While I have been steeped in organisations for most of my working life, I have recently been required to look at the notion of “organisation” more academically as part of my university studies. I am studying a Masters level subject called Organisational Change and Communication at UTS in Sydney, and it has been interesting.
It is the first time for quite a few years that I have gone through the world of organisations as entities v process, communication as transmission v meaning, and the various approaches relating to discourse, metaphor, cultural analysis, critical analysis and change management.
The more that I reflect on my experiences and these approaches, the more I am forced to agree with Peter Drucker’s very direct start to Management Challenges for the 21st Century (2002). He made it clear that leaders, managers, academics and researchers in the fields of organisations, management, communication and change need to challenge the very foundations and assumptions of their work.
For what it is worth, here are some of my own thoughts:
- The starting point is Anita Roddick’s fantastic observation in Business as Unusual (2000) that “we went searching for employees, but people turned up instead.”
- People gather together because it is natural. Long before “organisations” ever existed, people gathered in tribes, communities, villages and groups. Many of the theoretical approaches seem to ignore the extensive evidence that legislation, regulation and “scientific management” have tried to take this naturally occurring phenomenon and turn it into artificial attempts to manipulate individuals for one purpose or another.
- A fundamental aspect of leadership is that it is a human activity undertaken to benefit others.
- Leadership is a far more important concept than “management” or “organisation” for the success of any group put together for a purpose. This includes encouraging and creating the environment for leadership at all levels and establishing the values that have brought the group/s together.
- Too much of traditional management is undertaken to benefit ourselves instead of others, even if dressed up in the guise of “maximising shareholder value.”
- Speaking of which, Drucker, Roger Martin, Steve Denning and even, at a stretch, Jack Welch are right when they describe “maximising shareholder value” as the dumbest idea in the world, at least when it comes to describing the purpose of an organisation. It may not actually be the “dumbest” as I’ve read some pretty out there theories over the years, but it is certainly a poorly phrased and faulty approach to business to isolate shareholders as the only beneficiaries, especially to the exclusion of customers and clients.
- The value proposition for an organisation, central to organisational survival, is not about shareholders and maximising their value.
- Unfortunately, those who control the very foundations of our ability to do business, such as governments, financial institutions, insurance companies and stock exchanges among others, all gain great power and money through enforcing external frameworks that seem purpose-built to ensure the only way you can run an organisation is to maximise shareholder value.
- Many Asian cultures have long accepted a holistic approach to life, including business, that places leadership and organisations within external concepts and environments, created and shaped from the outside. At a fundamental level, before recorded history individuals gathered together as tribes often to create mutual protection from the next tribe along or to maximise the ability to harness scarce food resources. The major reason behind the creation of the tribe was this external influence.
- We have a lot to learn from Asian and other cultural approaches and it is time we did. The domination of North American thinking, sometimes combined with thinking from the UK, does not create an environment where diversity of thought can lead to significant innovation and success.
- Most particularly, the concept of the outside-in organisation, where customers/clients/members define the shared values that create the organisation is now a concept being defined by the western world, while in Asia it has been a standard operating procedure that has been diminished through western influence. This concept includes a lot more than great customer service.
There may be no “one right answer” but there have been too many poor and bad ideas because of:
- Our desire to make life easy for ourselves by dealing with the amorphous blob that is employees and management, instead of recognising that people make organisations, individually and not just collectively (just as we try and communicate through mass means because of the need for efficiency)
- Our failure to base businesses and organisations on defined sets of values shared by those who make up the organisation, external and internal
- The lack of focus on leadership at the heart of organisations, in favour of focus on command, control, structures and processes