Friday, January 15, 2010

Living Out Our Expectations

For the past 80 or so years organisational managers have taken a reductionist approach to organising labour and achieving productivity. The theory being that if we understand what makes people tick, and we break down a task into its necessary component, then marry predictive behaviour with prescriptive tasks, work will done in the most efficient manner.

The benefit of hindsight and access to far greater amounts of information than ever before means that we now understand people are not machines, they do not perform in a preformatted manner and even when a task is broken down, there are often environmental factors that impact in an unpredictable way. This means we manage and work in a world of uncertainty.

Imagine arriving at work tomorrow. As you wander into work you ask someone where shall I begin? They respond, begin where you believe you will achieve the most impact. You ask who will I work with? The response is, we don't know, whoever else has an interest in the work. You ask how well will they work together? The response is, that is for the future. Finally you ask what are the work procedures? The response is, there are not any, they will evolve with time! Now you have to make some decisions. In this situation there are no correct answers. What is right is what is best for the circumstances, both known and emerging.

Would the work get done? Yes it would. Would you find the right people to work with? Yes you would. Would everything collapse and fall into a heap? Not likely. Why not? Human beings have the ability to self organise. They are able to think, they are creative and they are adaptive.

Brian Arthur in his book titled The Economy As an Evolving Complex System talks about how we make decisions based upon our expectations. This is a place somewhere between reality and fantasy land - where based upon our expectations we can convert something to reality or otherwise. For example, you arrive at work with a vision of being treated with dignity and respect. If you remain open to that vision you will behave in a manner that sees you treat others in this manner and results in you being treated as such. If on the other hand your expectation is that you will be treated indifferently then your behaviour as you walk through the door will likely be very different.

Management techniques of the past 80 years, along with an indifferent education system, have robbed people of their ability to think and causes them to duck for cover behind rules and procedures. We are scared of complexity as it requires us to adapt to an uncertain future. Yet as a species, as an individual you have the ability to work, to manage and to live in a complex environment and survive.

Today, there are millions of people in Haiti that are homeless, without water or food and without employment. Their environment, poor as it may appear, has been flattened in a devastating earthquake. Many have died and many more will die; yet many will be saved. As a community they will survive and they will rebuild. The people of Haiti have the very same abilities as you do; without the benefits. Don't tell me you need rules and regulations and procedures to enable you to work, to survive. What you need to do is develop your inherent ability to observe, to avoid harm, to adapt, to make a decision, to work with others, to the do the right thing and to achieve the best outcome.

As the Nike advt once said - Just Do It! (Please make a donation to help those in need in Haiti)

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO
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