June 23, 2017

Having posted on expertise yesterday I found myself thinking about the issue in the course of a six hour drive from Cardiff to the Lake District: I’m working in Newcastle tomorrow so selected the mountain range en route with the best prospect of decent weather as a staging post which mans tomorrow, following the Lions v AB match will see me on a round of Borrowdale.

My thoughts turned to when expertise is legitimate and also, as ever, to context. That brought me onto the wider questions of generalist v specialist and then a conference call en route (hands free is a wonderful thing) connected all of that to Organisation Development. That in turn reminded be of one slide from an archetype project in South Africa with Sonja some years ago which opens this post.

The context of the project was looking at the attitudes of head office staff in a research agency and the image I share was one of the negative ones. If you see a bright eyed bushy tailed researcher as a office worker of glorified secretary then you have a problem understanding the core capability that provides value to your organisation. That was one of a series of negative images by the way and I used them in an article on the subject for those interested in archetypes on narrative work. The link I made to exercise is the growing fragmentation of what used to be generic management capabilities into a series of separate professions.

It used to be be case that a good manager, particularly a senior manager, was more than capable of handing a range of tasks such as organisational development, staff motivation, strategic planning and the like. In consequence, while things were a little mess, organisations generally evolved over time within loose constraints. The HR function, generally an early requirement role for someone with a military background, provided support and what I would now term a tethering constraint, that is to say a checkpoint to make sure that overall there were no major failures and things moved forward in generally the right direction.

Then we get the systems period and the engineering metaphor with which I recommenced by daily blogging a few days ago. HR went from a small part of the organisation to a multi-level, multi-disciplinary and (in my experience) increasingly bureaucratic function staffed by professionals with various certificates but little operational experience of management. They dealt with the organisation as a whole based on averages, rather then the particular context of individual operational units. Within the engineering metaphor you can see why this happened. In effect it ends up the CEO suffering from Stockholm Syndrome in respect of his or her various functional departments. The danger is that managers then delegate to the specialist and increasingly skills of judgement based on contextual understanding atrophy though lack of use.

I feel a matrix coming on, looking at legitimacy and generalist/specialist but that will wait for another day.

2 responses to “Professionalism?”

  1. Chris Corrigan says:

    I think somewhere along the line I missed the emergence of “tethering constraint.” Very helpful.

  2. Michael Hill says:

    Interesting series of posts (just catching up with your latest writings) and hitting close to home. Everyone else on the team I’m on has changed twice in the last year, while the entire organization has both grown and re-organized. Amidst these complex changes, the focus has shifted to standardization. Your thoughts on when expertise can be deployed and likelihood of success may prove useful going forward and dealing with those who don’t appreciate the effect of unknown or shifting context.
    Back to gaming the explicit goals in order to gain freedom to pursue value.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


Social Links: The Cynefin Company
Social Links: The Cynefin Centre
< Prev

On Experts, expertise and power

- No Comments

Remember Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cookoo’s Nest? Louise Fletcher won the Oscar ...

More posts

Next >

Navigation by fell runner …

- No Comments

Its been over fifty years since I did my first mountain navigation training in the ...

More posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram