What are orgs for? LO6004

Alan Mossman (100733.3202@compuserve.com)
06 Mar 96 13:59:11 EST

Replying to LO & Big layoffs LO5964 [what are orgs for ?], LO5935 and

I agree with Michael McMaster when he says that org'l purpose is a very
important issue for org'l learning.

Org'l purpose defines the focus for org learning. Just as it is difficult
even impossible to recognise an opportunity without an objective or
purpose it is difficult to learn systematically without a purpose. I
believe this is as true for organisations as it is for individuals.

But that leaves the whole question of how the purpose is defined.

Michael says (and I agree) that few corp'ns are clear about their purpose.
The example he gives from Monday's workshop is a vivid illustration of

he also says
> specific corporations can be said, loosely and posssibly
> dangerously, to exist for the purposes that the leadership states.

If this last is a reference to the futility of producing mission and
purpose statements - then I would agree. If it is a blanket statement
then I take issue.

Public pronouncements about the purpose often backfire - customers,
suppliers and staff see that reality is different and dismiss the
statements as management's latest fad. I believe employees will only get
the message when they see top management living it, walking the talk,
working with the values implicit in the purpose, choosing difficult
courses of action consistent with the purpose and values rather than the
easy way out.

The purpose and values define the spirit of the organisation and the
reason for it to continue to exist.

Yes most orgs had a purpose when they were set up and that purpose may
affect the way they act today. But I believe top management can recast
the purpose during the life of the organisation. They can get a grip on
the underlying structure and redesign it to serve new purposes.
Organisations do not have to be at the effect of their founders !

As Stafford Beer pointed out [Heart of Enterprise chapter 1 Wiley 1979]
- a system is substantially defined by its purpose and
- the critical purpose is the one imputed to the system by the observer.

What is important is that staff, suppliers, stockholders and customers
have a shared understanding of the purpose. That will be most strongly
influenced by the **actions** of the organisation and its people. In the
early days of a change of purpose those at the top have a particular
responsibility to demonstrate the new purpose and values in action.

As Fritz has shown (e.g. in Corporate Tides 1994, 2 edn forthcomming from
Berrett-Koehler 5.96) behaviour is largely determined by structure. In
organisations the behaviour of members and of systems is largely
determined by the underlying structure of the organisation.

In an organisation that is functioning effectively the keystone of the
underlying structure is its purpose. One indication of the effectiveness
of the structure is that all actions support the purpose. Is this the kind
of environment that Michael refers to in newer successful organisations in
his penultimate paragraph ?

If it is, in what sense is Intelligence an organising principle ?

enough for now, bye.


Alan Mossman 100733,3202@compuserve.com The Change Business Ltd UK

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>