The power of identity

The question of identity lies at the heart of recent political convulsions.  It is a critical and often misunderstood or neglected factor in the success and health of societies and organisations and it is vital that it is respected, nurtured and given appropriate expression.

The last few months has seen us all surprised (Shocked? Flabbergasted? Appalled?) by the results of the two big polls, on either side of the Atlantic. The British people voted for Brexit and the American people for Donald Trump.  In both cases the result defied most expectations and overturned conventional thinking – such as that which holds that there are some things a candidate cannot say or do and still be a credible challenger for public office.

I consider these to be deeply worrying events demonstrating neither sense nor reason.  But that is not what this blog is about. Here I want to talk about what I think is an important part of the picture and suggest some applications of what emerges for organisations. Continue reading

Whose business is it anyway?

The collapse of BHS has been met with dismay.  Pensions are at risk, many are out of work, the former chairman stands accused of taking vast sums out of the business and a British institution has disappeared from the High Street.  It is a sorry story and very distressing for those involved, but it also raises a question: whose organisation is it? Continue reading

Tradition and Change

Models of organisation 4

Many years ago I had a Sunday out with friends.  It was hot, sunny, idyllic.  We wandered as the mood took us.  In the Oxfordshire country we came upon a medieval church in the centre of a village.  We went to evensong.  We may even have sung ‘The day thou gavest Lord is ended’.  We went to the village pub afterwards.  We felt not only uplifted spiritually but immersed in an almost mystic vision of England.  I loved it and I still do.  It is rather wonderful that it can still feel like this, and there is something in it that is important to hold on to.  But there is also a nostalgia for a world that is disappearing fast.

It is a truism that people tend not to welcome change and that is as true of our corporate selves as of our personal lives.  Over time organisations develop processes and habits that seem to work and which become part of the organisation’s sense of itself.  These are not readily questioned or given up.  If the organisation becomes less successful people in it may even start to believe that its declining fortunes are a failure not of the organisation but of those who are no longer supporting it. They have ceased to ‘get it’.  The answer is to work harder, to ‘keep calm and carry on’ or to develop a new marketing strategy.  These responses don’t usually work.  If it is suggested that the customer may have a point and that more radical change is required, the organisation will often defend the way it does things as a matter of principle. Continue reading

Problems and potential in the system

Models of organisation 3

We all see organisations through different lenses. One commentator says that organisations are all about the people (‘our greatest asset’) a second will attribute success to efficient processes (‘a well-oiled machine’) others seek gifted and heroic leaders (overpaid but ‘worth it’).

Meanwhile, sustained organisational success remains elusive:  experience suggests that very few of today’s FTSE 100 companies will be in existence, never mind successful, in 30 years’ time.

In recent blogs I’ve been looking at how the models in our heads determine the way we manage our organisations and how we address their problems.  I’m not arguing that any particular model is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  But (to paraphrase Stafford Beer) some may be more useful than others and being aware of the model we use and opening ourselves up to other possibilities might give us an advantage in the tough world of organisational survival. In this blog I will explore a model (of organisations as systems) that offers richer possibilities for problem-solving and has the additional advantage of allowing the organisation to shift the focus from problem solving to the realisation of potential. Continue reading

Assumptions at work

Models of organisation 2

In my previous blog I suggested that we are guided more than we may realise by the mental model we have about how our organisation works.  We deal with reality by conceptualising it, by creating a framework for interpreting and managing it: we do this in our organisations as we do with life in general.  I invited you to consider what your model might be and whether it is hindering or helping you.

The problem that immediately arises is that our models are usually held largely unconsciously and reveal themselves as the assumptions we implicitly make about how things should be done.  These assumptions may become more apparent (and thus, open to challenge) if we see how they manifest themselves in practice.  So I thought I would offer some sample solutions to the two common organisational problems I mentioned in the last blog but did not discuss further.  Perhaps some will ring bells with you. Continue reading

Models of organisation

How do the assumptions we make limit or help us?

Organisations differ in many ways, but most organisations, in most sectors, have similar problems.  Some common examples follow:

Managers spend a large amount of time doing work that those who report to them should be doing – and no-one has any time to think and plan

Parts of the organisation operate in ‘silos’ and act in a way that actively creates problems for, even sabotages, other parts of the organisation

Despite a lot of effort, team-building sessions and perfectly amicable relationships senior teams find it extremely difficult to work constructively and productively together

Each of these problems could be addressed by taking particular actions to fix them.  But they may also raise a more fundamental question, that of how we think about the organisation. Continue reading

Reform and Renewal in the C of E

Some suggestions

The Church of England has recently published five reports outlining what it plans to do to respond to the reality of serious and prolonged numerical decline in attendance, under the overall title of Reform and Renewal.  I am both encouraged and relieved that the Church has recognised the need to take urgent and serious action to counter five and a half decades of sustained reduction in the number of people attending Church.  Continue reading

The Green report: business knows best?

Is it better to run an organisation well, or badly?  Is it better to think and plan or hope for the best?  Is it better to help leaders lead better, or simply leave them to it?

I’m assuming these questions have self-evident answers: it is better to lead an organisation well, think and plan and help leaders get better.  But how can these things be achieved?  Does business know best? Continue reading

Nasty case of pathological autopoiesis?

Have you got one?!

It’s a posh term but it describes something we see in organisations from businesses to the Church – and it can be fatal! Autopoiesis refers to the ability that organisms have to reproduce themselves. This is a good thing (without it we wouldn’t be here!) – but if it gets out of control (becomes pathological) it can have the paradoxical effect of destroying life. E.g. cancer.

The term has a special meaning in the world of organisations and, posh as it may be, it refers to a phenomenon we see a lot. Organisations start with a clear sense of having a purpose in the world, whether it is to make widgets or end poverty. Over time, however, the organisation takes on a life of its own to the point where it becomes mostly interested in itself. If you’ve ever spent hours on the phone trying to get some sense out of customer service you will have experienced this. The organisation tells us and tells itself it is there to serve the customer but actually it is interested in itself, its systems, its convenience. Its computer says no.  Continue reading

Sustainable change: 10 killer questions

It is hard to create large scale sustainable change in organisations.  You are up against ingrained cultural habits and assumptions, internal political interests and a lot of anxiety – and that’s before you think about the threats and opportunities beyond the organisation itself and the technical challenges involved.  If you are going to do it, you’ve got to give it your best shot.

Continue reading