Stuck in the Flood Mini-Series
This is Part 4 of the mini-series from Real Work Done, Stuck in the Flood. If you’ll want to catch up, here are the links:
Part 1: The Flood You Can Feel but You Can’t See
Part 2: The Leading Killer of High-Performance Everywhere
Part 3: The Silent Pressure to Do It All
Part 4: Change Is Constant and Unpredictable
Today’s edition is about change. It’s short and direct because I only use the words that I need to make a point.
Change happens faster now than ever before. Humans and communities are more complex than they have ever been, which means that change inevitably happens in surprising and unpredictable ways.
The reality that change is constant and unpredictable is not the problem. It’s just reality.
The problems emerge when organizations and their leaders believe that this reality doesn’t apply to them.
This problem is rooted in the fact that, while there has never really been a monolithic cultural experience, many books on organizational leadership and management collectively assume there has been.
Almost a quarter of the way into the twenty-first century, we know there is not a homogeneous cultural experience, but many organizational structures and practices haven’t kept pace because leaders and teams are flooded with a crisis of organizational multitasking.
Modern management practices in the Western world were developed and evangelized almost entirely by white, heterosexual men like Fred Taylor, Peter Drucker, and Jack Welch (with notable exceptions, like Margaret Wheatley and Taiichi Ohno), while big management consulting firms preached the corporate gospel that the greatest social good a company can do is to maximize short term shareholder profits.
The social sector was shaped by this thinking too. In many nonprofits and government organizations, short-term benefit is often prioritized over long-term sustainable gains.
Although many people rejected these ideas at the time, and I have met very few leaders who would explicitly embrace the modern management model of profit at all costs (though let’s be honest, those evangelists are still recruiting converts), misguided notions about performance and how to manage it still infiltrate many organizations.
Too often, we treat organizations like machines and long for the predictability and control that modern management promises.
And yet, we are divided all the while from the simple truth that organizations are made of people—people who have evolved to effectively solve problems in very specific ways.
With all of this in mind, organizational leaders find themselves at a crossroads: they are habitually perpetuating the misguided advice of modern management gurus because of the pressure to do it all, while simultaneously recognizing that these ideas don’t work well in a time where change is constant and fast.
It’s a dilemma rooted in deeply held cultural illusions. Tune in tomorrow for Part 5, where I’ll tell you about one of the most insidious illusions gripping many organizations—A Fetish for Output.
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