what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Organisational Health - time to change the medicine if not the doctor......

I’ve been “doing development” for so long that I’ve just begun to realise how odd if not questionable an activity it is……preying on people’s dissatisfactions and hopes…..and, yet, more and more consultants, academics and development workers get paid good money to churn out reports and books which identify organisational deficiencies….and then develop programmes which order people what they should be doing – rather than helping the organisation’s staff to flourish……
Such change programmes have been scything through the private and public sectors in similar fashion for the past couple of decades – they are all controlled by the same type of person in the Corporate Consultancy or national/international Funding Body…… they make the same sorts of assumptions….use the same sort of models…..and generally fail…  
The private sector has generally been in the van - with the public sector taking another few years to pick up the same fads....We noticed this more than 10 years ago - when there were several books indeed about the phenomenon of the "management guru" and the emptiness of what they preached....
But it ll seemed out of everyone's control.....

I’m at last beginning to pick up a deeper sense that something has gone seriously wrong with the way we have "parsed" management and development in the post-war period….although there are huge political and financial interests in keeping a state of amnesia; a sense of bafflement amongst so called experts about the health of our organisations….
The Emperor has no clothes post referred to some recent critical assessments in both the field of public management and development to which I should add Toward a new world – some inconvenient truths for anglo-saxons 2014 lecture by Chris Pollitt (which, rather belatedly, recognises that a significant part of Europe - as well as the world) - has never bought the neo-liberal/Benthamite thinking of "New Public Management"); and A government that works better – and cost less?? By Christopher Hood and Ruth Dixon .
-  And this book on Reinventing Organisations also seems to be making waves in the private sector – taking us back to management books of the 1980s and echoing the work of maverick Richard Semmler….

Is it too much to suggest that there is a link here with the “slow food” and the “limits to growth” movements? All signalling a wider revolt against the way advertising, marketing and the corporate media has so insidiously, in the post-war period, developed a collective sense of dissatisfaction??

For the first part of my working life I was an “insider” working to improve a very large (public) organisation - with a strategy and structures which tried to use the energies of a range of people which the organisation’s “logic” had trained it to ignore….These were its lower-level officials, its more junior politicians and, above all, citizen activists we brought into new structures we established in the early 80s. I’m glad to say that this sort of work was so strongly accepted and “embedded” (to use an important concept in the change literature) that it has continued to this day in the structures and strategies of the Scottish Government….

But my role fundamentally changed after 1990 to that of an “Outsider” – the European Commission (and the small private “consultancies” it sub-contracts) funded me to appear in capitals and to “effect change”… using increasingly detailed prescriptions and tools which I wrote about with increasing frustration……What I enjoyed was identifying and working flexibly with people who wanted to change their institutions for the better – but the rigidity with which EC programmes are designed made that increasingly impossible….
It was a decade ago I first came across the notion of “good enough governance” which challenged the push global bodies such as The World Bank were making (at the start of the new millennium) for “good governance” - including the development of indices to measure the extent of progress “developing countries” were making in reaching the standards of public management apparently possessed by “developed” countries.

We need to explore this “good enough” concept in all our thinking but, above all, we need to have an outright ban on externally-imposed organisational change…..and a requirement that anybody proposing change should have to justify it to a panel of self-professed sceptics….

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