My colleague Nick Sarra and I were asked to work with some practicing managers and leaders in what is usually described as a ‘fragile state’ in Africa. The country has been plunged into conflict for decades, and this has had a profound effect on social relations and the ability to get things done. Conflict still breaks out sporadically, making parts of the country off-limits, potentially reactivating the tensions which still exist between groups living elsewhere in the country, especially in the capital. The government struggles to provide basic services, so the country is dominated by international aid agencies, development organisations and the representatives of international governments who each have their own sets of policies, procedures and priorities. This becomes visible the moment one steps off the plane: the airport car park is full of 4x4s, each sporting its own logo, and often there to meet, or disgorge development workers with their wrap-around shades and desert fatigues. Without the agencies this country would not be able to survive, but at the same time it feels a bit like an occupation. Continue reading
I listened to the eminent evolutionary biologist and New Atheist Richard Dawkins promoting his new book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, on the radio. He discussed the role of scientific method and evidence, particularly in relation to the Brexit vote. He began by saying that nothing so important as staying in, or leaving the EU should hinge on a binary yes/no vote. But he then went on to extol the virtues of scientific method, which in his radio interview, and in the introduction to the book, he argues should be the preeminent method for making decisions about the world, including Brexit. We should seek out the evidence, public and private, and make our decision according to that. For Dawkins, scientific method is predicated on removing prejudice and gut feeling, indeed all feelings, from rational decision-making and is as relevant to making political decision making as it is to discovering more about the natural world. The best example of a method which does this is the double blind randomised control trial, the gold standard of medical research. He declared that he didn’t want his politicians to be emotional, but rather he wanted them to make the best possible decision, rationally, and on the basis of the best possible evidence. Continue reading
This is to give early notification that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will take place at Roffey Park between 8-10th June 2018.
The conference will be held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey from the university and from the faculty of the Doctor of Management programme.
There will be more details in the autumn to give more details of the conference topic and the other key note speakers in addition to Ralph.
A friend alerted me to a website for a consultancy which claims to be offering new insights on management for a new world of work. Apologies for what sounds like, and no doubt is, a caricatured paraphrase of what I found, but here is what I think the site is saying:
We live in a networked world. There’s a lot of change. There is going to be more change and top down command and control is now an old paradigm of management. Some of this change is good, some of it isn’t, but mostly it’s good. But what we need to do is be more aware of the changes and prepare to design more change of the kind that we want. This will mean spreading power around a bit more and being alert to complexity. Leaders need to have visions and set targets to achieve them, then they coach their followers. They will need to be deeply aware and mindful. Followers need to work out how to be empowered and of service. They too will need to be deeply aware and mindful. If we all trust each other a bit more and deal better with complexity we can have more meaningful conversations. Then we’ll get the future that we want. In a more networked world we need: Knowledge. Trust. Credibility. A focus on results. Continue reading
Taking complexity seriously – what difference does it make in organisations?
Venue: Roffey Park Management Centre
A familiar question from many managers who respond to our presentations on the relevance of insights from the complexity sciences to people organizing, is to ask what their practical application could possibly be. If they consider step-wise prescriptions for success to be ‘concrete’, or are looking for tools and techniques, then the injunction to take every day experience seriously may sound quite ephemeral. If the focus in strategic management is on the ‘big picture’ and wholesale change, then the recommendation to pay attention to how the ‘whole’ emerges in everyday interaction sounds very surprising. However, with some managers what we describe strikes a chord.
Additionally, the overwhelming majority of 60-plus graduates of the Doctor of Management programme have found the experience of paying attention to their practice with others transformative, both for themselves and for the organisations in which they work. Every year participants in annual Complexity and Management conference, who come from a variety of organisational backgrounds, bring many examples of how taking the everyday complexity of organizational life seriously makes a difference to expanding possibilities for action. This experience is matched by an increased focus in the scholarly literature on everyday processes of organizing.
In this year’s conference we will discuss the complexity of practice and the difference it makes to pay attention to what we are all doing together to get things done.
Our key note speakers are:
Henry Larsen, Professor of Participatory Innovation at Southern Denmark University, graduate of the DMan programme, ex- member of the Da Capo theatre company. His research interest is in exploring spontaneity and improvisation in the everyday processes of relating.
Professor Karen Norman of Kingston University and doctoral supervisor on the Doctor of Management programme. Karen was formally Chief Nursing Officer in Gibraltar and Director of Nursing for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH). She is also a graduate of the DMan programme and continues to take an interest in drawing on insights from complexity theory to inform clinical practice aimed at improving the experience of health care for patients.
Mark Renshaw Deputy Chief of Patient Safety at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark facilitated a range of quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and co – led the BSUH falls reduction programme – an initiative that started after a patient died after falling in hospital. This work has reduced the incidence of patient falls by 48% over five years. His role has allowed him to explore his interest in complex systems and how behavioural change in clinical practice emerges out of group dynamics and professional ‘habitus.’
Henry, Karen and Mark will talk about their collaborative research project on reducing patient falls.
Pernille Thorup – Pernille is on the senior management team of COK (Center for Offentlig Kompetenceudvikling), which is the strategic partner in public sector development for KL (Kommunernes Landsforening), the organization of Danish Municipalities. She has recently undertaken a three year strategy process within the company, drawing on insights from the complexity sciences, which has now involved COK’s clients. The changes in her own organisation and the discussion this has provoked in Denmark more widely, will form the subject of her talk.
A booking page on the university website will be uploaded in the New Year.
It has become axiomatic that organizations need to change their cultures in order to reform or modernise, or to adapt to a changing world, or to bring about some kind of improvement in performance. Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in this kind of thinking is the idea that certain organizational cultures are more conducive to success than others, and that adopting a particular culture is likely to lead to organizational improvement. It has become a way of talking as though organizations can ‘have’ a culture which can be identified and changed from one state to another. Culture becomes reified, or ‘thing-like’, and is capable of being shaped and manipulated. Usually there is a close link in the discourse to values which are thought to relate causally and directly to behaviour. Restating the values required of staff, usually ones chosen by the Chief Executive or the senior team, is supposed to lead to improvements in the workplace.
As a counter to this idea of culture existing in one organisation as an object of intervention by senior staff, and as something manipulable over the short term, I would like in this post to think about culture evolving over the longer term in society at large with the sociologist Norbert Elias. In doing so we come to notice some of the paradoxical qualities of culture, how it both includes and excludes, and how it involves values as voluntary compulsions, which can take on the qualities of the sacred. Continue reading