21 July 2009

EMD IX: Impetus - A Concept More Useful than Leadership or Mission

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

Here's a brief excerpt from one of my 240 pages of research memos (one of the component analytic devices in grounded theory), followed by some thoughts from a new talk called, Everything You Learned in Business School is WRONG! (available as a keynote, just ask):
Every organization has an intrinsic motive force – the ideation that provides the impetus for the organization to move. For many organizations, its impetus is expressed by its mission statement that nominally captures its overall goals and objectives. For others, the impetus emerges from its members’ deeply held values that unify in the body of the organization. Regardless of its origin, impetus defines the processes of direction-setting and decision-making, and therefore informs and provides guidance to the mechanisms of management throughout the organization.
I chose the word “impetus” to convey a more-or-less non-baggage-laden idea about organizational motive force. It's not leadership per se, although leadership is implicated in the idea of impetus. Neither is it decision-making, yet I'll second that same implication idea with respect to decision-making. Vision? Teamwork? Ditto.

In fact, I would suggest that the derivation and nature of each of Vision, Mission, Leadership, and Teamwork are diametrically different between BAH and UCaPP organizations, and hence, so is the respective natures of their impetuses (impeti?). Conventionally and traditionally – by which I mean in the Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, Hierarchical (BAH) organization – Vision sets the direction, where the organization wants to be at some point in the future; Mission explicates the specific objectives, goals, and outcomes; Leadership ensures that everyone’s individual objectives sum up to at least match those of the organization as a whole and creates the stimulus, motivation, elimination of obstacles and governance that aims to accomplish the Mission; and Teamwork creates the affective, social environment in which people can thrive and the synergy that presumably enables that elusive, if clich├ęd, 110%. Regardless of the specific language that is used by whichever school of thought (or of management) to which you subscribe, these are the traditional bases of strategic management.

In the Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate (UCaPP) world, I would suggest that Vision is entirely the wrong sensory metaphor, since vision is our only sense that works at a distance. Rather, in a world of pervasive proximity, Tactility is probably the better bet. Instead of a Vision Statement that hangs like a laminated wanted poster in the reception area of many enterprises, the Tactility Statement answers the simple, but complex, question: Who do you want to touch, and how do you want to touch them, today? What effects do you intend to create throughout your total environment – physical, social, psychological, even spiritual? Answering these questions comes down to a reflection on values, and values emerge from individuals-in-relation (not surprisingly, the basis of Valence Theory).

Alignment of individual values to create collective Organizational Values reverses and replaces Mission, the alignment of individual objectives to correspond to arbitrary (and yes, I use that word advisedly) organizational objectives. In turn, Leadership that traditionally is all about accomplishing the mission, becomes more about creating the particular enabling environment that allows people to simply know what is the right thing to do, and to want to do it – in other words, creating organization-ba. In such an environment of strong organization-ba, Leadership, as in “making sure” and enforcing individual responsibility and accountability, transforms into creating a space and place (“basho”) of Individual Autonomy and Agency, Collective Responsibility, and Mutual Accountability. Thus, Leadership is not an embodied role, but rather becomes a process, along the lines of checking-in rather than checking-up.

Finally, Teamwork that ensures everyone has a purpose and all purposes have someone who is accountable, flips into Collaboration – a type of over-involvement of people and resources that may seem non-obvious or counter-intuitive at the time, exceeding the initial, nominal requirements of the task-at-the-moment, that almost always results in better insight, innovative approaches, and higher quality than traditional approaches. And that’s an important realization: from the grounded theory process of constant comparison, I have come to the conclusion that BAH organizations have a systemic inability to innovate or even to perceive quality.

In BAH organizations, motive force - impetus - arises from Vision, Mission, Leadership, and Teamwork. On the other hand, in UCaPP organizations, impetus emerges from Tactility, Alignment of Values, Individual Autonomy and Agency, Collective Responsibility and Mutual Accountability, and Collaboration. The nature of BAH impetus necessitates checking-up, making sure, taking credit and assigning blame. UCaPP impetus means checking-in, and the notion that when no one is in charge, everyone is in charge.

An interesting choice for interesting times.

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