Monday, June 3, 2013

(1)Time to abolish the military and quasi-military organizational structure in public and private organizations

This is going to ruffle some feathers, especially among the power elite in various organizations, in both public and private sectors. We are all extremely conscious of the obsolescence that is built into too many of the products we all buy. It is a marketing, and a business model calculated to generate more sales when the product wears out, breaks, falls apart or merely loses "fashion".
What we are not generally as conscious of is the obsolescence of the kind of organizational structure that permeates our western culture, that of the hierarchy, the military, quasi-military, pseudo-military, and hybrid-military organizational structure.
It is time to bury all the evidence of its long and checkered history in the museums that are dedicated to the relics of western culture. And if that means we have to create more museums for the purpose, then so be it.
Consolidating power in a single person, or a small group of people, may be highly efficient in terms of simplifying the decisions that must be made, in order to facilitate the operation of the organization. However, we have learned too much about human nature, about the capacity to contribute when offered the opportunity, about the capacity to learn and to observe in whatever unique manner we each bring to the situation, and about the failures of the "military" model to continue to subscribe to its continuing deployment.
The local mechanic, operating his/her own shop in a small village, for example, is almost invariably endowed with a kind of insight missing from most organizations, given their addiction to the hiring of the slotted "experts" whose titles appear on the organizational chart. We have thrown this baby of common sense out with the bathwater of the generalist whose capacity to express both innovative and edgy or risky recommendations in practically all organizational situations. And, in so doing, we have lost the capacity for trust, and the capacity for most organizations to communicate with their various constituencies.
A former White House and Hillary Clinton speech-writer, Jon Lovitt, in addressing the graduates of Pitzer College in Claremont CA, (from NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, June 3, 2013) touched on one aspect of this issue of obsolete organizations when he urged graduates to speak up even if and when they were wrong, so that they would more likely grow a deeper discernment for judging when to ignore their inexperience whether they were 'right' or 'wrong' in their view of the situation.His counsel was so refreshing as to be verging on the absurd in a politically correct straight-jacketed culture.
It is the military organizational structure that demands a level of obedience, verging also on the absurd, in the light of the dominance of the "organization's command structure" over the personnel who serve in that structure. Those in power are right, absolutely, always, in all circumstances, and their power and authority is never to be questioned by those "underlings" who serve under them. That is a political, sociological, cognitive and common sense disconnect that renders both those in power out of touch with both a wider reality and the full reality of those who serve under them, and those "under" to a form of infantilism. Following orders, as is the expected response for all serving in such organizations (and most have adopted this model to a greater or lesser degree) when such orders conflict with the individual's conscience, belief system, larger knowledge of the context in which those orders are being disseminated and even when to do so will inflict irreparable harm on innocents, is about as absurd as the kind of cover-up that ensues when some inevitable "casualty" of stupidity, ignorance, lack of discipline or attentiveness on the part of the person(s) in charge. The organization simply must never be seen to be "wrong" or to have made a mistake, or to have broken some wider and more cogent set of rules under which the whole of society operates, and those in power will and do go to great lengths to white-wash, to cover up, to throw under the bus, or under the carpet anyone or any report that indicates the organization has failed to accept what common sense would indicate is its responsibility.
A cogent example of such a situation (documented in another place in these 'pages') is found in  Dr. Scott Peck's search through the Pentagon for the individual or group of individuals who were responsible for the Mi Lai massacre. He recounts, in his book, People of the Lie, that he could and did find no one, and no group, who was responsible, and yet we all know, as did Peck, that someone had to issue the order to conduct that debacle.
Ford Motor Company, just today, issued a recall on several thousand vehicles, indicating that a malfunction could result in fire in the vehicle, although reports indicate that "no fires have been reported". It is called "damage control" if and when a situation emerges in a military or quasi-military organization and the "damage control experts" are rushed into the situation to 'manage the message'. After all millions of Ford owners, investors, bankers and employees are counting on this recall not to devastate the company's reputation. There were likely dozens or more reports from various sources indicating that trouble was emerging from these vehicles months or even years before today when Ford could no longer "contain" the story, without the recall.
Let's go a little further in unpacking this Ford story. In a military operation, there are shop foremen and women, inspectors and line workers, designers and engineers all of them performing a designated task, and all of them "dedicated to quality as job #1" as the Ford sell line used to say. However, as each of these segments of the car's development are discreet, separate from each other, except when the whole comes out the finishing end of the assembly line, there is little likelihood that the whole car's design, construction, part composition, positional relationship to other components, sequencing of the assembly so as to provide opportunity to examine in detail the potential 'hot spots' that might emerge, that previously have not been in the files. There is also little likelihood that any single person, or department is or will be held responsible for whatever the glitches are that have led to this most recent recall. In short, while the public face of the company is in damage control, the plants in which the vehicles were designed and assembled, continue much as before, with the possible exception that some tweeking will result in one or more segments of the assembly.
Of course, there will likely be a "Suggestion Box" of some level of significance in the plant, and there will also likely be an incentivized program to generate enhancements, and some workers may have actually participated. However, it is also highly likely that such upward communication, except on working conditions, is capped for many reasons, most of them having to do with efficiency, productivity cost-benefit analyses, expert opinions sought and required from those with both training and a history with the company and the line of authority which dictates where responsibility and authority intersect, "where the buck stops" in other words.
The problem is that "where the buck stops" is merely another of those top-down decisions that flow from the executive suite, linked to the salary grid, and the lines of authority/responsibility that will hopefully parallel each other, and, depending on the political relationship of each executive to the power structure, that "buck-stops-here" sign moves to accommodate the hidden political alliances.
So,within the military structure, there are really at least two "organizations, the formal and the informal, and whoever chooses to work within must become intimately acquainted with both.
Oh, I hear the howls of protest, "How can you even contemplate an industrial, or even an informational organization that is not operating as a military hierarchy? Someone has to be "in charge"....
To which I say, it is not adequate any longer for a single person to assume such authority and responsibility given the complexity and the pace and the multiple factors in the calculus of any organization, including the largest and the medium and even the smaller organizations. Organizations operating in the military-model, with a top commander, are guaranteed to self-sabotage, because there is too little oxygen and blood, that is honest and complete information, flowing into a single office, board room, or executive committee. The potential obstructions to the legitimate, necessary and full flow of both formal and informal information into a single "hub" are legion, and are never really fully unblocked, providing a full disclosure of the detailed contextual realities from which the various decisions of each department and the organization as a whole emerge.
Individual motives of all those who wear the company logo, as employees, overlaid with the expectations of supervisors, peers, competing individuals and departments,  the culture within that has  set guidelines for what is appropriate to talk about and what not to mention for both the formal and the informal operation of the organization, not to mention the latest curves in organizational performance...these all play a role in shaping the quantitative and the qualitative flow of  internal 'big data' on which decisions have to be based. Cutting through that maze, without a literal machete as if slogging through a jungle, is impossible and that makes whatever does flow 'to the top' suspect.
Ironically, every person in the culture, both those working inside the organization and those not employed by it, is (at least metaphorically) hooked to a communication device that makes it possible for everyone to know what a specific group of people thinks about a particular issue.
That technology, at least conceptually, makes it possible for an organization to mine the thoughts, observations, visions, fears and 'danger signs' from every device throughout the organization. And such mining exercise is not only available through formal surveys, like political plebiscites, but also through conversations across all department and organizational boxes, as an integral part of the organization's modus operandi.
Just a few moments ago, we received a phone message inviting us to attend a 'town hall' conducted by a non-profit, with the opportunity for a Q & A to specific leadership...on a national, as well as a provincial basis. Such opportunities have been available for some time, but their costs have dropped and the ease with which they are accomplished has risen significantly.
I recall, from another life-time, being asked to 'vote' on the question of whether or not to name a senior student to an end-of-year secondary school committee in order to make the student's input available to planners for the following school year. The vote had to be held at least six times, before a majority of the 75+ faculty finally agreed. Tokenism, then, can and must be replaced now by authentic listening to all constituents in all organizations, as an expectation and a right of inclusion.
In the private sector, workers have almost completely lost their worker protections, including their collective bargaining rights, as corporations race to the bottom of wages and employee benefits, even to moving millions of jobs to the third world, where neither wages nor benefits are negotiated or monitored and where working conditions are usually deplorable. And yet, it is possible, given the kinds of communication technology that is available, for those third world workers to "report" their abuses to legitimate information collection and dissemination agencies, in the locations of the head offices of those companies, in order to bring to light the abuses under which too many have to work.
The International Labour Organization could initiate a project to enlist the names of all workers, the conditions of their work, including their health benefits, and provide opportunities for those workers to submit their real-time stories, without fear of firing, or other forms of punishment.
Inside major organizations, too, the ILO could provide an information line, documenting working conditions, benefits, etc. of workers in all sectors, and then make that information available to the media where both head offices and major groups of shareholders reside, in order to bring public attention to the plight of those workers.
Further, each organization, following a major shift in leadership training on all continents, in all graduate schools producing future organizational leaders, could being to adopt an approach that would ensure the regular and incentivized opportunity for all workers to contribute to the most wide-ranging and most micro-details of the organization's goals and objectives.
It is time for the inclusion of all, in the organizations that wish to generate profit or public service, in order that their methods of operation and their internal formal and informal communications reflect a more complex, and less plastic and protective veneer of mascara and the pursuit of both healthy workers and healthy workplaces.

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