© Getty Images
Reading time: 7 minutes
Companies experience their own set of dysfunctions, for reasons inherent in their structure, with no apparent link to certain exogenous factors such as market disturbances. It is essential that management be aware of this and involve employees in this reflection, as well as in the implementation of means to protect the company from itself.
Recently, American businessman and writer Aaron Dignan made a startling discovery. In the midst of World War II, to allow sympathizers of the Allied forces to participate in the sabotage of their businesses (which the German occupier had then seized to support its own war effort), the CIA drafted and distributed to them a manual of sabotage: “The Simple Sabotage Field Manual”, manual of simple sabotage on the ground (this document is mentioned by Aaron Dignan, in “ Brave New Work », Portfolio Penguin. It can also be easily found on the Internet, on Gutenbert.org especially). Its content is edifying as it describes behaviors to favor, methods to adopt and techniques to use close to what is happening today in many companies: multiplication of meetings that are not sufficiently prepared, focus on problems, overlapping responsibilities, lack of clarity about who can or should decide, postponing because additional analysis is needed, distracting people with tons of information they don’t need, constantly interrupting each other, etc.
Organizations can easily go out of whack, to the point of continuing to “function by malfunctioning” until it becomes truly detrimental to them. The phenomenon being general, a company can even consider itself finally as being in the norm of the moment and no longer see its own shortcomings or worse, attribute them to the external context. Today, the question is no longer: what more do we need to do, but what should we do differently, and perhaps less to move things in the right direction? But habits die hard. Simply becoming aware of the degree of dysfunction of an organization is already a first step. Being able to talk about it with others, a second. And work together to improve the existing, a third.
Management as an answer
Management must understand that companies have a organizational debt (an organizational debt). This is inherited from the past and includes all structures and policies that no longer serve the interest of the organization. An examination of this debt will have to be carried out, in order to settle it.
Companies also have OS (Operating systems). And as with computers, they seem exposed to the phenomenon of graceful degradation (gradual degradation). The system works as a whole but certain parts cause it to fail, while contributing to its invisible degradation. It is up to management to open their eyes to what is happening to the company but is not necessarily visible. He must also admit that individuals can be managed in a climate of trust. A company can function like a city, where coercive systems, such as intersections with traffic lights, and systems betting on accountability, such as roundabouts, coexist. A clever mix must be found taking into account the culture of the company and the inflection to give it.
But to achieve this, management must mourn a received idea. Not all problems can go away, be contained or controlled. The company is a universe that is both complicated and complex. A complicated system includes many elements that interact according to cause and effect relationships. It is causal and highly predictive. A complex system has its own order, but it is not predictable. It is possible to make assumptions but without any certainty. Complex problems cannot be solved like complicated problems. With a complicated system, management faces a problem. With a complex system, to a phenomenon. And the company is indeed a phenomenon.
Finally, if it wants to be an effective response, management will have to accept a dilution of its power, with the advent of self management : employees are invited to take their destiny into their own hands, to reflect not only on the best way to organize themselves but also on the very way of thinking about it. Agile methods gave the impression of partially fulfilling this mission. In fact, they were designed for the field of software development and have been adopted as a cure-all, by all companies. Many startups do not use them as they should. Taiichi Ohno Toyota, the father of the production system Toyota (TPS) and one of the popes of the industrial organizational revolutions, thus regularly reminded: “Stop borrowing wisdom and think for yourself”. In fact, agility is more of a mindset than a tool.
Beyond the corporate framework
One thing is certain, management will have to involve as many people as possible, from day one, making sure to involve them in the choice of processing methods. He will have to consider that employees can change, provided that it makes sense to them, and look at resistance to change as information. This open-mindedness is decisive in this common and responsible effort to protect the company from itself. As the American economist and academic, known in particular for his research on disruptive innovation, Clayton Christensen, recalled during a discussion with Jason Fried (founding partner of 37signals, whose main product is Basecamp, a Web project management; he is notably known for having developed his company and its products in exclusively remote mode (teleworking), well before this form of organization became widespread): questions are places in the brain where answers can find a square. Without questions, there are no answers. It is therefore important to arrive at work with questions in mind. And this is perhaps where humans and artificial intelligence will together manage to contradict Pablo Picasso, who said: “Computers are useless, they only give answers”.
Increasingly, management even goes beyond the framework of the company: some States are beginning to adopt its principles, on the scale of cities or larger geographical territories. Like Singapore, where the notion of the managerial state has made its way. The island’s economic miracle, orchestrated by Lee Kuan Yew, a 31-year-old prime minister, is widely attributed to his borrowed management methods. The notion of performance, and especially of responsibility for said performance, has been instilled throughout the country. Although poorly endowed with natural resources, Singapore has succeeded in becoming a leading economic platform, with very advanced airports, its skyscrapers and an ecosystem linked to the global economy (“ How Lee Kuan Yew Engineered Singapore’s Economic Miracles », BBC News, Hussain Z., March 24, 2015).
Management facing its limits
Management flourished within commercial organisations, most often private ones. Businesses have demonstrated, since the industrial revolution, how much it can help achieve better results. So much so that, in recent decades, more and more non-profit organizations have been inspired by it and are trying to apply its methods. However, this fascination for management must be surrounded by the greatest caution, for several reasons. First of all, business management is not necessarily transposable to other activities or sectors, such as States, hospitals, schools, etc. It involves relying on objectives: however, these areas do not cannot be approached with the same expectations. If profit is the holy grail of the market sector, it cannot be for the public sector. The latter must measure its own performance against other criteria, which are specific to it.
Then, the management has perhaps not yet demonstrated everything it is capable of. The business world is far from working perfectly. Corporations are simply the first kind of organization in which management has developed to such an extent. In this, they have the value of prototypes. While the fundamental organizational principles have stood the test of time, their application is not necessarily optimal everywhere. Practice has often proven that the only things that seem to be able to systematically evolve by themselves in organizations are disorder, friction, dysfunctions and poor performance (“Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices”, Peter Drucker, Harper & Row). However, management must also learn to deal with this.
I am already subscribed, I connect
Offer without obligation.
You are free to cancel at any time
- 6 Magazines, paper and digital versions per year
- 4 special issues, paper and digital versions per year
- Unlimited access to the Havard Business Review France site
We would like to say thanks to the author of this article for this incredible web content
» When the company becomes its own enemy
You can find our social media profiles here , as well as additional related pages here.https://www.ai-magazine.com/related-pages/