Of Fades and Failures

Why is it that many great ideas for improving how we manage our organizations become fades and ultimately fade away?

Fades and failures were frequently seen during the 1980’s and early 1990’s when many top-level executives sought to colonize—but not adapt to—the principles of quality management. They wanted the benefits of quality but not its antecedents. Those in authority expected results, without first making the appropriate transformation in their assumptions, beliefs and values.  In effect, thinking and doing were contradictory and predictably, the result was failure.  For the organization’s employees quality became another (management) flavor of the month.  Why is this so common a phenomenon?

From a system perspective, the structure and management of an organization—how the components and functions interrelate with each other and with the context defining larger system—should follow naturally from the beliefs, values and purpose of the enterprise.  Moreover, it should be clear that a discord or incongruence among vision, mission, structure and strategy would be quite unhealthy.  For example organizational viability cannot be sustained with a vision that portrays unity and harmony and a structure (and system of management) that embody competition, independence and control.  That is, if the vision depicts something different from the (lived) experience fostered through the structure of work and process of management then the organization will become increasingly less viable.

Saying one thing while doing another creates an atmosphere of mistrust, which is tantamount to committing suicide.  With mistrust come uncertainty, fear and inevitably chaos.  While fear makes others more controllable, it also diminishes the actualization of potential.  What emerges is not greatness but dis-ease.

In other words you cannot set up a double bind without causing dysfunction of the system.  Two systems of orientation cannot operate within the same organization without decreasing the sense of order—increasing fear—throughout the organization.

Maintaining a split between the mind and body, between the organization’s system of orientation and the organization’s system of work, will rarely, if ever, result in lasting success. In all likelihood this is the cause of every innovative management theory, intended to improve the way we both organize and manage, becoming just a fade.

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