should be noted that ‘people issues’ such as culture, trust, aversion to change, opportunism, willingness to relinquish control, and willingness to collaborate, are intractable issues that organizations avoid addressing at all costs. This is especially true in cultures where emotion-laden subjects are un-discussable i.e. most organizations! Difficulties in acknowledging and addressing these cultural issues imply that for effective implementation, SCM must be aligned with an appropriately developed organizational culture e.g. see the EVO approach (http://www.tlainc.com/TLO%20V3%20N4%2096.pdf).

Collaboration is highly important if SCs are intended to lead to innovation, since the innovation potential of a SC is based on the skills and expertise of each supply chain member. In order to generate SC innovations, member organizations must understand the dynamics of the supply chains that they are involved in. For example, successful SCM involves horizontal cross functional integration, based on inter-organizational relationships which increase trust and collaboration, not only across but also within firms. The need for common or translatable value systems, language, symbolic artifacts and protocols or etiquette have been shown to be important for developing shared understanding and thus enhancing the chance of trust and commitment, not only across the whole SC, but also in each particular organization. This ensures that each trading partner increases trust in the other members of the SC to keep them committed.

The conventional approach to SCM views the supply chain as a linear process involving discrete organizational entities that are tightly linked from the source of supply to the supply of a final product or service to consumers or end users. Such SCM emphasizes major functions such as outsourcing, supply management, chain management, relationship management and power management. The current alternative view, which focuses on the social commerce among members, does not imply that the management of these major functions is not crucial, but rather that principles of organic and facilitative management through stimulation of learning, networking and expectation alignment should be incorporated in the management of these functions. Many SC practitioners have difficulty moving from the conventional view to one which focuses on social collaborative arrangements among members, and thus remain uninformed about the learning-related processes they could employ to build relationships and better integrate.

People who commit the firm to SC promises must be empowered and resourced to execute them, and must have the appropriate knowledge and skills provided by training, learning-by-doing, and Knowledge Management (KM) processes. A key competency therefore is the ability to learn or acquire the needed knowledge and the capacity to identify key information, understand the competitive importance of the knowledge and apply it. Learning in supply chains requires a high level of trust that allows partners to openly share sensitive information in order to gain full benefits of collaboration. If an organizational partner has excellent learning capacity, inter-organizational trust intensifies, and as the whole supply chain learns to work collaboratively and trustingly, the KM principles adopted will unleash immense creativity and innovation providing significant advantage to supply chain partners. In order to gain the necessary trust and commitment for this to happen, the organizational values and culture need to support the creation of social capital (SC).

The concept of social capital is useful for representing the collaborative status of relationships across an organization. Although there is no uniformly accepted definition of social capital, its meaning in an organizational setting has been defined as “The set of resources, tangible or virtual, that accrue to a corporate player through the player’s social relationships, facilitating the attainment of goals.” [1] A growing body of opinion sees social capital as an important source of commercial advantage. The importance of social capital is often under-valued in SCM but its value in my opinion must not be underestimated. Social capital might be viewed as the relational glue that underlies the effectiveness of supply chains, and it comes into its own particularly in supply chain situations that are complex and ambiguous.

Successful innovations are generated when key processes such the formation of wide and interconnected intra- and inter-organizational networks, and extensive experimentation, and broad learning are emphasized. SC practitioners may be considered members of a community of practice rather than members of disconnected functions along a chain. This requires that SC members actively and deliberately explore together their relationships. This collaborative learning builds competence, commitment, and accountability to their community of practice. In this way they adopt a people-centric social learning approach towards better understanding customers’ and/or SC participants’ perspectives and needs, promoting further supply chain integration. It is clearly important to underpin such inter- and intra-organizational social networks with a multitude of social commerce related communication channels within which SC actors may share learning and insight, and to introduce Enterprise 2.0 and social media  where possible.

[1] Gabbay, S.M., and Leenders, R.T.A.J. (1999),  “The structure of advantage and disadvantage”,  in R.T.A.J. Leenders and S.M. Gabbay (Eds.), Corporate social capital and liability, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.

Change Proofing

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

In 1995 I co-authored a paper [1] about “Change Proofing” – the ability of a commercial organization to manage change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks. Examples up to that time included trauma due to third world debt in the 1970s, the energy industry in the 1980s, and commercial real estate and corporate buy-outs in the 1990s.

History shows that the consequences of failing to recognize and interpret harbingers of change can be devastating. It is said that the ancient Peruvian Indians were unable to “see” the sails of the invading Spanish fleet, and dismissed them as mirages. More recent historical (hysterical?) examples of myopia include US automobile manufacturers who were blinkered to Pacific-Rim competitors, and even IBM, which was long unprepared for opportunities presented by the explosive growth of personal computing.

Clearly-identified business trends, such as globalization, technology, demographics and new social orders, had often been cited up to 1995 as drivers of change. However, little attention had been given to management of change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks, such as rapid oil price changes or the sudden collapse of centrally-planned economies. Few models of such change, or techniques to plan or cope with it had been presented in the literature in 1995 or since for that matter, although even in 1993 according to such an authority as Ed Schein [2]: “…the problem is not management of change but the management of surprise”.

Change Proofing was not intended as a means to resist or avoid change, but rather a process for becoming more flexible and responsive in order to cope with it. The Change Proofing paper proposed that environmental shocks and surprises could best be managed by increasing the ability of the organization itself to anticipate, recognize and respond to them – surprise surprise – before hand! The paper set out theoretical reasoning, but more importantly it detailed a straightforward practical Change Audit that would help organizations of all types and sizes frame and address critical factors for Change Proofing; form more realistic and objective views of radical environmental change; and develop better means of coping with surprise. The paper also recommended that the Change Audit should cover organizational learning processes and their impact on strategic focus, motivation and core capabilities.

So what can one say about current events? Too bad so many of today’s organizations haven’t read the paper or didn’t heed its message?! Well, it’s not too late to plan for next time – and there will be a next time – so I invite you to have a look at the paper now …

[1] Drew, S.A.W. & Smith, P., The Learning Organization: Change Proofing and Strategy, The Learning Organization, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1995

[2] Schein, E.H., How can organizations learn faster? The challenge of the green room, Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1992; pp. 85 – 92

Developing Sustainable Organizations Using the Sustainability Score Card™

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog by Peter A.C. Smith and Dr. Carol Zulauf-Sharicz (Suffolk University, Boston)

Definitions of sustainability range over many different domains such as profit, viability, energy, ecologies, natural resources, organization, and society to name just a few. Most of these definitions are different and none of them totally satisfy requirements to cover all aspects of the subject.  We feel that since a complete definition is not feasible at this time a pragmatic approach based on relevant current research and practical concerns is valid. Therefore we focus here only on the sustainability of commercial organizations, especially organizations functioning in complex environments such as those that face firms locally and globally today and for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that some or all of the following may not be more generally relevant. Further, we define sustainability as the capability of an organization to be viable over extended periods of time in a commercial sense whilst being an exemplar in avoiding potential or real negative ecological and social impacts related to its activities.

What makes an organization sustainable?  First, achieving “Right for Market™” (R4M™).  R4M™means introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts at the right price with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimising, and retiring them as necessary; and secondly, making sure that achieving R4M™ does not negatively impact relevant ecological or social systems. These two points demand extensive internal and external knowledge and awareness. This may only be satisfied if the organization is founded in complexity and learning based on systemic approaches.  In particular sustainability demands innovative approaches and fresh thinking for the necessary transformative changes to take place and organizational self-actualization in terms of sustainability to be achieved.

With respect to individuals and their self actualization, Abraham Maslow developed a well-known hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that human beings have an innate drive to satisfy these needs, and that they form a hierarchy – Maslow drew the hierarchy as a pyramid. At the lowest level he placed a person’s physiological needs e.g. food, water. Once the physiological needs are met humans look to satisfy what Maslow called the safety needs e.g. law, stability.  When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness e.g. love, community.  According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will the individual seek esteem.  Maslow divided this class of needs into two sub-classes.  The first involves the need for self-evaluation e.g. self-esteem, confidence; the second involves the views of others e.g. reputation, prestige.  There is a further less-well formulated stage that often, if not always, develops even if the lower needs are satisfied whereby individuals feel a new discontent and restlessness unless the individual is doing what they are fitted for – this is epitomized in the expression “What a person can be, they must be” and relates to self-actualization.

Maslow made the point that some needs are under the control of others (in the others’ domain), for example safety, recognition, enumeration. Other needs can be satisfied by the individual him or herself (one’s own domain), for example self-esteem and self-actualization. In this regard, Maslow had the further notion of “threshold limits” making the point that individuals should set a target for satisfying their own needs “in others’ domain” at the boundary between “justifiable appetite” and “greedy desire”.  Maslow further postulated that the energy used in seeking to satisfy “greed” saps the individual’s capability to satisfy needs “in one’s own domain”.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Turns out by analogy “quite a lot”! We can view the needs and development of organizations in a similar way to those ascribed to individuals by Maslow. Further, by equating this development as a journey toward self-actualization in sustainability terms, we can identify organizational behaviors and stages of sustainability development. For example, the initial stage is related to making a profit sufficient to stay in business; short term viability is the key concern and other sustainability aspects are not of concern. The second stage is related to having standards and laws that protect the organization and sustainability other than viability is seen as burdensome. The third stage involves lip service to the communities and the ecological and social standards in which it operates; the organization no more than complies with regulations that govern organizational conduct. It is not until the organization has satisfied these needs that the organization will address Maslow’s “esteem” level when what employees think becomes important, and the organization is confident of its viability and its place in the world of business. After this what others in the broader community think becomes very important, and since this organization now yearns for high reputation and prestige it will take the initiative in preventing negative ecological and social impacts. Finally, an organization will truly become sustainable when it applies the idea that “what an organization can be, it must be” and it then operates as an exemplar of all that is included in our sustainability definition. Further, as Maslow suggested, such an organization will operate at a commendable boundary in “others’ domain” and will be thus able to channel its energies internally to appropriately satisfy the needs of “its own domain.”

For organizations to meaningfully contribute to their own sustainability their activities need to be reported and measured against identified goals. To this end the profit/ economic survival balance sheet must be amended to include bottom lines for environmental and social accountability. This has become known as the triple bottom line and there may yet be other measurements that will be added.  This new way of assessing an organization’s performance is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today; however, the application of the Maslow hierarchy to an organization allows stages and behaviors on the journey toward sustainability to be described, and a “Sustainability Score Card™” developed, that allows the organization readily to track progress and report measurements.

Please clic the link to if you would like information concerning the related Seminar. To get to  know more about building & leading sustainable organizations and how the Sustainability Score Card™ enhances your potential to achieve this goal, please give us a call through The Leadership Alliance Inc. …. our best to you, Carol and Peter

Power over vs Power to ..

August 27, 2009 2 comments

One may provide all the rational understanding and wherewithal for individuals or communities to accomplish a given objective, but if they don’t want to do it then it won’t happen, or the effort will be half-hearted with predictable results. Surely this simple truth is common knowledge, but much of the organizational managerial establishment still doesn’t get it – having ‘power over’ may make you feel good, but it’s a strategy that starts off suboptimal and goes down hill from there.

Of course organizations do routinely operate under a façade of rationality, but they still over-emphasize the goal-orientation that drives them, and under-value the expressive affective arenas of life; this in spite of a large influx of women into the workforce. In 1973 Gerard Egan wrote “Emotional repression in undoubtedly still a far greater problem than emotional overindulgence” [1]. Some thirty-odd years later this statement is as true as ever in my opinion; society still equates management capability with emotional maturity.

This translates as the control or repression of feelings, and organizations continue to use the word ‘emotional’ in a derogatory sense. Indeed, since managers are often guarded in their feelings, they prefer others to behave in the same way: “It is thought uncivil, rude, unconventional, unwarranted, and even obscene to express feelings toward others.  Emotional insulation parades under such euphemisms as ‘respect for others’ and ‘the dignity of privacy’” [2]; I would go further and include that it parades as ‘respect for our leaders and managers’. Putnum and Mumby quote Lutz who sums it up well: “In addition to treating emotion as a physiological state, people regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a deviation from what is seen as intelligent” [3].

Perhaps there is a fear in leaders and managers that focusing on emotional energy leads to loss of control; this is not the case: “Organizations do not need to abandon instrumental goals, productivity, or rationality to develop alternative modes of discourse. Emphasizing work feelings calls for including what is currently ignored or marginalized in organizational life. Rationality is not an objective, immutable state. Rather it is socially constructed and cast as the dominant mode of organizing. Rationality and technical efficiency, however, should be embedded in a larger system of community and interrelatedness. Perhaps organizations of the future could offer society a new alternative, one shaped by emotionally-connected creativity and mutual understanding as necessary elements for human growth.” [4].

A growing issue is that so much interpersonal communication is no longer face-to-face but ‘second-hand’ – mediated through technology, and “Technology makes it easy to fake authenticity, to manipulate it, to have encounters that seem authentic but are not” [5]; however, although technology such as email seems tailor-made for the powerful elite to hand out ‘the tablets’, social networking tools such as twitter and facebook offer huge opportunities for honest social interaction, and indeed demand a level of emotional honesty for social network trust and acceptance. I am encouraged by the way social networking tools leverage the community-influence of individuals to combat ‘power-over’ e.g. the political struggle in Iran. I also see why there will be resistance to inclusion of such tools in an organization’s inernal-use technology portfolio – but we can hope!

Social systems are highly complex and there is no guarantee that a particular seemingly desirable starting condition, such as the widespread introduction of social networking technology into organizations, will result in a desirable end-state. I do believe though that it would be a step in the right direction, helping to redirect the emotional labor that employees currently expend in subverting authoritarianism and emotional control, and channel it such that they display leadership in, and take personal responsibility for, shaping their own self-organizing system. “Here, ideally, people would give up some of their uniqueness to help build the edifice or common system, rather than clamoring for more power for their system, which then gets experienced as power over other people” [6].

Human nature being what it is, I do not believe that it is possible to build a paradise where an organization will fully succeed in dealing appropriately with all the complexities of the interactions within its social systems. I do believe however that an organization can strike an adequate balance between power-over/rationality/technical efficiency and non-rational factors, such that each field contributes to, and supports the other, in optimizing performance. I contend that by adopting this approach the quality of work, and work life of the organization, would be vastly enhanced over time, and that the ground would be well prepared for general adoption of much needed traits of leadership and personal responsibility at all employee levels. I would like to hear your views – please contact me to further explore these topics.

Notes

[1] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 61

[2] Egan, G., Face To Face, Brooks/Cole Publishing, Monterey, 1973; pp. 64

[3] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 36

[4] Putnam, L.L., Mumby, D.K., Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality, in S. Fineman (Ed), Emotion in Organizations, Sage Publications, London, 1993; pp. 55

[5] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 7

[6] Lukensmeyer, C.J., Parlett, M., Power, Change, And Authenticity: A Political And Gestalt Perspective, British Gestalt Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997; pp. 13

The Titanic Syndrome

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The wealth of material in books, journals, and our tribal memory addressing change as a topic in one form or another is overwhelming. This accumulated lore has surely been building since the dawn of mankind, and includes the scholarly, the populist and the futuristic. Unfortunately, if current business news is to be believed, this body of knowledge contributes little to organizational survival.

Most managers are constantly preoccupied by change, reacting to threats and opportunities, and initiating activities based on their beliefs and aspirations. They design their organizations to ‘tame’ change, and they train their employees to ‘manage’ it. Indeed the literature is replete with authors who see this mastery of change as critical to the survival of the modern company.

Unfortunately, if current news sources are to be believed, organizations have not made a very good job of it. So if our capability to successfully address organizational change is at least adequate, why are things so bad? I believe the answer lies with what I have called for many years the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ – once the entrepreneurial business cruise is over, managers simply don’t believe their particular Titanic is sinkable.

Like the officers of the Titanic, managers don’t see any need to slow their ship down when warned of looming business icebergs. When the inevitable happens, they seek to create the illusion of progress through ‘change management’. This is almost invariably an exercise in ‘learning to do things right’ rather than ‘learning to do the right things” – even as the business is sinking the emphasis is on the best way to re-arrange the deckchairs.

The dilemma is that the managers responsible for the disaster are the same managers who are notoriously disinterested in objectively examining their own mindsets, and the part they played in the creation of the problem. I agree with the host of authorities who claim that change-related problems cannot be addressed by managers whose mental models obscure and/or contribute to the problems. All of an organization’s competitive strategies come to nothing if its managers’ business paradigm is not appropriate. When managers fall victim to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ believing their ship to be ‘Unsinkable’, it will make perfect sense to agonize over where the deckchairs should be stacked. As Kuhn said “Learning within an existing paradigm is puzzle-solving”.

In spite of the vast sums spent on management development, management thinking is still mired in industrial age thinking. Because of this, managers easily succumb to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’. Predictability is still the basis on which most organizations are run, and managers in general view the world as a big piece of clockwork. How then can we break free of the paradox that “The greater the corporate success the stronger grow the seeds of future corporate failure”? What then are we to do? Abandon ship and lose everything or ‘right quick’ come up with a new plan? But what plan? The answer lies in keeping management mindsets from hardening by changing activities and tools so that new habits of thinking and learning are developed naturally and continuously as individuals do their jobs.

In my experience this tall order can indeed be achieved by deliberately re-designing and re-developing the systemic organizational structure, processes, roles and tools to specifically develop an environment where learning will be essential to successfully carrying out the work of any employee. By changing the rules, all employees including managers are forced to change their habits of thinking and learning without necessarily being made aware that this is happening. In this way seventy-five percent of the community will be learning rather than just the fifteen percent natural learners. Indeed, since the emphasis may be placed on performance, driven by business outcomes, the whole organization will concentrate its energies towards its own continuing business viability.

If you would like to explore these concepts further or learn more about the real life work on which they are based please contact me – I’ll be delighted to dialogue with you.

Dancing with the Gorilla!

July 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Once upon a time the pace of change was slow enough that we could adapt either by making small adjustments or by passing our insights on to the next generation. Today the pace of technological and social change accelerates almost continuously, and the necessary adjustments are so large as to lead us to talk about the “management of discontinuities” and our insights are often out of date as soon as we formulate them.

Our environment has become so large, interconnected, complex and unpredictable that the only kind of stability we can find is dynamic – like a boat in a storm. Each day brings more surprises and we ponder “What in the world is happening to the world?” Our answer to this question shapes our individual world view that in turn shapes just about everything we do – so let’s explore a couple of world views ….. Enter the Gorilla of change that your organization is partnered to dance with whether you like it or not! Wake Up!! The trampling has commenced ….

The gorilla represents contextual change that can cause anything from minimal organizational discomfort to deathly executive fear – simple transition or absolute chaos. In the past the gorillas you and your organization danced with came from zoos, and were docile old things that gave you a very few surprises if any. They had names like unrest, confusion, transition, competition and the like. Your organization knew all the moves and steps and the dance went quite smoothly.

Suddenly the supply of tame gorillas dried up and all the new gorillas you partner with now have just come from the jungle. These gorillas are wild and unpredictable, and have names like ambiguity, disorder, complexity, and chaos – even dare we say it “global crisis”! Now, there are two ways you and your organization can dance today with these gorillas (1) the old way where you imposed the steps, or (2) a new way in which you learn to let the steps emerge.

Let’s review these two world views ….

1.    You impose the steps and you:

  • see the future as an extension of the past and the steps are laid out
  • strive for routine and predictability emphasizing efficiency (“doing it right”) over effectiveness (“doing the right thing”)
  • fall victim to the “It has always worked” syndrome
  • develop an organization that learns the steps from its own old manuals
  • suffer under the curse of the paradigm so that the dance ends catastrophically. A paradigm is mental model of the world. It is useful for aligning the thinking and effort of all organizational members but over time it becomes a restrictive communal mindset where challenge to the status quo is unthinkable – be prepared to be trampled!!

2.    You let the steps emerge and you:

  • “Go with the flow” … the dance is a complex system and you leverage the “exploitation/exploration” tension to your advantage
  • embrace entrepreneurship and innovation, striving for continuous renewal
  • strive for both effectiveness and efficiency
  • are agile and leverage the knowledge in your human capital
  • avoid the curse of the paradigm by ensuring freedom at all organizational levels to make decisions based on a culture of high autonomy – high alignment
  • promote social networks and social networking
  • are sensitive to what your organization’s “opinion leaders” are counseling

It turns out that dancing with your gorilla using style #2 fits very well with newly emerging theories that involve social networks, chaordics, and complex adaptive systems, to name just a few tempos. Indeed many current authoritative judges of gorilla dancing think you will have a sound future in competitive gorilla dancing if you adopt this style … ah, but how to begin without being trampled? Why not give me a call? I’d be delighted to introduce you to some great gorilla-dancing coaches ….