31 July 2010

Organization Therapy and Healing: The how-to guide

I’ve been asked a few times recently to explain just how the process of organizational therapy and healing works. “So what exactly do you do?” is how the question is sometimes framed. More often, though, it’s along the lines of “I think my company / activist group / community organization / social justice movement can use some of what you do—how can I explain it to my boss / management / the leadership?”

Is Your Organization Ready to Heal?
Not all organizations – even if they are in trouble – are able to hear the type of guidance I offer. Just as individuals in crisis may try to motor through on their own, or focus on getting things done irrespective of their emotional and spiritual wellbeing (that, of course, affect how well they can get things done), an organization in crisis, transition, or cultural disarray may instead focus on tangible results irrespective of its members wellbeing.

First, therefore, the legitimated leadership in the organization have to recognize that they have some sort of problem, crisis, or at least large-scale discomfort that they would like to fix. Moreover, they are able to identify this sense of unease with problems concerning organizational culture, or dysfunctional human dynamics among their members.

Leaders might frame that concept in a variety of ways: morale issues; trauma and stress related to layoffs, mergers, or acquisitions; regular escalating conflicts among people; systemic complaints about lower and middle management abuses; or similar signs and indicators. The leadership cohort also have to at least minimally realize that the problems won't be fixed by the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the sinking ship (a.k.a. restructuring or a new org chart), or by a simple “town hall” or “all hands” meeting (although the town hall thing could serve as a wake-up call), or even through a leadership retreat event in which the organization’s vision becomes revision and the mission is put in remission. Something new must be tried.

Beginning Something New
This is where I come in. We have an initial conversation in which I attempt to get a first assessment on where, how, and when the organization is feeling pain. It could be coming from clients ("some of our best clients are telling us that they really don't like doing business with us like they used to"). It could be increased grievances against management. It could be more incidents of supervisor abuse or subordinate insubordination.

During that initial process of conversation and assessment (which could actually be several individual conversations followed by a group conversation in which I play back what I've heard—of course unattributed to any particular individual), I describe how I view organizations in the general case (i.e., using Valence Theory vocabulary). I may even give some generic (sanitized for confidentiality) examples of other organizations in similar straights that have been helped. I then coach the leadership through devising a discovery plan which has the aim of understanding the issues—and especially the issues that wouldn't come out when people are feeling unsafe. This often begins to look like a plan for an Action Research type of intervention.

Action in the Research
The findings of the Action Research investigation (and the duration of this varies immensely) are brought out in a process of formal dialogue (à la David Bohm) in which the legitimated leadership folks are in dialogue, and some non-leadership members are the process observers. This dynamic helps to model the erosion of hierarchical privilege and the beginnings of inclusive, more participatory, and collaborative leadership.

At this point, subsequent work depends entirely on what is found, and how the organization's members want to proceed. I should mention that by "members," I ideally mean everyone whom the organization touches via the five valence relationships, although at the early stages and iterations, management are sometimes more reluctant about including external "holders of stake." To begin the process of rebooting the organizational culture, I often advise beginning with a values and tactility session, as I describe in my thesis findings, that facilitates organizational members’ understanding of precisely what and how the organization wants to be. From there, the specific issues that were discovered during the first AR intervention can begin to be addressed in the context of the explicit set of organizational values, and the answer to the organization’s tactility question: whom do we want to touch, and how do we want to touch them today?

As a matter of fact, I just did a mini-version of this yesterday for the annual retreat of a volunteer, activist organization of which I am an ally. The action research part wasn't necessary, since the membership were polled with respect to specific initiatives and undertakings that were deemed important for re-booting the group after a successful, but seriously draining initiative that occupied them for the past, nearly two years. We did the values and tactility session using a close variation of a conversation café model, and I facilitated working through the proposed initiatives based on the fundamental cultural understandings that emerged from that opening session. As well, I helped them model changes in interpersonal dynamics and behaviours that, traditionally for this organization, inevitably resulted in huge gaps between espoused and in-use theories of action when it came to internal meetings. Much of what the group decided came out of a judicious application of my ideas of Effective Theory. They even adopted the UCaPP model of creating reference groups [see the section on "Sustaining a Complex Culture"] for new members. At the end of it all, they marvelled at how well the day went, how much they had accomplished, how good they all felt about the process, and similar sorts of wonderful and validating epithets about how I helped them to create a great environment of engagement among their members. Put simply, that's what I do.

Now, what can I do for you and your organization?

(For those who might be a little more right-brain oriented, here is a more creative exposition of what I do.)

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21 July 2010

Logic vs. The Bureaucratic Mind: Guess which wins?

The Ontario Government is a marvel of bureaucratic thinking (but don't worry Toronto City Hall, and the Harper Conservative Regime - you're both doing really well in bureaucratic race to the bottom). The recent eco-fee-asco is not only politically damaging, revealing as it does the malaise that seems to pervade Queen's Park. It is actually far worse in its implications of a government so out of touch with sustainability issues, so blinded by a linearizing bureaucratic logic, so ineffective that it cannot perceive the effects of anything that it does, that it is hard to know where to begin, either in one's critique, or an effective remedy.

Here's the back-story: Money is a force-motivator. In other words, one can very crudely change behaviour by adjusting the amount of money one associates with that behaviour. Charge five cents for a shopping bag, and people will reduce their consumption of shopping bags, because it's not too difficult to bring your own. Bureaucratic logic (in this case, a.k.a. by its proper name, reductio ad absurdum) says that by charging some number of cents for containers of toxic products, people will reduce their use of toxic products. We can always bring our emptied plastic water bottles to refill with bleach, laundry detergent, and other household cleansers. And, if we really don't want to cart our own fluorescent tubes and those CFP "bulbs" the government has been foisting on us to the solid waste transfer stations so that we can sit in the queue among the garbage trucks, we could always reuse them as lawn ornaments. Or something...

In practice, eco-fees are a good idea IF AND ONLY IF they are applied to those who can actually do something about toxic and excessive packaging. Throughout the world - and especially in Europe - manufacturers are responsible for the disposal fees associated with their packaging - the packaging over which they have exclusive control. The result is a significant reduction in excess packaging because the fees placed on the manufacturers are indeed a force-motivator. Consumers have been known to unpack gadgets, small appliances, and anything else that is feasible in the stores, resulting in stores and manufacturers having a positive incentive to reduce trash.

Not so here, among the self-interested, so-called stakeholders (and I do absolutely hate that term). In this case, the self-interested holders of stake who form the euphemistically named Stewardship Ontario are the very manufacturers and retailers who would be stuck with the bill, if they didn't have the power to simply say, "consumer pays." Among the bureaucrats, there is no thought given to the logic which responds, "but consumers can't do much to change the packaging"; manufacturers and retailers can, so they should be the ones on the hook. Simple, logical, effective, and not so bureaucratically absurdum.

One additional point: the bureaucratic approach to fast-and-loose accounting, that allows the government to say, "it's not a tax" with a straight face, because Stewardship Ontario is technically not the government and, you know, only governments can collect taxes, doesn't fool anyone who doesn't want to be fooled. What is completely amazing to me is that Minister Gerretsen seems genuinely surprised at how poorly this all turned out. Then again, he is only advised by bureaucrats - unable to either perceive quality or innovate.
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16 July 2010

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything - Especially Social Media Marketing

A number of confluences over the past couple of days with respect to advertising and marketing, social media, memes, and cultural evolution. In response to a tag from my friend, Leigh (and if you're in marketing, you'd do yourself a favour to have a conversation with her), here's the answer to the question about why social media and digital strategies  work, don't work, sometimes work, are a big waste of time, are the greatest thing since Burma Shave, and combinations and permutations of the above.

People are social beings. Always have been. They enjoy sharing experiences. Always have done. When we fundamentally change the way we share our experiences, we change the ways in which we interact with one another, and that changes everything. In other words, "the medium is the message." And, by the way, we've recently changed the way in which we share our experiences, so remember the old assumptions about interacting with each other? They're now sort of wrong, and we need to understand the effects of those changes, so that those who get paid to capitalize on human interactions can actually earn their keep.

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13 July 2010

First they came...

With apologies to Martin Niemöller:

FIRST THEY CAME for the History and Philosophy program at OISE,
and I only signed the petition because I was in Adult Ed.
THEN THEY CAME for the Comparative Literature program originated by Northrop Frye,
and I didn't speak up because, who needs critical literary theory anyway?
THEN THEY CAME for all the language and culture programs,
and I didn't speak up because, you know, English is good enough for the global economy.
THEN THEY CAME for those who deal with contemporary issues in a way that is not mainstream,
and by that time, there were no organic intellectuals who could think outside of hegemony; who had any understanding of the importance of cultural context; who could fathom that the contemporary world is fundamentally different from 20th century industrialization; who could realize that there is more to the complexity of the world than only Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, Business, and Government Policy...

...and by that time, there was no one left who understood what speaking up really meant.

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08 July 2010

Leadership and the Complexity of Social Networks and Public Policy

Matthew Taylor from The RSA has a very simple, and worthwhile, blog post about the importance of understanding complexity approaches to public policy initiatives with respect to using social networking and technologies associated with social media. I'll reproduce most of it here because it raises critical issues for traditionally BAH organizations in general:
Two general points stand out:
  • Social networks are important; understanding and using them can make a significant contribution to tapping into civic capacity and meeting public policy goals.
  • Social networks are complex and the way they operate unpredictable.
Together, these findings suggest a major shift in the methodology of public policy.  Traditional policy interventions – particularly in relation to social problems – have these characteristics:
  • They are large scale and expensive.
  • They aim for relatively marginal improvement in outcomes e.g. a few percent lower unemployment or higher pupil attainment.
  • They seek to minimise risk through systems of regulation, audit, and accountability.
But these design features do not fit the characteristics of social networks interventions, which are:
  • They will usually fail.
  • Occasionally small interventions will have major impact through contagion effects.
  • Sometimes interventions will have an impact very different to those planned (sometimes good, sometimes not).
An emphasis on social networks changes not just the focus and design of public policy, but the whole way we think about success and failure.
What Matthew identifies as the characteristics of public policy initiatives - large scale, expensive, aiming for marginal improvements of quantifiable outcomes, while minimizing risk through control systems - are key determinant characteristics of BAH organizations, irrespective of their public/private/social-economy sector. These sorts of controls preclude emergence by eliminating complexity effects. Rather, they implement what I describe as the BAH Theory of Change (see here, especially with respect to Change, Coordination, and Evaluation). The emphasis is on control, so that planned and predicted outcomes can be measured to demonstrate to those to whom one is individually accountable that, "See? I am suitable for this office that I hold because I can control and manage and accomplish what I say I will accomplish."

However, as I point out, that sort of leadership mentality is a BAH artefact, that is, an artefact of Industrial Age thinking. Any leader who holds this view, and in the same breath utters the phrase, "social media," (or any of its analogues, like Twitter, blogs, wikis, Facebook, viral videos, or similar), simply does not understand, and should be demoted to become the factory floor foreperson! The reality of today's UCaPP world is complexity, and that means unpredictability, and realizing that small interventions can have large systemic effects through massively interconnected feedback and feedforward networks. It means one must remain cognisant of secondary and tertiary effects, and rethink what it means to be successful in effect, rather than in outcomes. Here is the difference in mentalities:
BAH organizations replace the complexity of human dynamics in social systems with the complication of machine-analogous procedures that enable interdependence through interdependent action, individual responsibility, and hierarchical accountability. UCaPP organizations encourage and enable processes of continual emergence by valuing and promoting complex interactions, even though doing so necessitates traditional, legitimated leadership ceding control in an environment of individual autonomy and agency, collective responsibility, and mutual accountability.
Which one works for your government's public policy or your organization depends entirely on the culture of the organization in question. Which one works for today's public policy or today's organization is obvious in a UCaPP world. The key question for leaders is, "Do you want to be relevant, or obsolescent?"

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07 July 2010

Bureaucracy and Innovation

Two things that go together like screen doors and submarines. In my research, I noted that BAH organizations are unable to innovate (and unable to perceive quality). Today's Globe and Mail provides a data point that is consistent with this observation: the decline of Microsoft.
But why can’t Microsoft innovate? And couldn’t that change? No, because no one wants to work there. It has become like working for a large bureaucracy – stifling and sterile. More important: no one’s getting rich off Microsoft stock options any more. Everyone wants to work at Google or Apple. Microsoft has no history of innovation, and therefore no culture that the innovative find attractive.
For innovation to occur, even in an otherwise BAH organization, one requires at least pockets of UCaPP - places in which the ba-form of the valence relationships can flourish. The more organization-ba one has, the more innovation can occur. Simple, right?

The corollary, therefore is, the more you want innovation in your organization, in your education system, in your public sector institutions, the more imperative it becomes to transform away from bureaucratic and administrative controls, and status hierarchies.

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04 July 2010

The Crisis of Capitalism, and Effective Theory

Those who know me well know that I do not particularly hold with Marxist discourse, nor do I believe that revolution of the proletariat (often performed as absurdist theatre via labour unions of the privileged) is entirely appropriate for the contemporary world. Therefore, none would be more surprised than I to realize that David Harvey's message of The Crisis of Capitalism (via the wonderful RSA Animate series) resonates completely with where I'm standing lately. Taking a neo-Marxist analysis of the latest, recent global financial crisis - an analysis that is too often lacking among mainstream economic and business journalism - Harvey observes that the crisis stems from what he calls, "the internal contradictions of capital accumulation ... and the role of crises in the whole history of capitalism." He notes that the last global financial crisis in the 1970s arose from the excessive power of labour, and the solution was to discipline labour in domestic markets (essentially by shipping labour production to markets that could be more easily exploited, a.k.a., so-called offshoring, as well as through neo-liberal political economies championed by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US). But the problem this time is considerably different. The root of the problem is "the excessive power of capital, and in particular, the excessive power of finance capital."

Harvey goes on to explain that part of labour's punishment since the 1970s is to repress wages globally. This, however, has the unfortunate effect (if you're a capitalist) of also repressing demand. Hence, in order to bolster demand, capitalists pump up the credit economy to such an extent that it becomes unstable, and boom...  He goes on to explain the theory, "that capitalism never solves its crisis problems. It moves them around geographically." It becomes obvious, of course, that in the contemporary reality of a global economy (from which we truly cannot retreat), there are no more shells under which to hide the peas!

There is another problem, as well. In an Industrial Age mentality, there was an alliance between the financiers and the true capitalists - the ones who assembled labour, capital, and means, created production (yes, on the backs of the workers... sigh...) and earned profit, part of which was subsequently reinvested to increase production ability and access to markets. Today, however (and this is where Marxist analysis hits its limit), the original alliance between finance and capital breaks down as the financiers become (even more) greedy (than they originally were), and realize that the Marxist cycle that requires production to produce capital no longer applies. As money is now a cyber commodity, reproducing among electrons as they flow around the globe, financiers actually become richer as both labour and (traditional) capital become poorer through loss of real earning power and hence, real demand.

Harvey, although claiming to know the nature of the problem (with which I agree), also says quite explicitly that he doesn't know the nature of the solution. Well, that's not entirely true. He states very clearly that, we have a duty, those of us who are academics and seriously involved in the world, to actually change our mode of thinking." Yes! Absolutely! That is why I developed Valence Theory - to change our collective mode of thinking about how people come together, not merely in (conventionally thought of) organizations, but in the larger, global organization that comprises all of business, all of governments, all of civil society, all of indigenous peoples, all of the environment - all of everyone. We're all in this together.

The first step, I think, is to change our notion of what it means to be effective. Rather than simply limiting an understanding of effectiveness to accomplishing predetermined goals and objectives, or accessing and deploying ways and means, or both, effectiveness means being cognisant of the multiple levels of effects we enact through the decisions we make and the actions we take. For example, an effective analysis of Reaganomics, and the absurd subprime lending practices would have allowed policy makers to anticipate the inevitable outcome, as opposed to economists falsely claiming that no one could have predicted the fall. An effective analysis of offshoring policies and practices would have anticipated the demise of the very businesses that gloated about the efficiency of offshoring labour, and the coming crisis that has resulted from Western enterprises also (if inadvertently) offshoring its design, engineering, research, and innovation practices - those aspects of business that, in the 1980s, were claimed to be that which differentiated American industry from Chinese or Indian manufacturing.

A change of thinking? Absolutely. And absolutely necessary to think in terms of effects as Effective Theory demands, rather than in terms of simple outcomes - and certainly instead of money-as-scorecard. It is quite simply a matter of the type of world in which you want to live.

Here's the video. It is certainly worth the eleven minutes to watch.

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