30 October 2008

From BAH to ba at Toronto OD Network

This morning I attended a workshop hosted by the Toronto Organization Development Network, a group of both internal and external consultants and practitioners involved in OD, organizational change, learning, culture, and similar endeavours. Among the presenters were two that, for me, captured practices of two extremes represented by my research – the BAH organization and the UCaPP organization.

Eric Cousineau described his thirty years of experience enables him to create a strong, instrumental focus on outcomes, responsibilities, accountabilities, and especially quantitative metrics to essentially ram through change. (“You have to amalgamate 5 different and distinct bureaucracies into one, eliminating redundancies and accomplish it all within six months. Go!”) He described how every significant organizational change can be framed within a project management construct, and how 99.9% of everything that is important to know about the success of the organizational change can, and should, be measured. I’m not engaging in satirical hyperbole here – that’s essentially what he said. Of particular interest to me was his description of how he handled the organizational change aspects of a large employee restructuring project in a Fortune 50 company in a way that created trust among the staff, through the visibility of helping dislocated employees find jobs elsewhere in the company. It all sounded wonderful, save for the inconvenient truth that I happened to be talking to employees of that company at the same time, who were unanimously telling me about the environment of fear, paranoia, extreme lack of trust, and the undermining of business productivity that Cousineau’s project was creating. I guess fear, paranoia, trust and motivation fall into the 0.1% of what’s important.

Cousineau’s anecdotes and extreme focus on individual accountability, instrumental project management approaches to human systems, and the supremacy of measurable outcomes represent a classic BAH – Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical – approach to OD. It’s not at all surprising that Cousineau appealed to credentialism – his accountancy and industrial engineering backgrounds – as “proof statements” to support the validity of his approach. And, from a BAH outcomes perspective, it all makes perfect sense: people are largely interchangeable and therefore, largely irrelevant, so long as the instrumental purpose is served.

In contrast, we also heard from Nick Evans, a leadership coach, facilitator, and organizational effectiveness consultant for Campbell’s Soup Canada. Evans described the remarkable transformation of Campbell Canada that took the company from a relatively successful, but very stable (read: boring results) company, into a positive-growth, increasingly profitable organization whose model of transformation is now being adopted globally. Evans described a process that began with people (actually, the leaders within the company) understanding and articulating their personal values, that enabled the collective values and vision for the organization to emerge. They then engaged among themselves, and with the rest of the company to probe how they were “living the vision,” critically challenging in-use theories that deviated from the espoused. One poignant example focused on nourishing and wellness as an espoused value being in conflict with the relatively high sodium levels in their products. Providing authentic leadership (another value), Campbell’s quietly began to reduce the sodium in their soups over a period of several years in order to “retrain” the palate of Canadians. Now, after they have successfully aligned values without compromising economic considerations, they are trumpeting their success in a series of advertisements.

The values exercise helped enable ba – an emergent space of engagement and relationship collectively occupied by all whom the organization touches – which is a key aspect of my Valence Theory, and seemingly (from how I'm reading my research results) characteristic of UCaPP organizations. Organization conceived according to this new philosophical and theoretical foundation, provides its members a wider range of questions that can reasonably be asked of practical situations. Perhaps more important, Valence Theory with a balance among the valences, and a ba orientation provide a substantial, humanistic range of options for decision making that are not readily available to BAH managers.

By the way, if anyone has the lyrics, or even better, a link to a video, of the old Campbell’s Soup commercial – the one that starts, “if every you have wondered what / to serve for lunch that’s piping hot. Campbell’s got an awful lot / there’s thirty soups and more, they’ve got…” –I’d love to see it again!

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1 comment:

Mark Federman said...

A reader who is an employee of that Fortune 50 company, and chooses to remain anonymous, wrote to me saying: "Maybe the executives trusted each other, but I’ll bet he [Cousineau] wasn’t talking to the middle or lower levels of management. Also let’s talk about the employee surveys—as you have talked about-where they ask you stupid questions so you don’t get to tell them how you really feel and what’s really wrong. And the corporate culture just eats, breathes and sleeps project management. It is so foreign to me. I don’t need someone telling me what to do. I just do it and if there’s a commitment that I’ve made, I just get it done."