Doing the things no one else seems to see need to be done!

“The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.” – Buckminster Fuller


As my wife and I in earnest started discussing having kids, I decided to stop consulting. This decision was mainly due to the heavy travel commitments that often come with that line of work and to a smaller extent to have a more stable income when providing for my family became a priority. My own father was away on work for most of my early life and I did not want the same for any of my own children. I felt I needed to be home for dinner every night and be a big part of their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed consulting and had the privilege to work with some fantastic clients so it was for a specific purpose I decided to switch to contracting.

Why contracting you may ask, well with my then limited network in Sydney it was too difficult to get consulting engagements and permanent roles have always felt – well, too permanent. Either way, the mortgage still had to be paid, anyone owning property in Sydney understands what that means…

After more than three years of work on various reform/transformation/change programs I am now convinced that I need to stop, if nothing else for my own sanity. The reality is that in most organisations, change or transformation programs are just illusions. We’re reshuffling the deckchairs using another management fad after another, having convinced ourselves that this time it’s different. Few initiatives are based on sound theories of how organisations really work. I’m sure this realisation is not profound or insightful in any way and it makes no claim of that. For me, however it’s something I’ve known but ignored for a steady pay-check and the huge benefit of being able to have dinner with my family every night.

Ignoring this is taking its toll on the passion and intrinsic motivation I have for creating better organisations. It is rather exhausting trying to influence poorly thought out, top-down imposed programs of “change” or “transformation”. All managed by more or less a command and control approach. An approach that is desperately incompatible with the complexity of these human activity systems we call organisations. If I see another MS Project plan with thousands of lines of tasks trying to keep the illusion of a program being “under control” I will throw the laptop out the window. The very notion of thinking of change as a project drives me crazy! #noprojects #nochangemangement

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Not too long after I started my own company my old colleague Tim Banner and I made a deliberate decision to stop doing work for clients that weren’t really interested in doing anything other than a review. A review was always followed by a report of recommendations that they would file away and never look at again. We wanted to focus our energy on working with clients that really wanted to make a difference for staff and customers. I feel that I have drifted away from that and I’m looking for ways to get back on course.

Per Frykman gave me some good advice when he helped me to better understand and work with my reputation – create a stop doing list. High on that list is stop working with leaders without the courage to do the things no one else seems to see need to be done.

Where do I find the courageous leaders who want to profoundly transform their organisations for the better, for their staff and for their customers? Who has the courage to wholeheartedly engage with their whole organisation to explore better ways of working without knowing in advance where it will take the organisation? Who has the courage to let go of the illusion of control and trust people to find a path together? Is anyone out there brave enough to embrace something as radical yet so simple as the antimatter principle?

But then what would I do if that person came knocking on my door to ask for help? I’d need the support of others, especially ones far smarter than myself. I know you are out there, some probably hiding in plain sight banging your heads against the same walls as I, wondering why no one else seems to see or want to see how flawed most of our approaches to change are.

If you are stuck working in a change or transformation program and would like to do work differently I’d love to hear from you to explore if we can do things together. It would of course also require me to find the courage to get back to freelance consulting and ride that rollercoaster of fear and joy again.

Are you a leader with an above average level of courage and are you open to do something different to make your organisation a place of joy – I’d love to hear from you.

It does not have to lead to anything other than perhaps a coffee and a chat. If I can help in more ways than just pointing you to great resources to further your thinking or connect you with some of the very smart people I know in various domains, that would be fantastic.

It is however not all that important that I get something out of this. I can suffer through the silliness and madness I come across on a daily basis for a bit longer, living as a character this is not the real me, adding value where I can. What is important though is that more people start to rethink and challenge the dominant  mental models of organisations, of human beings, and of human relationships.

too short to do something that matters

I don’t want my son to grow up, working in a world where we still view organisations as machines, people as resources, profit and shareholder value is paramount, and growth is essential.

I want him to grow up being able to contribute to society in ways that embrace a more holistic and human approach. There are movement out there making waves: #responsiveorgBetaCodex NetworkReinventing Oranzations etc hopefully they will create enough momentum to hit a tipping point where command and control is the exception – not the norm.

Maybe by then we’ve even got rid of this weird notion that we all have to be more productive to earn a spot in society. It seems appropriate on that note to also finish with a quote by Bucky Fuller.

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living.”

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Bye bye Elliott Jaques, it’s been fun but it’s time to part ways!

What type of organisation do you see before you if I tell you that there is no top down strategy, no pre-defined roles, no budgets, no performance targets, full transparency and sharing of information (incl. financials), self-organising teams, fully decentralised decision-making, and where change management is a superfluous concept? Does a vision of some hippie commune, Kibbutz style co-operative emerge or perhaps a not-for profit charity type organisation?

What if I then say that it is not only a single organisation but a suite of very successful organisations ranging in size from around 100 employees to 10s of thousands of employees, across industries and in both the not for profit and for profit sector?

Perhaps you are asking yourself how you could run a large organisation without the foundations; a clear strategy, clear roles and accountabilities, levels of authority, defined performance targets cascaded down the organisation to measure how well strategy is executed, a well-developed project management framework with its associated budgets and Gantt charts, annual performance reviews and all the other practices we’ve been conditioned to believe are essential.

In his book “Reinventing Organizations”, Frederic Laloux has researched organisations that operate from level of consciousness that represent a significant shift. He categorises the practices of organisations using a spectrum of colours to represent the level of consciousness that shapes the organisational mindset.

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Plotting the successive stages of human and organisational consciousness on a timeline, the results tell a clear story; evolution seems to be accelerating, and accelerating ever faster. We have according to Laloux never been in time where so many people operated from some many different levels of consciousness at the same time. The same is true for organisations, Red, Amber, Orange, and Green Organisations are found working side by side in the same cultures and cities.

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The difference between the organisations that Frederic Laloux has researched for this book and most other organisations today is not only stark but also incredibly exciting – not only is there is a better way, but there is plenty of evidence of its positive impact on people and its longevity.

Now here is the catch – you will only see the potential and the power of these practices if your adult development stage aligns with this worldview. As humans, we develop in stages, just as a caterpillar through sudden transformations becomes a butterfly, or a tadpole a frog. A key aspect of human development stages is that there is nothing inherently better or worst being at any level – it makes no sense saying that an adult is better than a toddler. However, depending on the task a certain stage may be a better fit. I have referred to adult development in previous posts, click here for link.

For anyone familiar with the Cynefin framework it quickly becomes evident that the practices that these organisations share are well suited for operating in complex environments. There is an incredible shared sense of purpose, which guides decision making on a day-to-day basis. There are also just a few clear and simple rules or principles that guide what is acceptable behaviour. This allows for initiatives to emerge and if there is merit in them, people will naturally support them and give them their energy. Because decision-making is so inclusive and closely tied to the organisational purpose, change does not have to be “managed” in the way we think about it in traditional organisations.

Below are some of the practices that are common and represent what Laloux refers to as Teal Organisations. If you read these and think – how crazy, could never work, maybe it is time to reflect on your view of people – are you a Theory X or a Theory Y supporter?

Each level of consciousness has brought with it some breakthroughs compared with the previous level. For Teal organisations these are; Self-management, Wholeness, and Evolutionary Purpose.

The following is quoted directly from a summary of the book by Ulrich Gerndt from Change Factory.

Self-management: operate effectively, even at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either hierarchy or consensus.

Wholeness: practices that invite us to reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all of who we are to work, instead of with a narrow “professional” self / “masculine resolve” etc.

Evolutionary Purpose: organizations seen as having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, members of the organization are invited to listen in and understand what the organization wants to become, what purpose it wants to serve.

Self Management Practices Wholeness Evolutionary Purpose
Self organizing teams Self-decorated warm spaces without status markers Organization seen as a living entity with its own evolutionary purpose
Coaches w/o P&L responsibility when needed Clear values translated into explicit ground rules, Strategy emerges organically from collective intelligence of self-managing employees
Almost no staff functions Ongoing values discussion Decision making by listening to organization‘s purpose (everyone, large group, meditations…)
Coordination and meetings ad hoc when needs arise Quiet room, meditation practices, team supervision, peer coaching Concept of competition irrelevant (embraced to pursue purpose)
Radically simplified project management, Storytelling practices to support self-disclosure and community building Growth and market share only important in as much they help achieve purpose
Minimum plans & budgets Absence of job titles and descriptions to allow selfhood to shape roles Profit as lagging indicator: will come naturally when doing the right thing
Fluid and granular roles Honest discussion about individual time commitments Inside out marketing: offer is defined by purpose
Decision making fully decentralized (advice process) Regular time devoted to address conflicts “Sense and respond“ planning/budgeting/controlling
Transparent real time information sharing incl. financials Specific meeting practices keep ego at check No or radically simplified budgets, no tracking of variance; no targets
Anybody can spend any amount of money provided advice process is respected Distributed initiatives taking “Change management“ no longer relevant as organization constantly adapts from within
Formal multi-step conflict resolution process Recruitment interviews by future colleagues, focus on fit with organization Suppliers chosen by fit with purpose
Focus on Team performance, peer-based process for individual appraisals Personal freedom for training, focus on culture-building Total transparency invites outsiders to make suggestions to better bring about purpose
Self-set salaries with peer calibration, no bonus, profit sharing Personal inquiry into one‘s learning journey and calling Conscious sensing of what mood would serve best
Caring support to turn dismissal into a learning opportunity

This book really shifted my thinking about organisations and leadership; maybe I read it at the right time in my life and/or at a juncture where my understanding of complexity was sufficient to enable this shift. Either way, it was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back with respect to my long-standing relationship with Elliott Jaques and structured hierarchy. The more I am learning about complexity the harder this relationship has become. Faced with evidence that disprove my current view – I now have to dismiss some of the concepts I have been working with and often promoted for a long time, or at least recognise their limitations in complex environments.

I had an exchange with Jurgen Appelo a few months ago where we debated the idea of levels of work in manager – subordinate relationships. Jurgen has for a long time argued that management is too important to leave to the managers, I now feel that I have a much better idea of where he is coming from.

I still maintain that people have different levels of capability and that a successful outcome is to some extent dependent on a good match between complexity and capability. However, this does not have to be formalised through a hierarchy with defined role vested authority and accountability, personally earned authority seems to suffice. Collectively we are smarter than any individual is and not many complex tasks are completed in isolation from everyone else in the organisation.

The sad part of the research findings that underpins the book (although not surprising) is that Frederic was not able to point to any examples of organisations shifting and sustaining Teal practices without the following two conditions:

  1. “Top leadership: The founder or top leader (let’s call him the CEO for lack of a better term), must have integrated a worldview and psychological development consistent with the Teal development level. Several examples show that it is helpful, but not necessary, to have a critical mass of leaders operating at that stage. .

  2. Ownership: Owners of the organisation must also understand and embrace Evolutionary Teal worldviews. Board members that “don’t get it,” experiences shows, can temporarily give a Teal leader free rein when their methods deliver outstanding results. But when the organisation hits a rough patch or faces a critical choice, owners will want to get things under control in the only way they know that makes sense to them – through top-down, hierarchical command and control mechanisms”

Reinventing Organizations – Frederic Laloux

All the adult development theories I have come across suggest that only a relatively small percentage of the adult population is at a post-conventional or in a later developmental stage akin to that of Teal Organisations. Possibly even fewer in leadership positions where they could affect any change. Most operate from a conventional stage and hence we have so many of the achievement driven organisations we see and potentially work in today.

So perhaps given that last paragraph I should not totally give up on all of the ideas and concepts from RO and Systems Leadership Theory, some may have a place in making orange and green organisations better in some ways even if they will not guide us into Teal territory.

Hopefully the pace of development truly is accelerating, as that is a prerequisite for more Teal organisations to emerge that more people get to the later stages of adult development. Even now we can start to see the how younger generations prefer to operate, it is in a similar fashion to what Gary Hamel, in his book “What Matters Now”,  notes are common practice on the web:

  • No one can kill a good idea
  • Everyone can pitch in
  • Anyone can lead
  • No one can dictate
  • You get to choose your cause
  • You can easily build on top of what others have done
  • You don’t have to put up with bullies and tyrants
  • Agitators don’t get marginalized
  • Excellence usually wins (and mediocrity doesn’t)
  • Passion-killing policies get reversed
  • Great contributions get recognized and celebrated

Interestingly though the language in the title of the book is very much from an Orange Achievement lens rather than a Teal one. Perhaps children growing up in today’s hyper connected, peer sharing world will be naturally drawn to organisations where Teal practices are in place? For my own son’s sanity I really hope he does not have to suffer through the same level of corporate BS that his parents have (and are still dealing with).

For a summary of the book visit www.reinventingorganizations.com or for a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcS04BI2sbk

performance target, friend or foe?

I subscribe to Stacy Barr’s blog on performance measures and the other day she posted an entry on targets. Since I am working towards removing targets all together I posted a reply.  

Stacey’s post is available on http://staceybarr.com/measure-up/targets-that-are-shoulding-you-in-the-foot/

My reply is published below and I’ll be interested in Stacey’s reply.

Hi Stacey, I’ve commented on this topic before and in my view targets are a complete waste of time – we should not become friends with them we should abolish them. The negative consequences of targets and a target setting culture are quite astonishing.

What is wrong with just measuring performance with the intent of learning and improving? What value does the numerical target add to this, especially since it will be an arbitrary number anyway? Any number you put up could be questioned, we need to improve by 10%, why not 11% or 9%? – the real question is by what method will we improve our performance? 

Even in safety with Zero harm targets which on the surface sounds admirable, the danger is that people do not report things as it will ruin the reporting.

Targets motivate people – if so where is the evidence for this claim? I’ve seen much evidence to suggest the contrary, targets demotivating staff and creating a de facto purpose to reach the target regardless of broader impact, all sorts of creativity comes into play to manipulate data to reach the target. A recent report from House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) into allegations of police mis-recording of crime statistics highlight this.

Simon Guilfoyle’s blog and link to the report is available on http://inspguilfoyle.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/incontrovertible-evidence/

I’ve borrowed this marvellous image from Simon’s twitter feed.

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Targets sets direction – surely a well defined sense of purpose already does this. If people do not know why they are doing something that is a critical failing of leadership.

Stacey, you know your statistics so when I say that there are only three places a target can reside on a control chart you know what I talk about (assuming a stable process). It will either be below the LCL (in which case you will always meet the target), it will be in between the UCL and LCL (in which case it will be hit and miss due to common cause), or it will be above the UCL (in which case you will never reach it with the current method).

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Your example of reducing the time from 24 hours to 12 hours is an interesting one, why is the average time important? A couple of complex cases and your average can blow out. You have spoken before about the need to shift the process capability and that’s a way to understand if any real improvement has been achieved. The value is as you know not in the average as such.

Targets and target setting is the thinking of the command and control manager in a organisation where decision-making is separated from work. As the complexity of organisations increase and more and more work is knowledge work, managers have had to abandon the attempt to control the individual activities of their staff and stop using target-setting to try to control the organisation.