Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Management of the Absurd

I'm reading the book "Management of the Absurd" by Richard Farson (Simon & Schuster, NY, 1996).  Let me share with you how he opens the book.  "All of us like to think that human affairs are essentially rational, that they work like other things in our world, and that we should therefore be able to make them work for us. The wealth of experience that fails to support this notion never seems to faze us. Small wonder, then, that it may require some effort to accept the fact that life is absurd, that human affairs usually work not rationally but paradoxically, and that we can never quite master our relationships with others."
He goes on to say, "The idea that we learn from our failures is built on the notion that we learn from our own experience, that experience is the best teacher.  In one sense that is obviously true, because experience is really all we have.  But to learn from experience means that we have to process it in some way that makes it available to us. We have to analyze it. And, most of us, for some reason or another, don't do that. We don't take the time and energy, we don't want to know the unpleasant aspects of it, we don't want to look deeply into our failures.  Experience could be the best teacher, but it seldom is.  As an example, organization consultant Robert Tannenbaum says that too many senior managers who have been at the job thirty years don't necessarily have thirty years experience - they have more like one year of experience, thirty times."
As we consider issues in our organizational diagnoses, it is important to look for both individual willingness and organizational willingness to REFLECT on failures as well as success.  I might mention that Farson also says that "we learn not from our failures but from our successes and the failure of others."  True reflection - "nothing is as invisible as the obvious."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From great chaos comes great opportunity

Thomas Friedman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times (and author of The World is Flat) wrote an interesting piece today (1/21), the day after Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States.  I offer it to you (see the URLs list on this blog) not as a political statement but as an example of what our new President faces in his Organizational Development and analysis upon taking charge of this country.  Some may say that a country is not an organization. Probably not, but the government, as determined by the President, is (he picks the cabinet and other operational posts). 
How do you suppose Lewin would describe an organization in chaos through his Force Field Analysis?  Since turmoil has 'unfrozen' so much, the opportunity to restructure already exists.  How can we, as leaders, use this current chaos in our efforts to improve our organizations? This is a tremendous opportunity for us to add value to our existing organizations.  It is also a reality that should help you frame your projects.  Think about it - you don't need to create chaos for change  - it already exists!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Understanding Culture

"If you don't understand the culture of the company (or school, district or dept!), even your most brilliant strategies will fail.  Your vision will be resisted, plans won't get executed properly, and all kinds of things will start going wrong."   
Isadora Sharp, Chairman and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels

I am confident in saying that most educational leaders do not value enough the necessity of identifying the EXISTING culture of their school, district, academic department or program before they start off trying to make change - most often under the guise of "improvement."  How can you  know where the organization needs to go if you don't know where you already are? Change for change sake can't be productive. 
For a leader to truly have an impact on improving student performance it is critical that we understand the role culture plays in the educational organization.  Educational organizations are typically VERY stable and somewhat static organizations for employees. That must be where we start......