# 16 Human Organization Link -

Check out the link at the bottom of this. It's entitled "Resilient Structures". I found it this morning and the very first paragraph jumped out at me.

"After awhile, human organizations seem to deteriorate. Often the individuals in them will be busy, spending long hours going to meetings, producing PowerPoints etc., but the amount of useful work - measured by successful new products, for example - keeps going down. This isn't a description of every organization, but you have to admit it's depressingly common."

Welcome to the United States Army. (Sarcasm intensified for effect)

The 2nd paragraph goes on to say,
"You also know, however, that the pattern can be reversed IF energy - primarily in the form of new ideas- is brought in from the outside to keep the organization fresh and competitive. It's not easy, but through techniques...it is possible to reverse organizational decline."

As an aside, this may be yet another reason for the officer / NCO divide. For the NCO the unit pretty much remains the same. Same organization, same day-to-day tasks, same eventual deployment etc. The only thing that changes is the name of the person at the top. Each new chain of command says pretty much the same thing on Day 1 i.e., "we're going to be combat focused, take care of families, work hard, be a team etc etc, but that gets ground down pretty quickly by the daily requirements. Within 6 months or so in an average organization, it becomes hard to tell one set of leadership from another. "Oh great! Another good idea! Can anyone remember what happened to the last one? I can't seem to find it anymore." For the officer, however, this is another one of their very limited opportunities to gain valuable knowledge, experience, and career progression. And so the opportunity is faced with renewed energy and purpose and a sudden awareness of the weight and burden of command. The idea of being responsible for people, and events, sometimes outside of their direct control becomes all to real. (More on that in another post.)

The linked article goes on to say that bringing outside energy into the organization - in the form of new ideas that challenge current norms - is a requirement for it's continued growth. In fact, it goes on to point out that in some cases, that outside energy is an actual physical requirement for the organizations survival. This brings up the idea of entropy. As you read some of the comments below the main article, you find one that brings forth the idea that corporations sooner or later must implode. They do so because they reach a point where the successful ideas of the past coupled with a focus away from the original product and on to profit margin makes them work towards a status quo arrangement. The current state of General Motors would be a good example of this. What had worked before - a safe product, consistent profits etc, created a corporate culture that valued continuing along the same path. Although in the current market world I'm sure that there were folks at GM who foresaw the impending crisis, the corporate culture was so pervasive that they were probably seen as heretics within the company. From an Army perspective, "That's the way we've always done it". Add to that both the corporate and military aversion to risk and generational prisms, and it's pretty easy to see how the entropy can take hold. Now, after the bailout, GM is aggressively fighting to return to profitability with new products, new ideas, and a new focus on the customer. The entropy has been removed by force.

Another good example of this might be Microsoft and Apple. At first, the very introduction of new products and the low cost proliferation of technology was the focus for both companies. However, there was a time in the mid-to-late 90's when Microsoft had become so huge that it shifted focus away from the needs of the users and on to protecting it's market share. Only after a change in leadership at the top has there been a refocusing on what made them successful in the first place. Conversely, Apple stayed more closely tied to the customer (the bottom), took innovative steps (IPOD, I phone) and has remained people/product focused and therefore has created a class of products and technology that has gained them an extremely loyal following.

The Army works completely on people. Forget for a moment all the technology, equipment etc and recognize that the Army is people. In that manner it shares many of the same characteristics of any large corporation. While it is not culturally profit driven, the culture of "We can do anything the Nation asks us to, at any time, in any place" has the same effect on how we operate. There is a professional Soldier culture - absolute dedication, self and family sacrifice, the 24 hour work cycle. Maintaining the facade for the American people that they can relax because our wise sages have already worked out the correct answer to every possible scenario. There is no contingency that we don't already have a plan for. In fact, in many cases, that last sentence is true. Somewhere in the Pentagon, I'm sure that there is a huge room filled with contingency plans for all types of crises. The question is how may of them are relevant? The mere fact that they exist has the effect of providing a false sense of security and introducing a complacent mindset (entropy). "Don't sweat it...OP PLAN 123XYZ was written 5 years ago to provide the answer to the problem." Never mind that there have been huge political, technological, or historical changes in the intervening time. Ultimately, that room becomes a huge guessing game of trying to figure out the next fight and hoping to god you don't get it wrong.

In the link below, you begin to hear about dissonance. A discordant sound. Something out of harmony with the host environment. Ahhh, the Disgruntled Employees Club. The critical voice of dissent. The loyal opposition. That person or group that is waiving the red flag and talking of impending doom when everyone else is cheering and paddling the canoe. These folks are critical to organizational health. When I say loyal and critical, I mean exactly that. Soldiers who truly care about the unit and look at it with a critical eye. Not just bitching for bitching's sake, but those who feel out-of-step with the leadership. In general, one of the two groups, the Top and the Bottom has to be correct. So, if the Bottom is out-of-step then the Top will never be as successful as it could be. If the Top is out-of-step then the Bottom will soon lose faith and become self-protecting. Either way, entropy or organizational implosion will be the result. But those individuals in the unit/organization/corporation who truly value the people, the challenges and the mission (be it military or corporate) who feel out-of-step need to be sought out by the leadership and listened to.

We all need to look at ourselves critically and figure out whether or not we are creeping our way towards entropy, or are we seeking out the dissonance around us and using it to see our world more clearly and to stay ahead of emerging challenges.


1 comment:

  1. I found this quote this moring: "The most damaging phrase in the language is: "It's always been done that way."

    See, I'm not the only one who thinks this way!