A recent HBR article (Why companies are so bad at treating employees like people) by Herminia Ibarra speaks to the need to re-invent the workplace if there is to be human development at work. As Ibarra characterizes it, this re-invention requires “reimagining complex organizations so that they are more human and agile.” The implication seems to be that making organizations more human and agile involves solving the “thorny problem of developing people.” Continue reading
When Smart is Beyond Stupid
When do managers talk about improvement and development with those they manage? In most cases it is when managers are required to do so, during the organization’s annual performance appraisal time period. In three previous posts (Replace performance reviews with leadership for quality; Facilitate performance, don’t appraise it; Performance appraisal: A pathway to mistrust) performance appraisal was discussed but since the practice is still very popular another appraisal of it is in order. Continue reading
Better Makes Better
It is a generally accepted goal that managers should hire best and the brightest. However the evidence from experience hiring the best and brightest person does not always lead to best performance: Things don’t always work out as planned. Why do you suppose this happens? Continue reading
Oil And Water Don’t Mix
Reflecting on “America’s Descent Into Madness” by Henry Giroux, we most certainly don’t but need to provide learning experiences in and through public education that will facilitate every person’s development. What should we all seek to develop? Our personhood, our humanness! That is, we should all strive to become fully human in support of us—each other and all others—realizing progress toward becoming a more humane society. How could we have a more humane society without its constituent members expressing the human qualities of kindness, care and concern for others? Obviously we can’t, and clearly we haven’t!
Preparing people to become instruments for wealth accumulation was never right but it surely is effective for preparing people to be objects for exploitation. James Boyce in Pursuing Profits – or Power?, asserts, “although corporations could benefit from the bigger pie produced by a better-educated labor force, there’s a tension between what’s good for business and what’s good for the business elite.” As currently framed the conduct of business is designed for wealth accumulation not to further human progress. In other words, maintaining power over others is central to the practice of American capitalism, which has also captured society and colonized democracy.
The Incompatible No Alternative
Thus efforts toward educating people alone will in all likelihood fail. Why?
As Giroux said quite succinctly, “rather than work for a more dignified life, most Americans now work simply to survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which getting ahead and accumulating capital, especially for the furling elite, is the only game in town.” So it is the way we’ve tacitly learned to roll. Seemingly most have accepted the there–is-no-alternative argument (TINA), remaining unaware that we will all lose as each seeks his/her own gain.
David Kristjanson-Gural, professor of economics, said it best “Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people.” It is designed into the system!
The incongruence between our system of economics and a (humane) democratic society is far too significant—it is oil and water, both figuratively and literally. Specifically, it is the central precept of our egoistic capitalistic system of economics—that people are primarily if not solely driven by material self-interest—that is the primary cause of the circumstances we are experiencing. The vast majority have tacitly learned to believe they are at base the most intelligent animal whose aim is to have it all for one’s self—the one with the most toys wins!
People unconsciously assume that to be human is to structure life as the pursuit of one’s material self-interest, so they unceasingly strive to have more, thus forsaking them being and becoming more human. Unfortunately the getting of the toys in all likelihood will only be realized by a privileged fortunate few—as Adam Smith himself had essentially acknowledged in The Wealth of Nations that while the many won’t gain (in this system) it does keep them industrious to the benefit of the few.
There Are Alternatives
People must acknowledge that for a viable and sustainable (humane) society there are alternatives to oil but not for water! So clearly we need people to awaken to their human potential in order for the critical mass necessary to affect a fundamental transmutation of society—piecemeal reform will not do. Again Giroux astutely asserted, “It will not be enough only to expose the falseness of the stories we are told. We also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our children and ourselves.” Educating people in an effort to develop their capability to think critically is paramount, but more is needed!
We must also understand that unless the system of economics is re-cast to serve all humankind then the system will continue descending us into madness. We can’t continue with making it fit! Because the conduct of business is deeply interwoven throughout the lives of so many a self-serving and narrow focus of attention creates a broad swath of destruction. In a recent report on a decade of historic rising profits and stagnant wages, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute state that “an economy that does not provide shared prosperity is, by definition, a poorly performing one.” It is poor performing for the many because it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t serve!
Again we can’t continue with trying to make it fit, as if there is no alternative. Simply, we can’t continue to be so myopically focused on profit and shareholder value—which serves but a few—if we wish to be a sustainable society. Exploitation and extraction as a means of wealth accumulation must end!
It should be clear that the intent of business must change to where concern for people’s development and wellbeing are paramount. What should be placed ahead of the development and wellbeing of people? The answer should be obvious, nothing!
Moreover, because we are so deeply interdependent, individually and collectively we need everyone to actualize his/her potential as a human being—developing toward becoming more fully human—and correspondingly to be stewards of our natural environment. Given that the future is where (our) life and those who come after us (yes the children) will be lived, we mustn’t waste a single moment. That is, the future begins now in this moment hence it is imperative that what we enact in this moment be a life-enabling and life-furthering act. Decisions and actions that diminish our viability are wrong decisions and actions, so we must cease making and taking them.
A Place To Begin
If only the leaders of business organizations took the long view and critically thought about businesses’ place in society and thus businesses’ responsibility they could change the why and how of business. They would clearly see that there are alternatives.
We can realize a changed-for-the-better society by changing our practices—we can realize change by enacting it now, one decision at a time one business at a time. If those in authority of a business enterprise are in deed leaders then they ought to exercise (their) authority over the resources they oversee for the betterment of all those they affect. If they can’t or won’t do so then they must cease trying to selfishly influence the future of society. They must either exhibit the courage to lead or get out of the way of human progress. Let’s ask again, what should rightfully be placed above the development and wellbeing of people; what’s more important than a human life fulfilled?
Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me
How do you maximize the performance of an organization?
Wait, wait…don’t tell me!
I went to business school, I know! Continue reading
Mistakes Confusing Leadership
A recent HBR Blog post by John Kotter speaks to the confusion surrounding management and leadership. He continues by outlining three key mistakes people make in confusing management and leadership: 1) using the terms interchangeably; 2) using leadership to refer to those at the top of the hierarchy; and 3) thinking leadership is about personality characteristics (i.e. charisma). Let’s critically think about these mistakes to better understand their likely causes. Continue reading
Redesign for Capability Not Flatness
In an HBR Blog Network essay by Ron Ashkenas titled “More direct reports make life easier”, the case is made for increasing the span of control so that it becomes “possible to compress the number of hierarchical layers or levels.” Why do this? Continue reading
Spend some time in most business organizations—as I have done over the past 35-plus years—and you will likely observe the practice of cascading goals top-to-bottom. Why? Because executive teams believe: a) it is the way to align organizational goals and people’s activity, to implement strategy; b) it is a way to exercise control over what happens in the organization; c) it is the means to holding people accountable and the basis for evaluating people’s performance; and d) it is what other executive teams do. Continue reading
When I say the word leader, quite understandably most associate it with the ‘one-in-charge’, the top person. Furthermore, since leader is synonymous with the one-in-charge, then leadership must be the actions of the one-in-change. That is when the term leadership is the focus—be it in academic journals or the popular press—its use is most often referring to people in positions of authority such as top executives or c-level managers in organizations or officials of rank in government. We could just as well talk about top management since the terms connote the same thing. Even so, everyone would prefer to be a leader than a manager—it just sounds better. Continue reading