29 January 2011

When UCaPP Companies Go BAH... and desperately try to halt the slide!

Some interesting juxtapositions apropos the subject line of this post: Over the past month or so - and especially over the past week, I've noticed some extended visits to my Valence Theory Wiki site from a certain search, video, blogging, and smartphone-OS-maker (among many other ventures) company who shall "Goo" nameless. And then, I noticed this cover story in the current issue of Businessweek. And finally, there was this nonsense posted by the creator of the fun distraction, Googlewhack, Gary Stock, in which a person clearly possessing a bureaucratic mindset had their judgment switch firmly in the "off" position (as required by all bureaucrats; some more senior person at the organization helped the administrator of Adsense come to his/her senses and subsequently retracted the ridiculous threat).

So how do I put all this together? In my research, I write about the nature of founder's-ba, the particular instance of coherent common sensibility, common values, common understanding, and common volition to action - collectively called organization-ba - that tends to be characteristic of start-up organization cultures. Among the key challenges for small organizations as they grow is to preserve the "special sauce," if you will, that engendered the greatness that is one of their hallmarks. Goog... err... the organization in question, had organization-ba in spades, and apparently manage to preserve it through some pretty substantial growth. But as any company increases its ranks with those who have been socialized in a BAH society, through a BAH-oriented education system, and especially if its advisors, board members, and managers have had formal MBA training, there is a tremendous pressure to begin to look like "real companies" - become isomorphic in fancy, academic language. And, it makes sense from a structural contingency perspective: an organization's structure - that is, its functions and connections - should correlate to the contingencies of the external environment in which its situated.

If you've read my work, you'll know that I dispute that contention in the context of a UCaPP world (not to mention that the work of one of the most influential authors of structural contingency theory was empirically tested and found to be a complete myth - it sounded good on paper, but didn't hold up to reality, much like Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management). Although it is true that members in any organization must have clear functional responsibilities, it is also true that (a) functional responsibilities neither necessitate reporting hierarchies nor preclude collective responsibility and mutual accountability; (b) the need to socialize information increases, not diminishes, as the organization grows; and (c) embodying and living the founding values of the organization becomes more challenging when an organization hires for alignment of required functions rather than for alignment of values.

Clearly, the organization is concerned, and that's a hopeful sign. So what can they do? Well, besides calling me for assistance (seriously: if someone reading this has an "in" with Larry Page, I'd love to help - it would be a great project, and someone there clearly likes my stuff based on all the time they've spent on the wiki), the organization can begin to do some cultural soul-searching through interventions involving action research, strategic dialogue forums, and culture change venues (where needed).

And, if your organization - even if it isn't as large or as prominent as the one in Mountain View - can use some help with organization transformation, I still have a couple of free spots on my dance card.

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