What are orgs for? LO6038

Michael McMaster (Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk)
Thu, 7 Mar 1996 13:10:32 +0000

Replying to LO6004 --

In response to Alan's comments on organisational purpose:

I am using purpose in a more general sense that my reading of his
comments. That is, I consider organisations to be intentional, to
exhibit purposeful behaviour, but not generally to have a single nor
even explicit purpose.

The difference shows in the following:
> 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.

I don't believe this is true for either individuals or organisations
except in the *very* general sense that we too are intentional
beings. That is, we have many complex intentions that vary over time
and which ones are present or dominant at any moment in time may be
different. There seems to be some very broad ones that are
operational but these can be questioned and certainly are not
reliable for effective functioning. (ie. We can say that "survival"
is a fundamental purpose/intention but we can see behaviour that does
not support survival.)

I think that Alan's comments here get at one of the core issues:
> 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.

These are questions of authenticity, not the existence or source of
purpose. Statements prepared for customers, etc are usually designed
to manipulate (sorry, influence) and are not authentic. The problem
of "walking the talk" is significant IMO as an issue of authenticity.
When failures to be congruent are present alongside authentic
expression, then we are dealing with a learning or transition period
or the ordinary failings of human beings - worthy of effort but not
the kinds of assessments that "failure to walk the talk" are usually
pointing to.

I am putting forward a case - not the only possible one - that the
organisation has its own values that were largely formed from a
historical based where the founders *may* have had a lot of influence
on the design but which have also emerged from the interplay of all
involved as the organisation gets older. I think that organisations
to some degree *do* have "to be at the affect of their founders" and,
to the extent that we ignore history, will be bound by that affect.

I like the possibility of this statement that Alan makes via Beer:
> the critical purpose is the one imputed to the system by the
> observer

This is appropriately interpretive, hermeneutic and postmodern for my
taste. One of the key questions is, "Who are the important observers
for the future development and emergence of the corporation?"

I would say that the active, responsible participants in that
organisation are the most influential in its future evolution. I
would not, however, agree that "What is important is that staff, suppliers,
stockholders and customers have a shared understanding of the purpose."

I hold that the keystone of the future are the mechanisms which
support dialogue, interplay and emergence and that these are
structural and very broadly intentional but do not require very
specific purposes. That is, the purposes are things survival,
development, participation - and none of these are written in stone
either. (The meeting I referred to in the earlier posting also
included a strong disagreement from a small but important and vocal
minority that survival was a purpose that the corporation should
pursue. One of the leaders of this opposition was head of the most
profitable, fastest growing and highest quality parts of the
organisation and there is no evidence that this disagreement will
inhibit the organisation.)

Intelligence is an organising principle, in the sense I'm using it
here, of the universe - not of a specific corporation. Although
there is a relationship, the connection is too intuitive to explore
in this forum in this conversation by me.

Michael McMaster : Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk
book cafe site : http://www.vision-nest.com/BTBookCafe
Intelligence is the underlying organisational principle
of the universe. Heraclitus


Michael McMaster <Michael@kbddean.demon.co.uk>

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