Don’t let anyone get “too big for their boots” (and stand on our toes)!

Core theory shouldn’t mean that some people can become “too big for their boots”

The core and the essence of the organization

I learned about Art Kleiner’s core theory this week.  Organizations revolve around the ‘interests’ of a core group of people.  And so they should, because there is always a core who provide the organization with its very essence.

Recognize the core, protect the core, but don’t ‘spoil it’

Sadly though, organizations are often corrupt.  The organization isn’t protecting and nourishing the core that gives it is essence. It is simply allowing a handful of people to claim ‘protection’ money.

All organization theory is an exercise in limiting moral hazard

All organization theory is really an exercise in limiting ‘moral hazard’.  We don’t want people being so privileged that their personal privilege insulates them from the realities in the world.

So without diminishing the essence of the core, which is also the essence of the organization, we don’t allow our core to become “too big for their boots”.  It’s not good for them.  It’s not good for us.

Building an organization that nourishes the core and involves us too

Here are 5 “wicked” ideas and questions that we use to help people understand their organization in healthy terms.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  There is more than one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t everyone speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we have chosen say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about why we have chosen this set of relationships?

Why have we chosen this set of relationships?

This is the wicked question and test whether the feet and boots fit, so to speak.

Are people able to explain why the relationships in the organization as they are? Are they able to say these things aloud and is what they say acceptable and motivating?

Why have we chosen this set of relationships?

You don’t even need an answer.  You just have to watch whether people are willing to ask the question and answer the question.

When this is an acceptable conversation, you are in healthy place.

When this conversation is taboo, it is time to look for better company (or take over and lead the organization yourself).

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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.

Art Kleiner

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.

Social dynamics

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.

Managing organizations

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.

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If you want to change an organization, mix it up. Just a little. And let the tensions leak away.

Art Kleiner

If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them.” –Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

Yesterday, thanks to Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, I discovered Art Kleiner.  My, he writes well.

When you thought there was nothing left to do but grind your teeth

If you have ever been situation where you are helpless, oh, what am I talking about, you feel that every day when you are stuck in traffic, when you call you bank’s call center and when you sit through interminable ineffectual meetings.

Every time you feel helpless, mix it up a little.  Not loudly or aggressively or even mischievously.  Just talk to someone else. Shift the pattern of interactions.  That’s all.

And watch the stifling atmosphere dissipate.

If you are in traffic, let some one in or if you are always letting people in, indicate that you want to go next and let people help you.  Bank call centre’s defeat me, I must admit, but try beginning the call by sincerely asking about their day – that is a lousy, lousy job.

If the meeting is dull, actually listen to the bore and look at them.  OK, not for too long but try half a second?  If you usually speak, try taking notes.

Mix it up.  Just a little.  And let the tensions leak away.

UPDATE: Wow, I didn’t preview the format.  Mixed up for sure.




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