I haven’t read any of Art Kleiner’s books. How did I miss him? Well, I seem to have missed him and it is time to make good.
Managers & the Core Group
I am taken with the idea that every organization has a core group. The group could be corrupt, of course, but every organization does have a core who are part of the value chain.
I joined a university early in my career for that reason. As an academic, I was part of the core, while as a psychologist in HR, I was not.
The perils of neglecting the core
Many of the tensions in modern organizations arise because ‘managers’ have tried to dominate the core – the academics in universities or the doctors in the health service. It doesn’t work. Trying to dominate the core, or heart, eats away at its vitality.
Nurture the core
We, managers and administrators are here to serve. When we understand the core, or heart, and help it function as it should, our organizations flourish.
Managers & the Influencers
And of course, within the organization are groups who are very important because they influence the process in a critical way. Radar in MASH is much more powerful than the Colonel. And Hawkeye, a Captain, dominates the Majors with his wit and grasp of the essence of war.
Kleiner points out that when we first start working with an organization, that we must read the social dynamics. Who has undue influence? Who has privilege. Formal rank may not matter very much. When does it, and when does it not?
On the periphery
When we are on the periphery, irritating as it may be, it is worth acknowledging how the system really works. Then we can influence the system, even if we will never be part of the core.
Supporting the core
When we are managing an organization, we can acknowledge who is the core ~ not to give them further privileges, they have those already and will defend them to the last ~ but to subtly influence their acknowledgment and influence of other stakeholders who may not be core, but who they cannot do without.
In the university world, there is a cute poem that begins with students who splash through puddles, then associate professors who can jump over puddles, and Professors who are so magnificent that they can jump over the University Library, the Vice Chancellor who can speak to god and the Departmental Secretary ~ she is god.
Helping an organization maintain its vitality doesn’t take a lot of heavy-handing action. Indeed, the opposite. It takes a little system thinking. A gentle nudge here and a tactful reminder there. Sometimes a good humored reminder of reality when we stand aside and stop protecting people from their own arrogance. When the harm will not be permanent, a lesson in cause-and-effect can be salutary.
The core will always be there. We destroy value when we deny it. And we risk corruption when we sweep relations between stakeholders under the carpet.
Relationships matter. Interests matter. We need to get real.
Look harder for an organization whose core you respect
Art Kleiner makes an important point. There are many organizations whose core is rotten ~ who are evil at heart. We may be in that core, or we may be fretting about our lower status on the periphery. What counts is whether we essentially believe that the interests of the core group are good for the organization and our community. If we believe that, then we stay.
Otherwise, we need to look harder for an organization whose core we respect. It’s best to be part of the core. If not, we can serve it. Gracefully. Thankfully. With a little reverance, but with understanding that the core needs others too and that we should help them manage their relationships with others.
Remember power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We should never let something we respect become so isolated from reality that it corrupts itself with meglamania.
But to change an organization, to nurture its vitality, we must believe that the interests of the core are the organization’s interests. We need that deep down belief to respect the core and to help it confront issues about its relationships with others.
Am I rambling? I like the acknowledgment of the core or heart of an organization. Remember in the words of Colin Powell, leadership is follow me. We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.