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Going Organic

Continuing the investigation of the secular religion of Management-ism started HERE, where I started explaining, "How We "Managed" to Screw It Up," finding a curious kind of management lurking, and continued HERE and HERE with the story of an HMO-weary doctor "Going Off The Grid" to establish a real Health Maintenance Organization, before delving into the deep Abstractions nourishing management-ism HERE.

In the last installment, I introduced the character behind management-ism. The 'can't manage what can't be measured' mindset that seeks metrics for measuring everything. Peter Block once asked the question, "If performance appraisals are so good, why don't we perform them on our spouses?" We don't perform them on our spouses because we have better ways to assess the goodness of that relationship. In absence of relationship, though, where we merely inhabit roles and perform process scripts, managing by such metrics might seem to make all the sense in the world. The management-ist sees no contradiction in employing 360 degree feedback strategies. The rest of us certainly do!

Within industrial-scale organizations, some new (read:old) paradigms are emerging. When Nike realized that the gas used in their air-cusioned sole was a volatile greenhouse gas, a movement started within the company. As Peter Senge explained it, three people—not executives, not powerful middle managers, but three rank and file employees—started a movement. They hosted lunch-time chats. They networked to gain influence. Their goal? A carbon-neutral Nike. Impossible? Certainly not on the corporate radar at that time. It is now. Nike's long-term strategy includes carbon neutrality. This started as a conversation among the powerless to become the stated goal of the whole organization!

How did THAT happen? You already know!

This is no isolated incident, though it might serve as the model or pattern for an under-recognized reality operating within even industrial-scale organizations. Innovation isn't top-down. Inspiration isn't either. The motive power that actually moves even the behemoths is organic, not mechanistic. Though the literature focusing upon processes and the improvement thereof leans heavily upon mechanical metaphor, the mechanism they fail to describe isn't mechanical, but organic. Quite remarkably human-scale. (Don't let the management-ist know, okay? They think they're in charge.)

If the management-ists aren't in charge, who is? As unlikely as this might seem, you are. I can't count the conversations I've had with individuals imbedded within industrial-scale organizations, where they cheerfully recount how they get away with things. These are not native sneak thieves, but deeply benevolent and loyal employees who routinely work the system so that system can work. The management-ists are blithely ignorant of the catastrophes avoided, believing, I guess, that their grand strategy is working more or less as they intended. It isn't. It never does.

The machine has remarkably little influence over this organic spirit. I have seen it thrive under the harshest conditions. In fact, harsh conditions seem to encourage it. Telling it "No!" won't deflect it much. This will just get its conniving imagination working harder.

The choice is not to work for someone else or work for yourself, you're always working for yourself, no matter who signs the paycheck. Working for yourself carries some ethical responsibilities, which can become lost in the overly-responsible dance management-ism embodies. In fact, everyone is managing all the time, it's not just the responsibility of the designated managers to manage. Where management becomes the sole purview of designated managers to do unto others and descends to the level of religious conviction, the net available management power within the organization plummets. These organizations are not certified organic. Where everyone understands that, regardless of what the mythodology claims, they are responsible for managing themselves first, interesting things happen. They happen as a resonance of a set of ancient ethical responsibilities that every human was born with but that the industrial, management-ist mindset scrupulously ignores. Kinda like what happens when organic methods reconnect a plant with its source of macro-nourishment. (Some just call this bullshit.)

One of these ethical responsibilities is:

You hold the ethical responsibility to work the system so the system can work. No system, however cleverly devised, is capable of working as designed. It will not reliably work for you, so you will have to change it in order for it to work for you, and for your organization. How should you change it? Use your best judgment.

Enough for today. More next time

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