Some Final Thoughts

20151104_144313This is the 63rd post in OUCH! The Misfit Between Theory and Experience in Organizations. It’s also the last post in what will soon be an eBook. But certainly not the last post on this particular topic I’m quite sure!

In many ways writing these posts has been about getting my thinking straight and as coherent as possible in terms of my perspective on organizations and our experience within them. To that end things have gone well!

In addition, as I have written these posts I seem to have become more sensitive to the amount of OUCH! in organizations and the multitude of things that cause it.

As an example, some time ago I was sitting in a large room listening to a senior talent management executive talk to about 50 or 60 people about what they were doing on the talent management front, right from recruiting, onboarding, development, retention and succession. Pretty much the entire gamut of an experience in an organization. What they were doing was also pretty much leading edge in this area; managing the employee experience from arrival to retirement.

I knew this person and it was nice to hear them talk about their leading edge work. Yet as I sat there I began to wonder, really wonder, what would happen if they simply stopped doing all of it!

I came to the conclusion that not much of anything would happen.

Of course there would be some transition to this place where none of this happened but pretty quickly those people listening to this presentation would figure out their own ways of managing their experience from arrival to retirement in their organizations. They didn’t need to have their experience ‘managed’.

However, we seem to have come to a place in organizations where we think and feel it is necessary to ‘manage’ everything. We no longer even think whether or not this adds any value, yet alone causes OUCH! and real damage.

As I began writing OUCH! I had a perspective that a lot of the reasons for this was our unquestioned assumption that we can ‘manage’ to a state of certainty. More or less 62 posts have illustrated and reflected on this. I still agree with this perspective.

As I come to this final post however I wonder if we may look back 50 or 100 years from now and recognize that these things we do in organizations that cause so much OUCH! are simply another form of an attempt at social control.

Not much different from the rules of behavior in the Courts of royalty from hundreds of years ago. Not much different than the rules of religion. We look back now and see many of these rules as nothing more than an effort by those in power to manage and control those not in power. At the time these things were not seen as this, they were seen as ways to create and maintain stability; certainty, of a particular way of life.  And many of these ‘rules’ created huge amounts of OUCH!. Yet of course you were not allowed to talk about that; that was one of the rules!

Changing these rules, these patterns, these left loops was not easy then and it is not easy now. Do we need a revolution? Perhaps, perhaps not. Do we need resistance? Definitely!

As I sat down to write this last post I assumed I needed to end this writing with some powerful insight, some moving words that would capture the essence of this work.

But it seems this is not the case. I will simply close with a question.

What will you do to reduce the OUCH! in your organizational experience?

You Will Be Compromised…

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I have worked in and with organizations for 40 years now (wow, time does fly)! Over that time there have been numerous times where I felt like I was doing something that just ‘didn’t feel right’; for me.

For example, going back to the scenario I began these posts with, the ice cream plant, you may recall we ended up doing a budget based on the assumption of hot weather. When that didn’t occur we ended up in a position of having to lay people off for a period of time. Some of those laid off were high seniority people who had never been laid off before. I was a new supervisor so now a member of ‘management’ in this unionized environment. I would not be among those laid off. I had come from that unionized environment so a year earlier I would have been laid off as well.

I can still clearly remember having to go around the plant floor and hand out layoff notices to people I knew well. It did not feel right; for me. I felt like I was doing something that compromised me in some way, even though it was perfectly acceptable and even expected in this organizational scenario.

That was about 37 years ago and since that time I have not met a single person who does not have their own personal story, similar in some fashion to mine.

Does this make us bad people? Not strong enough to live up to our personal standards or values? Does it make organizations demons simply waiting to make us feel lousy?

I choose to look at it this way. As I have noted in previous posts there is a fundamental difference in the purpose of organizations and the purpose of people:

  • The purpose of an organization is to be a viable economic entity.
  • The purpose of a person is to express identity.

It is this fundamental difference in purpose that makes personal compromise inevitable in our organizational lives. I would say that for me, most of these compromises don’t make me a bad person or ethically weak. It is simply part of the economic game that is the purpose of organizations and for most of us we need to play this economic game.

So it is not helpful to participate in organizational life, blaming organizations for having a purpose that is quite different from us as people. It is also not helpful to heap guilt or shame on ourselves for feeling compromised; it is inevitable.

But the reason these things are not helpful is that they become distractions, perhaps even unconscious or convenient distractions from recognizing, reflecting on, and trying to change things that ARE more serious compromises.

In light of having to distribute those layoff notices it was quite easy for me to think that this is just what being in an organization is when you don’t meet your budget and we all know that. It was part of my job to hand out these notices. I could easily forget that the cause of this was primarily the ridiculous and OUCH! filled budgeting process! Could I do anything about that? At the time, that question did not even cross my mind.

So while it is important not to blame the game for having the rules it does, and not blame ourselves for playing the game, it is just as important to really question the rules of this game we all play and try to change them when we think the compromises are important.

A lot of what these posts have been about, the OUCH! in our organizations are things that DO compromise people. Compromise people significantly, and for the most part we are willing participants in this compromise. And our left loop to deal with this compromise is to exist in environments that we have filled with blame, shame and guilt.

So again we find the need for balancing. Balancing the need to be gentle with ourselves as we participate in organizations that compromise us, and the need to be ferocious in our efforts to see and change the causes of those compromises.

Reflect on Power

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The last three posts have looked at ways of taking our own small steps in reducing OUCH! in our organizational lives. This post continues by looking at something that is best ignored if you are trying to convince someone, or believe that you can design certainty. That something is power.

Power is present in every second of our lives and yet overall it is rarely dealt with in mainstream understanding of organizations. The reason power is best ignored in mainstream understanding of organizations is that it is the primary thing that throws a wrench into this idea of creating certainty. Power, in a very fundamental way is the most significant output of our gestures and responses, the actual way the interaction model plays out in our day to day lives.

Interaction Model

There are almost endless ways of considering and understanding power and the processes in which it affects us. Within the interaction model power can be considered fairly simply. The way we use power is identified in the gestures we use and the way we are affected by power is the way it affects our responses. The dynamic of power is the interplay between gestures and responses in any given interaction.

For example if you are reading this, you are reading my gesture. That gesture has a certain power in that it is affecting your responses such as taking up your time, perhaps influencing your thinking, perhaps helping you to sleep! You may respond back to me with a comment and it would be your specific response that I would respond to that would identify the ongoing dynamic of power emerging between us.

As you can see power is at play all the time, and it is at play primarily and most practically through our ongoing gestures and responses.

There are two important reasons to reflect on power in an effort to reduce OUCH! in our organizational experience:

  1. Power is often ignored in mainstream understanding of organizations.
  2. Understanding how power plays out for us as individuals gives us the potential for more considered gestures and responses.

In the last post I said once you have asked for evidence (and typically do not get any) regarding something you are being asked to do producing the result espoused, that you have a choice; keep pushing or not. This is a recognition of the real and important power that will be at play in your specific situation.

Most mainstream approaches to situations like this will ignore this power and you will be given the ‘tools’ or the impression (subtle or not) that you should keep pushing! After all, only by ‘keeping pushing’ could you create the certain result you want! Well, the power at play in these situations is the most real and important thing happening! Much more important than any tool or impression. And that power can negate any plan for certainty! It should not be ignored to any degree!

When you do not ignore power you have the opportunity to consider the most important dynamic happening between people in organizations; how power is affecting the gestures and responses of people as they move along in their day to day organizational lives.

From here you can reflect on your own gestures and responses, and those of others and consider them; ask why they are what they are, ask if perhaps they can be different, how you might alter your gestures and responses to affect change. You can consider yourself and those around you in a much more practical way, one that may be very difficult but also has less OUCH!

I encourage you over the next while to really reflect on the power at play in your work environment. Consider how your power shapes your gestures, how you respond to the power in the gestures of others and how the dynamic of power has both patterns and uniqueness for you.

You may find that you begin to understand you, and your work experience quite differently.