Vitalizing Work Design: Implementing A Developmental Philosophy — Part 3
This is part of a series on approaching work design from a developmental philosophy. Last time in part two, we looked at the first three of six performance targets typically used by businesses to evaluate organizational changes: Expansion, Identity, and Order. This time, we’ll cover the other three targets: Freedom, Interaction, and Concentration.
New work designs are most frequently initiated from a desire to have a business that can extend the arenas and time frames over which they can successfully exert influence. This may be stated in terms of increased markets or market share, new customers in new categories, improved relationships with regulatory agencies, or even better relationships with the workforce directly or through their representative unions. In a behavioral model, this freedom is sought through increasing the understanding of the realities with which they must engage through improved exchanges of information and measurement systems. Examples of this are increased availability of competitive information, customer information, and technological knowledge. All the senses are put to work in the search for better, more current, and more accurate data and information which can be distributed to the organization in a usable form.
Organizational designers are always looking for ways of instilling more degrees of freedom that enable people to conceive of and “go for” the impossible. The limitations that traditional organizations have placed on performance of work have also placed the same limitations of the working of the mind. As a result, people working in traditional organizations tend to apply their creativity to endeavors outside of work. In behavioral work redesign, there are attempts to overcome this “tunnel view” by increasing participation. Employees are encouraged to contribute ideas and to become involved in creative solutions to problems. In a developmental model, freedom is seen as coming from the development of other intelligences that are no longer a part of our educational, societal, or professional training. Freedom comes from moving from what Edwin Abbott calls a “Flatland” or two dimensional view of the world to a perspective that sees the dynamics of the world from escalating levels of complexity and significance.
A simple example is understanding that our actions can be understood and even influenced or improved more readily if we explore “what” we are thinking about that causes us to take particular actions. The thinking behind our actions or words might be described as a different plane of understanding. Exploring further into our thinking processes we can increase our self managing ability or improve the predictability of our achievements if we can see “how” we are thinking as well as “what” we are thinking. For example, many athletes have found they were blocked at improving performance by self-defeating thoughts. In order to change these thoughts they had to have a process for changing how they were thinking. “Visioning” is one such example that has been used to successfully change “how” one thinks different thoughts, and ultimately has different behaviors. Educating ourselves regarding mental processes is foundational to development and improvement — and to a Developmental Philosophy of work design.
There are many different schools which offer ways to view the world from different levels of reality. Peter Senge points to the idea that structure generates pattern which leads to particular events. For example, the way we structure highways generates particular traffic patterns which result in particular events for individuals and groups. In human systems the structure comes from corporate cultures and operating procedures. Nobel Laureate and physicist David Bohm offers a deeper three level system which moves from what we can detect with our senses to that which cannot be sensed. He proposes a first level that he calls an explicate order. This order is the perceived world, based on physical phenomena which are “explicated” or made explicit through our life experience. Behind or beyond this world, however, is an implicate order which is the formative source of power regarding what can and does emerge in the explicate order.
Joseph Chilton Pearce, in Evolution’s End, uses a metaphor of a hidden projector to clarify this relationship between implicate and explicate order. The hidden projector displays lights on a screen. If we want to see the light show, we look at the screen (explicate-order) and its display, and not at the projector (implicate order). To change the images on the screen we must change what is within the projector itself, not what is on the screen. The analogy does not hold exactly in our world since the implicate order cannot be found by walking backstage. It is a “non-localized” order. Bohm then carries the world-view to a third level, by pointing to a vastly more powerful ordering which produces the implicate order — a “supra-implicate order”. Bohm describes this as that which represents the information that guides and organizes the movement of fields or patterns of reality.
Pearce further describes the relationships among these three levels of reality. An explicate order gives rise to our lived experience — that which is in front of us everyday. The implicate order gives rise to our personal consciousness or our inner world experience. The supra-implicate order gives rise to and guides the implicate order. In our projector metaphor, the supra-implicate order is the very source of the projector — creator, power source, and operator.
Each higher level of world-view reduces the restraints we experience in being able to understand or come to terms with very complex phenomena and the workings of complex systems. The technologies that emerge from a Developmental Philosophy contribute to a capability to understand all the levels of reality that are creating physical world dynamics. This capability provides the base from which we can create more whole solutions to problems and more creative product offerings to the stakeholders of our businesses.
Behavioral Philosophy work designs have incorporated the behavioral tenet that reality is something that is universal for all persons. All reality is seen as observable by the senses and can be experienced directly. This view of reality tends to exclude the inner workings of the mind and emotions and, therefore excludes work human beings can do in regard to management and development of self beyond functional aspects. The sense-based form of reality also tends to make it difficult for us to see the “reality forming” processes that go on in our minds — unobservable by others and ourselves without the development of the skill to do so. Recent research has demonstrated a “reality” that is highly interpretative — one which is at least partially constructed by the filters and mental models through which we view the world.
Another Nobel Laureate, Ilya Prigogene, described the experience of reality this way: “Whatever we call reality, it is revealed to us only through the active construction in which we participate.” Without understanding this we are at the mercy of forces we cannot see.
We get so accustomed to looking at everything with the same set of eyes that we don’t see anything different; we are only looking at the objective world, and all realities look pretty similar. When we have an insight, we say to ourselves, “I never looked at it that way before”, which can be the same as “I was able to take a new perspective and, therefore, see something from a different level.” To continually awaken development of ourselves as persons, we need to continue to shift our perspective or worldview. We have the mental capacity to do that. In a developmental model the inner and outer world views are nurtured and seen as giving the individuals and the organization the ableness to see more possibilities.
New work designs seek to provide for significantly improved communication among and across work groups. With communication there comes a better alignment between individual and organizational goals. These interactions include performance feedback among peers or between levels, task forces between departments, or the collection of additional customer feedback. In a behavioral organization, interactions are designed to improve the ability of individuals and teams to understand how they are viewed by others, and to provide motivation for improvement based on external reflection.
Behavioral based designs seek to create motivation through the use of external or environmental reinforcement. Achievement is seen as something people do to maintain inclusion by their peers and superiors. In behavioral psychology, there is no concept of a larger system in which the smaller system exists and with which the smaller system acts reciprocally. As a result of the emphasis on external evaluation, it has become increasingly difficult for persons to be accurate about appraising their behavior, even in such physical and functional arenas as whether they are on time for a meeting.
There is a culturally derived, tacit assumption in most organizational settings that human beings can not be self-governing or self-auditing because they can not be objective about themselves. This is partly true, but not innately so. With humans, if this ability is not developed in us from childhood, the capacity to be self-reflecting (self-observing and self-remembering) steadily diminishes. This is particularly true when our primary source of reflection is external (e.g. from others’ interpretation of our actions). It is particularly true if the feedback focuses on elements that tend to pull us away from that which feels intrinsically self-integrating. As humans we have a desire to realize a sense of integrity between our values and our behavior, even when we have to learn the “hard way.” Individuals, through self–governance, can engage in a process of self-reflection and move themselves, over time, toward a pattern of behavior they consider to be more in line with personal higher order values. This cannot be achieved through external manipulation. Only the individual can tell what is uniquely integrating for him/her self . This is a core life exercise in development of self-accountability. The behaviorist model works against creating self-accountable behavior through institutionalizing reinforcement and external feedback to create “other accountability”.
In our Western education and parenting world there are few processes for building capability and accountability for one’s own reflective processes. One research study found that by early school age children could no longer correctly interpret whether they were performing accurately in a research exercise instructing them where to place their arms in relation to their body. Moreover, they would defend their answer as accurate even when shown photos of themselves performing inaccurately. However, within a few weeks of being asked to reflect on the accuracy of their response to the same exercise, without any external input, they became increasingly accurate at assessing their own performance. Self-observation is a capability that has systematically been eroded in our culture.
With practice we can regain it. In Western culture we have systematically instilled a culture with values that tend to erode self-accountability. First our parents, then our teachers, and now our employers/bosses tell us what to do. Our performance and our grade or rank is determined by others. We are told to what degree our behavior is correct. This is so embedded in our way of operating that it is difficult to see how pervasive it is and how much it works against creating self-accountable human beings.
From a Developmental Philosophy, the foundational element in effective work systems is self-reflecting, self-correcting, self-accountable, and self-evolving behavior. Energy spent on monitoring and attempting to affect the behavior of organizational members or collectives of persons from an external source is energy wasted — energy that could be better put to improving the business and the capability of people. The critical element is to increase self governing, self-evolving capability.
New work systems are based on the hope of producing products and services with the least possible waste, the fewest errors, and with the most effective return or yield from our efforts. In an effort to gain the highest efficiency in the early years of industry, much effort was put into breaking the work down into smaller and smaller units. New work designs have made an attempt to re-aggregate the work into more meaningful units called “whole tasks”. An example of this attempt is seen when a person on a machine will do all the jobs related to the machine including beginning to plan the work itself or maybe even ordering some of the materials that are needed to do the work. All this, however, is structured within what can be managed by a team in the same physical location and usually on the same shift. Work is not redesigned; people who do the work are simply redesignated. The same work and same nature of work is done.
The thinking processes employed for doing the work are not changed. The thinking now only covers a larger number of tasks which are still seen as functionally divided from the work of other functions. The primary mental process that is utilized is one of the elemental mind. An elemental view emanates from the paradigm that presumes only parts exist — not wholes — and works to understand phenomena exclusively by reducing wholes into parts. In an elemental view any summary of the whole is seen as accomplished by adding up of the parts. Parts tend to viewed as fixed and unchanging. We describe what they are, not what they could be. Most feedback processes, goal setting, and measurement systems are based on an elemental view of the world. The initiatives to be acted on and measured are studied and implemented in a largely fragmented way.
Organizations divide up feedback forms into each type of behavior, and goals by target areas. This segmentation sounds reasonable, but it leads to the illogical conclusion that there is no difference between a comfortable house and a pile of building materials, or between a frisky mouse and a test tube full of chemicals. The difference, of course, between the molecules in a mouse and those in a test tube full of chemicals is organization. The molecules in a mouse are organized in a precise and complex way, while those in the test tube are just sloshed together. Most leaders realize that it is important to understand how the pieces fit together, at least in their own field; but they are still mostly concerned about the “parts” rather than about the “pattern.” Behavioral philosophy work-designs do not manage to overcome the reductionist view or elemental view of the world inherent in the modern culture and organizational operations.
In behavioral philosophy there is a search for the causes that produce the effects as though cause and effect moves in a linear path. In the physical and non-physical world, the causes for any effect emerge from many interacting elements occurring simultaneously, as well as from the anticipation of events not yet in existence. In order to bring change to an element of a system, we must consider the dynamics of the whole and work in a holistic way. This systems view enables us to design change from an integrated perspective, but requires that we let go of the security of programs that focus on specific functions, classes of people, and classes of problems. Isolated measures must give way to whole systems measures that track the overall progress of the system.
In a Developmental Philosophy, just as there are different levels of reality from which we can gain understanding of the dynamics of the world, there are different types of work to be done. At a minimum, there is the work that improves what already exists. This is different from the work necessary to create a new existence — raw materials, technologies, and product offerings that do not now exist. In traditional organizations and even newer work design systems, these are divided among different functions and levels of the organization. In a developmental organization, all are working on both of these as well as on other types of work, without regard to their level or function.
About Carol Sanford
Carol Sanford is a regenerative business educator, the award winning author of The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes, and executive in residence and senior fellow in social innovation at Babson College. She has worked with fortune 500 executives and rock star entrepreneurs for 40 years, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Learn more about Carol and her work at her website.