Ask people what is wrong in their workplace and you can get an avalanche of woes and with just a little push, as many ideas for fixing them. At least that’s what it sounds like when nobody up the management hierarchy is present. Professor Chris Argyris of Harvard wrote about this a long time ago and frankly the cleaner could have told us that (An Interview with Chris Argyris). What he added were his observations of behaviours that seemed to maintain this situation – behaviours that undermined the ability of the organisation to learn and make appropriate changes. Behaviours that reinforced the social, power structure (hierarchy) and just as often the beliefs and attitudes people held about others. He called these behaviours ‘Organisational Defensive Routines’. Argyris identified that it took a lot of skill to use and maintain these routines. (They can be used to resist change.)
It has struck me that Argyris’s observations has similarities to the observations of Dr. Eric Berne who developed Transactional Analysis (TA) – an approach management trainers flirted with about three to four decades ago. Berne documented interactions in people’s lives that he referred to as ‘Games’. See ‘Games People Play’. Some of the games are relevant to work life and I’m sure we could identify a few that Dr. Berne has missed. One of the fun and obvious games is ‘Harassed’. Here people spend time complaining about workloads and how stressed the situation is. Importantly the participants never take positive steps to rationalise the work and will even take on new tasks. There can be auxiliary games like ‘Lunchbox’ which revolves around eating at your desk, avoiding structured breaks and appearing very committed. The games have a number of benefits including ready-made explanations for any failures/delays/poor standards and evidence of irrational managerial indifference to staff and workloads etcetera. At some point everybody is unhappy with the situation, however in the way that they are supposed to be, leading to the paradoxical conclusion that everybody is happily unhappy. Continue reading
Innovation (Innovative): The successful application of a new and or improved method or technology to meet a requirement, articulated or not. What leaders want more of, while rationing the permission to do it. Also, a term that will appear, and be used somewhere within a job description, job application, and an interview – probably more than once. The scale of innovation will not defined. It may be incrementally small or transformationally large. A ‘large‘ innovation is likely to lead to a waterfall of smaller innovations. Mimicry is a common form of innovation – applying a known idea but in a new setting. Mimicry is almost hard-wired into us and is one of our earliest learning strategies.
Failed innovation will optionally be referred to as a lesson or just as likely, reckless experimentation, incompetence, unnecessary risk-taking or some other term that can be career limiting. Risk taking is inherent to most innovations.
It is not unusual for innovations to be occurring in an organisation or even a society without people paying too much attention. Continue reading
(I’m hoping you heard the irony in the title. There is a lot more to follow. There is also a combination of doubt mixed with some cycnicism. )
I can’t help but notice that the centralization (a merger of the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services) and efficiency charge is on with the new Australian Federal Governments agenda. Corporates and Governments of all political persuasions love this option and it is the easiest (to argue) of the ‘restructuring’ initiatives to take when putting a stamp on something. In fact it has been popular since prehistory when some alpha male (note the gender bias here) discovered the benefits of ‘power’. And big consultancy houses love to advise it.
Get The Consultants: It all goes something like this! Let’s join two big departments (businesses) to create a more efficient (profitable) super Department (business) and then implement a single Information Technology system for one big place. That’s got to work! When has designing and implementing one big computer system ever been harder than doing two smaller but still very big systems? One bigger system just has to be easier to control, require less staff, reduce duplication, and reduce development costs for a computer system. It’s just so ‘rational’ I could virtually write the proposal myself however I’m a small independent consultant when what is required is a reputable, expensive, brand name, preferably international consulting group (because that has to mean they are independent) to tell you this. And in no time at all, armed with late 20-year-old MBAs from good universities, they will interview a lot of people, get a huge portfolio of metrics and find a bag full of efficiencies to be realized. And they can help you define the system requirements, architecture, and development strategy (+) for a not inconsiderable fee. Sensibly they will choose to exit before everything gets too close to delivery. Any mess should be somebody else’s fault. If you ignore the consulting fees and the redundancy packages the early signs will no doubt be good if you report them correctly.
Ideology often begins with the needs to explain, have solutions and for control of complex issues; personal, social, economic, even scientific and political. Ideology is a collection of beliefs, values, logics and practices. It quickly becomes rigid as the need to document it, reproduce it, to defend it and to be consistent emerges. New information, issues and situations need to be interpreted so as to fit into the existing ideological framework. Once in practice it is always at risk of becoming dangerous to those who agree with it (e.g. don’t use a condom in a high risk HIV community) and even more dangerous to those who don’t – see Stalin, Mao, McCarthy, any fundamentalist religion, bullying, tyranny, revolution, injustice and whistle-blowing.
One of my favorite quotes is, “All ideologies become tyrannies.” John Ralston Saul.
Every business and industry I have been associated with has a ‘story line’ or rationale about how it works and why. One reason for the story is to make clear why it is different from other businesses and industries. It is also to make any choices appear rational and give the image of control. Such rationales are okay so long as they demonstrate adaptiveness and learning. If not then they are becoming ideology and the seeds of failure have been sown.
Where there is rigidity then check for ideology. It is not unusual for economists to sound ideological – just saying.
Peter O’Reilly ©
Leadership difficulties have played a role in nearly, if not all, organisational dysfunction I have encountered. Any person involved in leadership should be casting a questioning and philosophical eye over the practice and topic of leadership. Few (I’m being generous) have a good word for the leadership of their organisations. While this hyper criticalness is partly a reflection of the dominant worldview, their comments have merit. What follows does not attempt to replicate what has been already written on the topic but captures some of my thoughts from conversations on the topic. There seems an increasing number of people who are somewhat cynical about leadership and leadership training however in the end it is still best to engage with the topic and continue to learn. Ignoring or sabotaging the learning will lead to no good! Recent events such as including terminations by email or Text message require a different discussion again – courage and respect.
Leadership without the optional bits: The ‘corporate’ worldview loves leadership, a Continue reading
Sustainable, Sustainability: A term meaning something is able to be maintained indefinitely. Also a term that is easy to understand and has obvious and endless practical applications despite being challenging to define in each context. This characteristic means that it can be attached to almost anything, at which point it begins the process of becoming common, misused and abused. Soon enough it enters the popular list of buzz words used in Public Relations and marketing. Here it is finally stripped of any meaningful public definition, appearing in endless glossy brochures for any product, development or business plan. Thereafter using the term appropriately will be viewed with the suspicion that the author is practicing Public Relations. Ironically, once ‘sustainability’ is finally rendered useless as a buzz word by the PR industry it can again become a useful concept informing public discourse and practical applications as they struggle to determine what it actually means and how to achieve it. A further irony is that most businesses using sustainability as a PR buzzword would materially benefit from exploring and applying the concept.
In Australian politics, the conservative right is likely to view any serious use of the term ‘sustainable’ as a sign you might be a lefty – unless you are from the farming sector. Meanwhile, the left is likely to view any attempts by capitalists to actually apply sustainability to projects as PR and inherently paradoxical.
Peter O’Reilly ©
Public Relations: A corporate practice designed to maintain the illusion of:
- news reporting;
- participation and consultation;
while seeking to look good (Image management), and if possible exercise control and certainty for the paying client.
Absolute control and certainty is never really possible however PR works pretty well to shape the beliefs and behaviors of the ‘targeted public’. This makes a good working definition of propaganda.
It should be no surprise that the rise of Public Relations firms has coincided with greater demands for Governments and business (Corporates) to consult on issues and projects affecting citizens. Any increase in power the citizen feels is offset by the increased levels of spin and propaganda commissioned by Corporate organizations in an attempt to redress the power balance and maintain the status quo. This strategy seems to work and so will continue for the foreseeable future.
PR is great at manufacturing and distributing memes. Memes do not need to be true, just interesting, gossipy and the possibility they are true.
Using PR to discredit a politician involves using bad photos, impugning motives, highlighting inconsistencies and holding them responsible for operational failings (See Ministerials). Do the opposite to support a politician. Present this as news. It helps PR support of a politician when the politician can lie and be inconsistent without guilt or shame.
Peter O’Reilly ©