Recently I had the opportunity to work in a small seminar group on the design of change processes in complex systems. Organization developers from all parts of the USA met in Leesburg, Virginia, about 40 miles from Washington D.C. Although I was the only European, the degree of cultural diversity was high: the countries of birth of the eight participants included India, Peru, Libya, the USA and, in my case, Austria. Skin color, age, professional background - we couldn't have been more different.
Over the course of the seminar, this diversity reflected exactly what is required when dealing with complex systems: the more varied the perspectives from which we view complex situations, the better.
Just as Marcel Proust put it:
"The voyage of true discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes."
Learn about self-motivation at work – and how to get your wife to watch the Football World Cup with you. A guide not only for men.
I - The motivated salmon filleter
I recently came across another interesting article by the American psychologist and bestselling author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, whom I hold in very high esteem. In the article, entitled “The Pleasure Principle”, he deals with the question of what factors cause people to feel satisfaction and happiness in the workplace.
It is now four decades ago that a 21-year-old Brazilian, who up to that point had mainly been earning his living as a rock band guitarist, took over a mechanical engineering company from his father, a native Austrian. The company was on the brink of ruin, but young Ricardo Semler had a million ideas, boundless energy and was hungry for action and influence. He was also a hothead who dismissed 60% of his top managers in a single afternoon because they did not want to do things his way.
Companies need structure. In most cases, these are hierarchical structures characterized by the super- and subordination of employees. Everyone knows who has the authority to make decisions. However, this aspiration for clarity is increasingly proving illusory in practice. Striving for clarity in a complex environment is like trying to get rid of fog in order to be able to drive more safely. It is more important in such a situation to adapt one's own actions and the available management tools to the general conditions. The Dutch company Buurtzorg has undertaken this attempt and adopted a network structure - and has thus become more successful than any other company in its sector.
For companies to function, they have to establish some sort of order. Mostly this is carried out by using hierarchical structures. Leaders in my seminars always laugh out loud when they hear what the word hierarchy actually means in translation.
During a seminar on the subject of empowerment, one of the participants asked me whether managers did not also have a duty of care towards their employees. To stimulate discussion, I told the group the story of the Pullman strike. Until the big strike of May 1894, which spread across the nation from the Pullman factories south of Chicago, George Pullman had been considered a benevolent entrepreneur. He was a welfare capitalist who built over 12,000 comfortable homes and houses with sanitary facilities and gas connections for his workers, while many other American workers had to live in the shabbiest housing imaginable. There were schools for their children, he had a theatre and a church built and a park planted for them.
A group of managers from an international company meets at a seminar on leadership. The executives are experienced, have a lot of responsibility and most of them also manage executives.
In the preliminary discussion, the HR department and company management both emphasize that the managers have a high level of practical experience, but that they are mostly active in terms of their daily business, that their performance as regards urgent work is excellent, but that they have given little thought to the long-term development of their employees and that the strategic orientation is rather weak. The HR department is concerned by the fact that agreed management tools are not, or only superficially, used. The appraisal interviews are short, the protocols are seen more as an annoying nuisance than as an aid to staff management.