Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The social system should define the rules...

Richard says:

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And it is the wider social system that should judge what counts as "anything odd" in the first place. Following the argument of this blog, this judgement should rest on some evidence-based system of appreciative enquiry and not just a bureaucratic application of some simple rules.

Stafford Beer once proposed a technical mechanism for gauging social satisfaction, which he called the Algedonic Meter, but at the same time he pointed out the limitations of such a mechanism.

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I am very much aware of Stafford's work in this area. To handle the real-time compliance properly, the task focussed investigation and implementation of an information framework which supports the work group is essential. The idea is to build an information framework which actually supports the process of getting work done, rather than being a hindrance and an irritation, as is more customary.

Once this support framework is in place, the accountability measures necessary to monitor activity, and fire algedonic alerts where necessary, should be negotiated between the work group and the next level up the logical hierarchy.

Obviously, this whole thing will be perceived to be a useless burden, and will be subverted by the workforce, if it is perceived as a set of measures designed to spy on, and control, its members.

I know this is a huge shift of perspective, because most managers do not currently appear to understand their role as being to serve the people they manage, by giving them the framework, the resources and the responsibility to be able to get their work done effectively. I do know managers who understand this perfectly, but they appear to be in a minority.

This is the way Semco in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been working for the last twenty years, with great success. It is ironic that, although Semco is studied in practically every business school in the world, nobody seems keen to emulate it! It is even more richly ironic that Ricardo Semler manages to run his business this way in one of the most corrupt business environments in the world, and that business leaders in countries which expend a lot of energy telling everyone else about democracy and freedom, are terrified of applying these values in their workplaces.

I am as unenthusiastic about trying to apply "technical quick fixes" as you are Richard. There is no technical magic that can eliminate the need for people to accept responsibility for their actions and treat each other with respect. My view is that, when they do so, with the support of the technology we have at our disposal, we can create organisations that are far more productive than most people imagine is possible, a lot more humane, and fun to work for.