Simon Terry pulls together several different strands of thinking about the limits of management. The focus on efficiency and elimination of waste cuts us off from the biggest potential, our capacity to grow and innovate.
I see many organisations struggling to get a quart of productivity into a pint pot of systems, under great stress to make savings and be more efficient. I’d suggest that as that stress rises, so does the number of management abstractions bandied about: people only feel safe to talk in general terms about things like “leadership” because if they got specific the whole stressed out deck of cards might come falling down. In these circumstances, meetings become a workaholic microcosm of the organisation – we fill the walls with masses of post-it notes as if this is the measure of the value of our conversations. We can talk in general terms about the need to “manage upwards” or “creating a no-blame culture” but this actually becomes a way of avoiding actually doing it.
On top of this, speaking in big strategic terms is often associated with high status, so the more “senior” the manager, the more likely they are to be indulged in this habit… and the more others will think talking this way is how to get ahead.
I think this logjam breaks when someone gets specific and personal, stepping out of the cocoon of abstraction to engage with someone as a human being: maybe kindly, maybe harshly, but with something resembling a human emotion. In doing so, they reveal, even in the disguise of anger, some personal vulnerability.
I tweeted this the other day:
Most “change” conversations in orgs assume change is a one-way process, in which the changer gets to stay the same. A terrible fallacy IMHO
If we stick to the clever, high status abstractions about efficiency we are probably trying to stay the same, while inviting others to change. When we speak a little more from our edge, and from our own struggles, then we might re-engage as humans and something new might happen. We might not like it, but it will at least be new.
I would be very wary of anyone claiming they have a “tool” or a “process” that will make this happen. Whatever process you run, in the end someone, somewhere has to stick their neck out a little… and someone else has to manage their urge to chop it off. You can blather on about values, culture till the cows come home; humans are smart and complex and we’ll find ways to signal our vulnerability, anger, contempt, enthusiasm, love whatever the system.