Henley: Sticky organisations

February 24, 2010

Victor Newman now starting with a pantomime performance (we all have to hiss). He is arguing that without relationship capital you will not be successful in a sticky organisations. Seeing a continuum from subject matter interest to thought leader. Four dimensions on the journey – innovation to visibility to perspective to recognition. All very linear, but he says that difficult questions caused him to change – so lets see. The trigger is relationship capital. Reference to Rob Cross’s (my former colleague at the IKM) work on the need for informal structure not the formal structure to get things done. SNA diagram now up on the board. 101 SNS without any criticism so far, but good engagement of the audience in examining the slide.

Moving into his main theme: Organisations recruit smart people and make them stupid.

Taking a client case – IT unable to implement necessary strategic enterprise applications due to a lack of credibility. Flight of the Phenix case example of using deception to build credibility. You can only be an expert when we the organisation allow you to be an expert. Cultures are a bi-product of technology stabilization (really?) and continually evolve power structures to prevent change. So the greater the mutual relationship capital so the higher resistance to innovation. [ OK I have seen this happen, but its not a necessary outcome].

Consent and evade as a learned way of resisting change. Yep seen that one, often done and selecting people for committees who will mess up the idea and gradually confuse it or dog it down with questions. Spending a lot of time on this one, good story but the point was made right at the start. Sees it as partly explained by an unacknowledged history of failure. Functional advocacy at the expense of corporate responsibility (nice phrase but I have no idea where he is going with this).

Ah tactical solutions, suggesting you go and review your past failures, trick people into telling the truth (umm). Select the right people, frame benefits and bonuses. In effect Victor is arguing just to do things better rather than to really change the game. its the normal systems approach. Ok revolutionary idea – cut the workforce by 50% (calls this changing the rules) then the inertia goes. True, but a lot else may go with it. Come on Victor there must be more than that.

A healthy organisation should have some high value low volume transactions (creative individuals in prototype). ALso some medium volume, medium value products delivered by experts, large volume here leading to high volume low value transactions. Organizations with high sticky cultures just end up with a big box of low value high volume transactions and these people were try and prevent you understanding what is going on. Same point as above, a very pessimistic perspective on organisational motivation. Ah,says a good consultant can find the hidden jewels ……

Again saying that the organisation destroys new people with good ideas, they will ask you to prove/justify your approach (well hang on now, that is a reasonable question). Craft mystery and power again (constant theme). Starting to make a bit more sense; saying that as a new expert you should not be arrogant when you join an organisation but build relationship capital first. That way you may get to the right meeting.

Advises that you establish positive relationships, go through a rite of passage (repudiation of old identity, legitimization of a new one). Hold back on expertise don;t push yourself forward until you get to the point where you are not seen as destabilizing the relationship capital. Behave in meetings, don’t threaten existing hierarchies, non threatening knowledge, passive body language, use sanctified contextual craft language. [me: There are some ethical issues here surely? Radical innovation does happen in organisations but not by being nice to people]. More talk of lies and deceit (OK I am uncomfortable with this) to avoid challenge. Do things in slide meetings to avoid confrontation.

Sorry Victor, not only couldn’t I behave like that, but I wouldn’t respect myself if I did.

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