Organizational Effectiveness

How much really lousy writing and consulting work have you seen in the name of “organizational effectiveness”? Quite a bit – I am sure of that. I see countless consulting firms and practitioners in the “talent management,” “human capital” and “organizational development” space. And the vast majority of them come at organizational problems with a mind set rooted in mid-19th century management models and ideas. Most of that thinking was really engineering based. You stimulate an organization here and in this way, and out the other side come the outcomes you desire. Inputs and outputs are generally the tools of the trade.

Just look at the terms generally used, and you can get a clue about the underlying thinking. “Human Capital” is sort of the term de jour. Are humans really “capital”? Fungible assets to be aligned, managed and placed into use just other forms of capital? How about “Talent Management”? Here is another term that begs more questions than it answers. Can we “manage” talent, or is management the problem with talent being realized and fulfilled? “Organizational Development” seems to suggest the organization is somehow distinct from the people within it. But can we really change and organization with processes, structure and procedures?

We are beginning to see the emergence of some good thinking and writing in this broad space. As I see things, the best elements of the current thinking about how organizations behave are NOT coming from business schools, MBA programs or traditional human resources professionals. Rather, the best thinking and writing is emerging from the behavioral sciences and is reflected in books like Drive by Daniel Pink. Behavioral economics is another sign of a growing body of writers, scholars and thinkers that recognize that today’s world and workplaces cannot be understood without a fundamental understanding of what makes the human beings within our economy and organizations tick.

Behavioral Economics explores why rational thinking and formulas do not adequately explain the ACTUAL way economies work. The traditional economics approach was formula driven – supply/demand, etc. – that reflected an effort to offer rational explanations for a chaotic set of circumstances and outcomes. Similarly, the traditional approach to organizational effectiveness – while paying lip service to the human elements – sought rational explanations for the ways organizations behave, and therefore, sought rational and usually structural solutions to what are essentially human behavioral issues and problems.

We are seeing a whole new way of thinking emerge, and it’s very exciting. For instance, ROWE (results only work environments) take traditional notions of how organizations operate and toss those notions out the window. ROWE’s are a far more realistic “structure” where structure and old fashioned processes and procedures give way to a work place where the only thing that matters are the results employees deliver.

Check out the terrific ROWE web site, and explore some the writing. The work of Jodi Thompson and Cali Ressler, formerly HR leaders at Best Buy where they launched the largest corporate ROWE initiative to date, are representative of a whole new way of looking – finally – at WHY and HOW human beings are productive and engaged. Truly wonderful stuff!

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