Organizations Are Made Up of People
June 2, 2011
In last months newsletter I wrote about the need for specificity in formulating strategy and in planning for its implementation. I pointed out that a key to success is the need to put someone in charge of its implementation. This month Id like to elaborate a bit more on this aspect of management, as it has a much wider applicability than just strategy.
One of my masters courses was on organizational development. The course manual was titled The Human Side of Organizations or some other such title. I remember asking the professor what other side of organization there could possibly be. He was a bit dumbstruck, as he admitted he had never considered that question before. My point was simple: organizations are made up of people and nothing else. For a set time during the day, they get together to solve problems or achieve their common objectives, but the organization per se, as well as its procedures and work and information flows, has no existence beyond the conventional. In other words, organizations are patterns of human interaction. They are not things that exist in the world independently of the people that constitute them.
Whenever you want to get something done, you have to do it with the cooperation or compliance of others. The head of a company or any other kind of organization must work with others to develop strategy and plans, to implement the plans, and to follow up with its members, clients, and other stakeholders. We talk about the organization doing this, and the department doing that, but what we really mean is this group of people will do this for a set period of time in order to get this outcome with other people. That is the essence of the science of organization and management.
And it all comes down to leadership, influence, communication, negotiation, and other forms of exchange. You can have the best strategy and plans in the world, but if they arent formulated in a manner that creates commitment and cooperation, then the people who must carry them forward wont do so. You can have the best processes, systems, and equipment in the world, but if the people who agree to be part of the organization or the team dont put them into action, then the organization wont benefit from them.
Whenever I work with my clients on formulating strategy and action planning, I always make it clear that someone has to be in charge of each of the initiatives. There must be a person who is appointed to lead the team on every single desired outcome and goal. Its not enough to say, the team is responsible, or the committee will decide. Organizations in government are notorious for creating this type of environment of dissipated and insipid responsibility. It stems from the risk aversion of people who are drawn to government employment and political strictures that discourage and sometimes punish unauthorized action or risk-taking. There are a few brave souls in government who are willing to take risks and put their reputations on the line to assume leadership, but they are relatively rare.
But in the private sector, we often see the opposite. The owner of a company simply assumes that because he or she has decreed that something will happen, it will. Successful entrepreneurs tend to have an unerring confidence in their ability to push through just about any initiative or change, but they tend rely too much on the strength of their own conviction. In many cases, they do it themselves because they think others cant be trusted to do it properly. As a result, employees of many small and medium sized businesses hesitate to act on their own initiative, not because they cant or dont want to, but because they know their decisions run a high risk of being overturned by the boss. Another effect is that small businesses often end up with little or no bench strength to take over the organization once the owner is willing or obliged to retire, often because of age or health related reasons.
There is a middle ground between both extremes. If you accept that an organization is made up of people, then you have to accept that people are essential to getting things done. You can consult and try to achieve a consensus on ends, ways, and means. But at some point, someone has to decide for the organization. Once the decision is made, then someone has to make a plan, create the structures, systems, and processes to implement the plan, communicate the plan or issue guidance and direction to members of the team, and then supervise and control the inputs and outputs to achieve the aim.
Its about people, the processes and structure of interactions they use, the competence and influence of formal and informal leaders, working together toward common objectives. There is really only one dimension of organization, and it is the human dimension. The best way to develop your people is to give them responsibility and the authority to deliver on it.
© 2011 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted for non-commercial purposes with full and proper attribution.For more information contact
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