Do you know the fundamental value proposition of Organizational Research? This value proposition is the very reason why theoretical and empirical research in this field is done at all, why a record number of business books are published today, why magazines like Harvard Business Review exist:
A simple as it is, this statement stayed with me for all these years. How many organizations have you seen, that are “historically grown” or outright dysfunctional instead of being planned? How many managers did you ever meet who where just administering their areas, without ever conjuring up the willpower or taking the risk to better things, to even try to sketch out a better state for their organization? Chances are, you met a lot of those.
“A planned state of an organization is more effective than an unplanned one”: This statement is a call to action, that sends you on a never-ending mission to think ahead and try things. For me, it’s a call to have a mission, to be one step ahead. To continually hone your organization.
Granted, it’s not as bold as Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg “Move fast and break things” motto. It’s more down to earth. Coming from Jürgen Hauschildt, who has been a renowned professor within the German-speaking countries, it carries special weight for me. Mr. Hauschildt specialized in “Innovation Management,” wrote a highly successful book on that subject which is with its 6th edition still in distribution today. Mr. Hauschildt was a significant proponent of empirical organizational research. He accepted no truth, just because it was theoretically plausible, everything had to be tested with hypothesis, experiments, tests and statistical analysis until proven.
Of course, that’s just basic science. But as most business books, especially the successful ones, reflect opinions and narratives, but not empirical, data-driven scientific analysis, Mr. Hauschildt’s style of work is needed today as ever.
Yet, most managers fail to take a scientific perspective of an organization. Managers are pragmatists. They do not have time to be scientists.
For Managers “betterment-now” beats “optimum-never”.
That’s all right and fair. Here is the problem with this: Most Managers do not have a holistic view or understanding of their job. They think of betterment as to solve an immediate issue – but lacking a holistic perspective, sometimes even on their part of the organization- they tend to come up with solutions that may have severe tradeoffs in areas where they are blindsided.
The Blind Sides of Managment
When about Organizations, we tend to think about the, what Harvard Professor Robert Kegan calls, the Exterior of an Organization. But there is more to an organization which needs to be planned:
Quadrant 1: Exterior view of Organizations
This is what springs to mind when thinking about organizations. These are all the usual stuff we think of as managers and organizers. They are tangible, written or at least practiced rules and processes.
Quadrant 2: Exterior view of Individuals in an Organization
These are the responsibilities, roles, problems, and tasks that individuals in organizations are faced with. It is the individuals understanding of his role in an organization, her day to day job.
The individual’s view of a job is determined by Quadrant 1: All rules and processes defined have repercussions on individuals day to day work. Every intrusion that restricts the local autonomy to act impacts the way people view their job. Every purchasing guideline, every management approval, every assignment, every project, every HR regulation.
Quadrant 3: Interior view of Organizations
These are the nontangible, harder to see aspects of an organization. This Quadrant is usually described as the organizational culture, i.e., “the way we do things here.”
Organizational Culture is notoriously hard to change. According to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.”
(credits for this picture goes to Torben Rick)
Yet with everything, a manager organizes and regulates, culture is changed. At the same time, Culture restricts what regulation from Quadrant 1 is being made and determines what regulation will be successful.
Quadrant 4: The “Psychology” Quadrant
The Interior view of Individuals, that’s the trickiest quadrant of them all. It’s the things that like beliefs, values, fears, and vulnerabilities that are hidden in everyone. It’s psychology, it’s neuronal science, i.e., the way the brain works.
Everything an individual does, in any quadrant of the organization, is governed by Quadrant 4. Yet managers often neglect the impacts of their actions on the psychology of people.
Historically Managers are Administrators, not Psychologists.
Why do Managers need to learn about their blind spots?
Management’s goal is to achieve optimal outcomes “in the transformation of resources into utility,” a definition used by Management thinker Fredmund Malik.
For knowledge work, that “transformation of resources into utility” can only be optimized, if managers are able to plan ahead for the next state of an organization – not on just Quadrant 1, but on all four quadrants. The individual’s state of mind might not have been critical in a command and control coal shoveling steel mill, but it sure is of central importance in today’s knowledge economy.
All the hard facts, the rules, and regulations set in Quadrant 1 determine all other Quadrants, but most the Individual, Micro level of an organization.
Of course, all Quadrants are somewhat interdependent. Still, Quadrant 1 is much more easily changed by a rational process, as everything in it can be much better controlled and measured. The Organizational level sets the frame for each individual, where else the individual is much less powerful to change the collective, notably the lower she is on the corporate ladder.
Blindsided managers let their organizations incur Managerial Debt by choosing ways of working that appear to work on an exterior level, but destroy the interior side of the organization (by undermining trust, disengaging people, treating them like children etc.):
- Managerial Debt accrues over time: Disengagement of workers will cause products, service and finally profits to degrade over time.
- Like accrued interests, bad managerial solutions will cause new bad managerial solutions to spring up over time
- Unaddressed management debt increases organizational entropy overtime: Energy that is lost to the void: Filling out reports that no one needs. Doing Approvals that no one approving understands. Never working on fundamental issues but only on patching up the mistakes of the flawed organizational system
Managers need to become Engineers of all Dimensions of Human Work Environments
In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), knowledge-driven and the ever more digital world, Managers need to become just that: Engineers of human work environments.
Robert Kegan, calls this mission to built a “Deliberately Developmental Organization,” a Learning Organization. Shockingly, a learning organization needs the manager to become a teacher or Unversity decan who does two things:
- Set a curriculum of what is to be learned
- Engage in Pedagogy (the science of learning) to optimize the rate of learning
Now Managers need to get a better understanding of psychology and pedagogy, too. An even major challenge. But a challenge that can not be ignored in our times. Times, where the Agile Mindset and Agile Management Practices appear to be the way forward for organizations.
That’s a challenge that Jürgen Hauschildt, would have eagerly taken up.
That’s what I think. What do you think?
- Kegan, Robert, and Lahey, Lisa Laskow et al. “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization,” 2016
- Hauschildt, Jürgen, “Innovationsmanagement” 6th Edition 2011
- Technical Debt, a concept accredited to Ward Cunnigham
- Robert Kegans view of the Organization has been influenced by Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory