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New Meanings

Page history last edited by Mark 8 years, 7 months ago

 

New Meanings

 

Bringing the Outside In

 

When organization is considered to be emergent from among a group of people who interact via valence relationships, the question of who is a member of a given organization has an interesting, provocative, and contingent answer. Membership in an organization is no longer a statement of fact based on who may be on the payroll, or who attends at particular buildings on particular days, or the state of the iconic organization chart. According to Valence Theory, organizational membership becomes a matter of sense-making among individuals and constituent organizations, sharing multiple valence relationships, relative to the particular context in which the notion of membership has meaning.

 

Roger from Unit 7 provides a view with which few would disagree:

 

Being able to form a bond with the client personally, is almost as important as professionally. Because if you have frank conversations with the client … you’ll probably get more inside [the assignment] than you normally might have gotten. … Forming the right relationships with our clients is really important. (Roger-1-277; emphasis added)

 

Organizations clearly create Economic-valence relationships with their clients and customers—there is an exchange of value. There is almost always a Socio-psychological-valence relationship created between organizations and their customers – a brand loyalty, an affinity for sales or customer service representatives, an affective association – for all but the most instrumental of unitary transactions. Among contemporary organizations, it is not uncommon for a strong Identity-valence connection to be forged. Gee, Hull, and Lankshear assert that “new capitalism is based on … selling newer and ever more perfect(ed) customized (individualized) goods and services … to groups of people who come to define and change their identities by the sorts of goods and services they consume” (1996, p. 26). Through marketing, market research, and customer service and support initiatives, Knowledge bonds form. And, the consuming public has become ever more aware of the energy exchanges among organizations, the natural environment, and itself, demonstrating the Ecological valence. According to Valence Theory, those individuals and organizations formerly considered “clients” and “customers” are, by definition, members of the organization.

 

A similar enumeration can be made for those who are considered “employees,” and euphemistically called “partners” (as in “partner organizations”). Therefore, in Valence Theory terms, there are no substantive differences between internal and external constituencies—a customer is equivalent to an employee. Mi casa es tu casa[1] takes on an interesting interpretation when the organizational casa (and surrounding yard and garden) are legitimately considered to be within all constituencies’ collective purview of responsibility. Traditionally, business has often tacitly or explicitly managed itself according to the cliché rubrics of, “the customer is king/queen” or, “the customer is always right.” This ingrained BAH notion of an implicit status hierarchy between purchaser and supplier has often been the source of considerable friction, and in some circumstances, abusive and exploitive behaviours by customers on their vendors or suppliers.

 

Understanding the (nominal) customer-supplier relationship in valence terms creates more efficient, effective, and effective engagements and outcomes. Considering what were formerly considered to be external constituencies in a manner consistent with one’s internal constituencies enables “more involvement in internal client meetings where they’re developing their strategies and business plans, and working really side by side with the client earlier in the process, versus, okay, here’s the marketing plan. You guys go and execute it” (Roger-2-40). Even in cases where the composite, valence organization includes nominal competitors, creating healthy, especially ba-form valence relationships yields better effects and outcomes, something that Roger has experienced in bringing some of Unit 7’s internal, UCaPP approaches to sometimes challenging and controversial, client/competitor circumstances (Roger-2-50).

 

Analogously, considering and treating employees as the organization would its customers and consumers may enable different sorts of conversations among many aspects of business operations. In a relatively rudimentary way, Organization A made this explicit, as Karen reports. In a town-hall style of employee meeting, a new executive exhorted, “you guys [use our products and services]. What do you want? You’re not only employees, you’re consumers. Think about, what do you want? What would make your life better?” (Karen-2-2). This, she considered to be “quite revolutionary for Organization A”—perhaps an unconscious harbinger on the part of the executive of a new sense of organizational reality permeating the business world.

 

When (formerly) internal and external constituencies are considered to be equivalent in a Valence Theory framing, issues comprising corporate social responsibility can be reconsidered in new terms. The critiques of Edward Freedman and Jeanne Liedtka with respect to corporate social responsibility, and their propositions for a renewed conversation are well-contextualized in a Valence Theory frame. Their proposal for reframing the discourse includes:

 

The Stakeholder Proposition—Corporations are connected networks of stakeholder interests;

 

The Caring Proposition—Corporations are places where both individual human beings and human communities engage in caring activities that are aimed at mutual support and unparalleled human achievement; and

 

The Pragmatist Proposition—Corporations are mere means through which human beings are able to create and recreate, describe and redescribe, their visions for self and community. (Freedman & Liedtka, 1991, p. 96)

 

Similarly, inherent class fragmentation that provides the ground of the primary-purposeful, BAH organization creates conditions of an “economic aristocracy,” according to Marjorie Kelly’s The Divine Right of Capital (2001). The effective elimination of the distinction between internal and external constituencies according to Valence Theory creates a more conducive environment to transform the discourse towards “economic democracy” based on the principles of enlightenment, equality, public good, democracy, justice, and “(r)evolution” (p. 10-11). Corporations as efficient externalizing machines (Bakan, 2004) no longer make sense when there is no longer an “external,” by definition.

 

The Nature of Leadership

 

As I mentioned earlier, the funnelling of information upwards through the hierarchy, and the privileged role of those occupying “thinker” offices in the bureaucracy, limit the possible scope and range of individual participation in organizational planning and decision-making. In such a context, administrative and bureaucratic procedures become necessary for information flow, and to provide necessary checks and balances ensuring requisite integrity and accountability throughout decision-making processes. In many cases, increasingly creative means of extrinsic motivation are de rigueur among organizational leaders to align the interests of often disaffected individuals with an imposed vision, mission, and seemingly arbitrary objectives meant to satisfy anonymous, so-called stakeholders.

 

In contrast, as I have described throughout this thesis, UCaPP organizations invest considerable time to socialize information and involve many more people than do BAH organizations in collaboratively creating the organization’s common – that is, integrative – sense and direction. In the context of organizational values that emerge from those deeply held by its members, and a common volition to action, extensive socializing of information means that each member can act relatively autonomously. All members can actively participate in assessing situations with a high degree of accuracy, enabling the organization to move quickly in actually accomplishing the task-at-hand. Leadership-embodied-as-process in the context of “true collaboration” (Loreen-1-108) does not have an explicit control function that creates the necessity for administrative controls; nor does it require the same gate-keeping discipline that necessitates leadership being embodied in an individual. In other words, the actual role of those considered leader significantly transforms as the organization becomes more UCaPP in nature.

 

Leadership embodied in an individual faces the risk of homogeneity: knowledge, context, insight, ability, and specific skills are necessarily limited in any one individual. Leader-solicited responses from whomever in the organization with respect to decisions to be made can become routine exercises, especially if the leader regularly seeks guidance from the same group of trusted advisors, or from those who are too intimidated by power disparities to offer honest views. Leadership-as-process must equally guard against the routine and the homogeneous, lest it evolves into becoming yet another administrative bureaucracy. As Loreen reflects, “it wasn’t that we’re homogeneous people, we had gotten to a homogeneous way of working” (Loreen-1-108).

 

UCaPP leaders are referent leaders—those who naturally emerge from among the organization’s membership via consensus processes involving active engagement in both inquiry and advocacy, irrespective of whether they hold a legitimated office or title. They invite heterogeneous thinking, and practice diverse inclusiveness among all aspects of the organization’s development and evolution irrespective of rank or status. In the context of collaborative values, collective sense-making, and common volition to action – all characteristics of organization-ba – leaders within UCaPP organizations promote individual autonomy and agency, collective responsibility, and mutual accountability. All members not only feel valued for their contributions; they demonstrably are valued beyond their nominal rank or station—Economic-ba.

 

Thus, a UCaPP leader’s role is environmental rather than instrumental. They are concerned with enabling leadership-as-process, creating an organizational environment in which members can learn, prosper, achieve their personal aspirations, and individually contribute to enacting not the organization’s vision, but its tactility—the intentional and mindful sustained effects throughout the wider social, material, and natural environments.

 

Effecting Organizational Transformation

 

Fritjof Capra, on the challenges and paradox of organizational transformation:

 

Organizations need to undergo fundamental changes, both in order to adapt to the new business environment and to become ecologically sustainable. This double challenge is urgent and real, and the recent extensive discussions of organizational change are fully justified. However, … the overall track record is very poor. In recent surveys, CEOs reported again and again that their efforts at organizational change did not yield the promised results. Instead of managing new organizations, they ended up managing the unwanted side effects of their efforts.

 

At first glance, this situation seems paradoxical. When we look around our natural environment, we see continuous change, adaptation, and creativity; and yet our business organizations seem to be incapable of dealing with change. Over the years, I have come to realize that the roots of this paradox lie in the dual nature of human organizations. On the one hand, they are social institutions designed for specific purposes, such as making money for their shareholders, managing the distribution of political power, transmitting knowledge, or spreading religious faith. At the same time, organizations are communities of people who interact with one another to build relationships, help each other, and make their daily activities meaningful at a personal level. (Capra, 2002, p. 99)

 

We have seen considerable evidence and examples of Capra’s duality –the purposeful and relational natures of organizations – throughout the empirical findings of this study. I have suggested that a Valence Theory approach to conceiving the fundamental nature of organization is a way to reconcile this duality—to provide a vocabulary to organization members with which to make sense of the organization they have, and the organization to which they aspire.

 

The question remains: how does an organization – specifically, the constituent members of an organization – effect transformation from “what they have” to “what they desire”? Capra notes that,

 

…it is common to hear that people in organizations resist change. In reality, people do not resist change; they resist having change imposed on them. … Their natural change processes are very different from the organizational changes designed by ‘reengineering’ experts and mandated from the top. (Capra, 2002, p. 100)

 

In effect, Capra suggests that a BAH approach to transforming an organization might be expected to meet with resistance from among the membership. However, as I report with respect to Organization F, transitioning a relatively more-UCaPP organization to become more BAH in its structure and processes seems to occur quite smoothly – “a necessary evil … like changing diapers to using the potty,” according to Jeff (Jeff-1-253) – but without much resistance. Jeff explains this lack of resistance to change (aside from Aaron’s reactions) as a matter of simply instituting a set of processes to conform to how things “should be” in an organization—BAH isomorphism based on normative, hierarchical and bureaucratic expectations, long socialized among those who work in organizations.

 

The transformation from BAH to UCaPP is not as easily accomplished without a considerable amount of organizational trauma. Unit 7 reports nearly 60% turnover (Maher & O'Brien, 2007) as it eliminated enacting nominal status differences, increased inclusive participation, and began enabling expanded autonomy among its members. Despite the ensuing disruptions, one can understand that framing such a change from BAH to UCaPP may seem to be relatively straight-forward: transition the various valence relationships from f‑form to ba-form, and ensure appropriate balance among all the valences (effectively reducing the predominance of Economic valence), and you’re done.

 

Certainly, effecting cultural change in an organization must necessarily be a discursive undertaking: literally changing the vocabulary of attitudes, behaviours, characteristics, determinants, and ethos that create individual identity with respect to the organization, and organizational identity with respect to its members. As I have described, the social and psychological location of this change manifests in the valence relationships, particularly with respect to enacting (or suppressing) their ba-forms. The place of that enactment – what I have called, the culture change venue – literally creates metaphysical place in the organization—basho.

 

However, it seems to me that the propensity to cargo-cult dramatizations that often tend to accompany the latest organization-change elixirs may suggest an unexpected “Fight Club-like[2]” discursive polarity: to transition, an organization must create organization-ba (basho) without talking about organization-ba. In true Zen-like fashion, striving explicitly and specifically towards organization-ba by naming the ba-form valences recreate them as clichés, and thereby transform them into fungibility. Instead, organizational transformation from BAH to UCaPP might be better accomplished by hearkening to Jean’s suggestion, borrowing from Bourget (and inspired by Rilke): one must live basho the way one thinks basho, and eventually one will end up living into basho.

 

The role of identity

 

I have argued elsewhere (Federman, 2008b) that identity – the location of oneself relative to society’s epochal context – has not only been an important driving force for individuals, but for the nature and intent of the society’s structuring institutions, like education, for instance. My argument describing the nature of education over the past 3,000 years proposes the following logic:

 

Back in Ancient Greece, primary orality required that an educated man locate himself as part of the intergenerational chain of knowledge and wisdom that passed the history of the civilization from generation to generation by word of mouth. It took about twenty years to become educated, that is, to acquire the skills and capabilities to become a rhapsode, literally, a “sewer[3] of song” – roughly the same amount of time it takes someone to be considered educated today. In the manuscript culture of the medieval Church, an educated person located himself somewhere among the privileged and divinely ordained hierarchy of unitary Truth that conveyed the Word of God through proxy authority to the illiterate masses. However, in the mechanized and industrialized print culture that emerged after the Enlightenment, the identity-defining hierarchy split into multiple, mostly secular institutions that conferred proxy authority through such devices as educational degrees and business titles. Thus, the focus of the modern education system was content- and skills-based, in order to prepare an individual to be able to attach their identity to an institution that would, in turn, validate it through conferring the imprimatur of the institution’s proxy authority and location in society.

 

Developing specific skills was certainly necessary, but it was not sufficient, to become a modern, educated person. In order to be accepted by one of these institutions, an individual not only required the appropriate skills; s/he required the appropriate discipline to be able to comply with and conform to the social control structures of that institution. Thus, as the old song reminds us, school days were “good ol’ golden rule days: reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hickory stick.” In other words, the modern education system aimed to create a citizenry with the necessary complement of skills – represented by the so-called 3 Rs – built upon a foundation of compliance, order and discipline. This served the aim of creating individuals properly prepared to take their respective places in a mechanized, industrialized, BAH society. (Federman, 2008b)

 

I suggest that BAH-socialization of identity location continues to be exceptionally strong, even in the contemporary world. In this respect, the education system, let alone other institutions, have scarcely changed over more than a hundred years. Roger, reporting on his conversation with a departing Unit 7 employee who could not accede to the shift away from valuing hierarchical status, tacitly demonstrates the strength of f‑Identity valence among individuals in an ordinary, everyday context. Those who were able to embrace the new organizational culture did so by negotiating the changed social and psychological context that frames the construction of identity in Unit 7. The new frame at Unit 7, for instance, no longer supports a “bureaucratic character type” (Merton, 1940) who,

 

…has a strongly individualist side—one that takes great pride in doing a defined job well, that seeks a sphere of autonomy and a clear objective, and wants to be held accountable as an individual for meeting that objective [where] success … means that people leave you alone and do not challenge your competence in your sphere. (Adler & Heckscher, 2006, p. 27)

 

Negotiating the path to assuming a new identity is not limited to pro-UCaPP changes. As Ashforth (2001) argues, when faced with structural or cultural organization change, certain attributes of an individual’s personal identity may come into conflict with either categorical (via social group or rank category) or situational (via internalized values and attitudes projected by others) identity construction. This clearly poses a challenge for the individual, especially in the context of transitions from one circumstantial role/identity to another. Thus, preservation or enhancement (or both) of identity become a critical consideration in effecting organizational change, be it as simple as a rearrangement of an organization chart, or as complex as transitioning from being a BAH organization to enacting a UCaPP organization.

 

As was clearly demonstrated by Aaron in Organization F as it is transitioned to become more BAH, and by many departing individuals of various ranks in Unit 7 as it transitioned to become more UCaPP, a perceived threat to identity, a felt diminishment of Identity-valence relationship, is sufficient reason to seek employment elsewhere. As I suggested in an earlier chapter, the clichéd resistance-to-change is not a resistance to change per se, but rather likely a resistance to a change in identity. Conversely, it follows that the optimal strategy to effect organizational change of any sort is to first understand and account for the requisite change in Identity-valence, and then facilitate the changes among the other valence relationships.

 

In that earlier chapter, I discussed the importance of creating a culture change venue that I described as “a performative social location in an existing organization in which new cultural practices can be enacted.” Initially, at least, the culture change venue is likely to be a somewhat artificial construct, but one that is in-line with the organization’s operation, rather than a too-easily-dismissed adjunct. Unit 7’s game design metaphor that is used to deal with internal processes and infrastructure issues is one such example. The initial months of Inter Pares’s staff and program meetings, reference groups, and annual retreats may have equally served this role.

 

Under the rubric of Knowledge Management, Rivadávia C. Drummond de Alvarenga Neto (2007) describes creating a type of culture change venue, called the “Bank of Ideas” and “Cultural Moments” – the latter being a monthly open forum or symposium –  specifically aimed at transforming (what I would describe as) fungible-Knowledge relationships into Knowledge-ba at Brazil’s Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira— Centre for Sugarcane Technology. In that case, the Cultural Moments symposia were particularly effective not only because they instrumentally enabled general sharing of technical knowledge. Alvarenga Neto described to me that the chief chemist had previously prevented knowledge sharing and dissemination because doing so would, in the chemist’s opinion, diminish his status and perceived value to the organization as the sole repository of this amassed wisdom. Cultural Moments was the venue that enabled him to transform his identity to that of enabler, effectively a convenor of a knowledge-sharing environment. His (and others’) Identity-valence attachment to the organization transitioned from fungible- to ba-form; the organization culture as a whole soon followed suit (Personal conversation, April 20, 2009).

 

The transformation of Founder’s-ba

 

Organization F’s transition provides one additional, interesting insight. All three of this organization’s participants relate the very special quality that the company possessed during its start-up phase. Jeff, for example, describes it as an “aura”; Matt as “more [than] a shared vision of things” (Matt-1-13). In parsing the various descriptions, and in Aaron’s identification of aspects that had been lost as the organization grew, it is clear that they were all characterizing Organization F’s experience of organization-ba during its start-up phase.

 

The energy, charisma, inspiration, passion, vision, and competitive zeal with which Matt infused his nascent organization cannot be denied. These are attributes of a successful, entrepreneurial leader (Bann, 2009; Fernald, Solomon & Tarabishy, 2005) that attract people to start-up companies—attributes that are often ascribed to referent and “transformational” leaders (Kent, Crotts, & Azziz, 2001; Shamir & Howell, 1999). As well, the limited resources that are a practical reality of small, start-up organizations necessitate granting considerable autonomy and agency among early members, creating a sense of collective responsibility, and mutual accountability. During the first few years, organizational responses to both growth and challenges are very adaptive rather than procedural—seemingly organic in nature. In short, these conditions that very accurately replicate organization-ba are likely situational, created by circumstance and a strong, entrepreneurial personality. They are not authentic and sustainable organization-ba, but founder’s-ba.

 

Founder’s-ba can transition to organization-ba if (and only if) the organization does not itself transition in the direction of becoming BAH as it grows. One of the virtues cited by Organization F’s participants was the degree to which individual members were “empowered” to act—at least during the first few years. However, true empowerment in the context of a UCaPP organization means that those nominally on top – the entrepreneur(s), his/her close advisors, and other organizational leaders – must begin to divest growing power and control, which runs contrary to the entrepreneur’s mindset of ownership privilege with respect to “their” organization.

 

When a start-up organization aspires to retain its founding UCaPP qualities, those who have acquired the mantle of referent leadership must resist the temptation to cement their position through adopting legitimated titles and formalized roles. As with both Unit 7 (in its relatively new Digital Division) and Inter Pares, power-connoting titles – respectively, Director and Co-Manager for all members equally – are primarily used to convey ascribed credibility for the benefit of external constituencies. The main consideration at critical nexus points in the organization’s growth seems, once again, to centre on the quality of the Identity-valence connection of key personnel. The choice of ba- or fungible-form determines whether the organization’s founding spirit transforms from ba to ba, or ba to BAH.

 

One Final Thought

 

The modern, BAH organization has focused strongly on controlling workers’ behaviours and identities, and by extension, controlling the behaviours and identities of people throughout society. Decade by decade through the 20th century, this approach masqueraded as what might be considered more humanistic means of control, but always with the objective of first serving the predominantly economic aims of organization, and those in hierarchically superior classes, primarily defined in strictly economic terms. Valence Theory provides a framework that enables a reconsideration of organization’s reversal: from a functional, instrumental, and  purposeful focus to one that considers human interactions and interpersonal dynamics as paramount in a ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate world that, as we have come to realize, is best understood in complexity terms. In such a revised context, every aspect of organizational practice can be probed, questioned, and potentially transformed to become more consistent with contemporary reality.

 

The research from which Valence Theory emerges suggests that the ensuing changes in practice can be accomplished without necessarily compromising acceptable and respectful economic performance. Rather than living in a world in which people are wittingly or unwittingly controlled by organizations, a Valence Theory conception of organization reverses this dysfunctional dynamic, enabling people to be responsible for creating relationships and perceiving effects in the context of our contemporary UCaPP world.

 


[1] “My home is your home.”

[2] “The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club”—spoken by the character, Tyler Durden, in both the 1999 movie adaptation, and the book, Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk.

[3] As in, one who sews songs together, the ancient version of a bard; see Parry, 1971.

 

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